Best known for his hot temper and his multiple firings as Yankees Manager, Martin was also a feisty competitor on the field.
As a player, Martin was known as a feisty competitor who, in the words of one opponent, “couldn’t do anything but beat you.” He played part-time for the American League’s New York Yankees in 1950 and 1951 and became the team’s starting second baseman in 1952.
After missing most of the 1955 season with an injury, he made his only All-Star Game appearance in 1956. The Yankees traded him to the Kansas City Athletics during the 1957 season; he went to the Detroit Tigers in 1958, the Cleveland Indians in 1959, and the Minnesota Twins in 1961.
Although only a .257 career hitter, Martin set a record for a six-game World Series in 1953 by collecting 12 hits for a .500 average. He scored five runs and drove in eight during New York’s six-game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Martin went on to have a checkered managing career. He guided Minnesota to a Western Division title in 1969, but left because of a dispute with management.
Martin took over the Detroit Tigers in 1971, won an Eastern Division Championship the following year, was fired during the 1973 season, and managed the Texas Rangers for the last 23 games. After bringing Texas from sixth place to second in 1974, Martin was again fired in 1975, with the team in fourth place. He was then hired by the New York Yankees, where he had a 30-26 record for the rest of the season.
Martin’s ever-changing status with the Yankees and owner George Steinbrenner became something of a joke, especially when it was complicated by the arrival in 1977 of outfielder Reggie Jackson. The Yankees won a pennant in 1976 and a world championship in 1977, when Martin and Jackson had a confrontation that almost flared into a fight on national television.
Steinbrenner fired Martin during the 1978 season but almost immediately announced that he would be rehired in 1979. Martin did return in 1979 but was fired again because of a much-publicized fight in an elevator with a marshmallow salesman who criticized the team’s performance.
He then went to the Oakland Athletics, guided them to a division title in 1981, and was fired after the 1982 season. Though it seems hard to believe, Martin returned to the Yankees in 1983, was fired after the season, and went back for a fourth time in 1985. He spent three years out of baseball before one last try at managing the Yankees for 68 games in 1988. His overall managerial record was 1,253-1,013 for a .553 winning percentage.
Billy died on December 25, 1989 in Johnson City, NY, and was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame with the 1990-1991 class.