Billy Martin celebrates the 1977 Yankees World Series victory with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and coach Yogi Berra.

The Proudest Yankee: The HOF Case for Billy Martin

It was going to be tough for Billy Martin to get much traction during the Expansion Era Hall of Fame vote that was announced on Monday morning. After all, he was going up against three of the most prominent field managers of the past quarter century in Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre. The three legends of the game were all unanimously voted in, each receiving the maximum 16 votes from each of the members of the Expansion Era Committee.

What is both sad and disturbing, is that one of Martin’s contemporaries, Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, most likely deserves to be in the Hall less than Martin himself. How is that you might ask? Well, let’s take a look at pure numbers between the two managers:

Billy Martin: 16 seasons, 1253 wins, 1013 losses, .553 winning percentage, 1 World Series title, 2 AL pennants, 6 division titles.

Whitey Herzog: 18 seasons, 1281 wins, 1125 losses, .532 winning percentage, 1 World Series title, 3 NL pennants, 6 division titles.

Simply stated, Martin had a total of 28 less wins in two less seasons than Herzog, while winning just as many World Series titles and division titles. Not only did Billy Martin take teams that were putrid, turn them around in a hurry, and just as quickly wear out his welcome, he took four different teams to the post-season. Herzog’s success came with two franchises–the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. Martin almost took a fifth franchise to the playoffs, but fell just short with the Texas Rangers back in 1974. Herzog had two previous stops prior to landing in Kansas City, and finished no higher than sixth with both the California Angels and the Texas Rangers. Another interesting anecdote about Herzog’s time in Texas, his sixth place finish came one season before Martin took the same squad to 84 wins.

What has kept Billy Martin from being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Perhaps his antics off the field, including run ins with bar patrons, his own players, owners, general managers, and even a marshmallow salesman. Martin had a problem with alcohol, which was not unheard of for players from his era. That problem led to his untimely death on Christmas Day, 1989.

By the end of his life, he had become a running joke in the Bronx. Martin had after all, served as Yankees skipper on five different occasions, and at the time of his death, had already assembled a coaching staff for a sixth run in the Yankee dugout. The difference between Martin and some of the other men who now make their homes in Cooperstown as members of the Hall of Fame as managers, is that Martin was an innovator. He came directly from the Ned Hanlon/John McGraw/Casey Stengel managerial tree, one that has spawned many current managers from Martin’s own place among the legends.

Martin created a style of play that became affectionately known as “Billy Ball”. He used the stolen base, the bunt, the double steal, the platoon–all to his advantage long before they became regularly used pieces of baseball strategy. Hall of Fame lead-off man Rickey Henderson has often stated that if it weren’t for Billy Martin being his manager, there most likely would be no Rickey Henderson.

To hammer the point home in comparing Martin to other great managers from his era, we need to look no further than to Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles. In one more season as Orioles skipper, Weaver won a total of 227 more games than Martin, two more AL pennants, and the same amount of World Series titles with one. Weaver also didn’t work for George Steinbrenner, and have his job constantly threatened by a meddling owner. To stress the importance of Martin on each of the franchises that he managed, Weaver only managed one franchise, the Orioles. Martin did his damage with multiple franchises. Weaver’s winning percentage is .583–30 points higher than Martin’s. Is that enough to say that he and Herzog belong and Martin does not?

The Expansion Era Committee once again underestimated Martin’s value as a manager and baseball mind, just as the Veteran’s Committee had prior. While many of Martin’s players are now in the Hall, his memory remains on the outside looking in. Billy Martin knew he was a flawed man. While may have acted childish, boorish, and out of control the epitaph on his grave marker says it all: “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.” It is time to celebrate the contributions Billy Martin made to the game of baseball.

Tags: Billy Martin Hall Of Fame New York Yankees

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