The relationship between George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin

20 Jan

There have been many storied relationships throughout sports history, but few have gripped the sports world like that of the relationship between George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. In some regards they were clones of each other, and in others polar opposites. They could rip each other to shreds in the press, they could feud openly on the field, and they shared great moments and horrific low lights together. Through it all though, they were and always will be joined at the hip when discussions of the new York Yankees arise.

Billy martin began his life with the Yankees as a second baseman in 1950. He was “Casey’s boy” as then manager Casey Stengel took a particular shine to the mercurial kid from Berkley, California. Martin was never they typical star Yankee, but he was an All-Star and a World Series MVP. His relationship with the Yankees ended when he was traded to Kansas City in 1957 not because his skills had eroded, but because the ownership and management felt he was a bad influence on his two best friends who also happened to be the two marquee players on the team – Mickey mantle and Whitey Ford.

Martin continued playing for five more seasons with six different teams, but he never had the same level of fire. He never seemed content, and without his best friends and the scars of being cast aside by the team he lived and breathed for, playing baseball was never the same. Still, baseball was all Martin knew. He was never going to be a banker or become a doctor like former teammate Bobby Brown – Billy Martin was baseball – 24/7/365.

Martin got work with the twins as a scout for the next three years but it was not the hands on experience he wanted. In 1965 he took the position of the Twins third base coach until 1968 when he took over the managerial duties mid-season. The following year he led the Twins to a division championship, but was fired for having a fight with pitcher Dave Boswell and sat out the entire 1970 season. He then landed a job managing the Tigers from 197-’73, and then the Ranger in 1974 and a part of 1975 before being fired. That was when things changed.

George Steinbrenner was not a fan of then Yankee manager Bill Virdon, and despite the mercurial temper martin was noted for, he was a winner and he was a part of the Yankee family. Steinbrenner loved his fire and the splash bringing the beloved former second baseman home would make in the press. He led the Yankees to a pennant in 1976, but in 1977 the public feuding began. Steinbrenner questioned Martin’s tactics. Martin despised having Reggie Jackson “forced upon him” as he wanted Joe Rudi. The Yankees won the World Series despite it all, but in 1978 with the Yankees sitting so far behind the Red Sox. Steinbrenner fired martin not long after martin made the now famous comment about Steinbrenner and Jackson stating “one’s a born liar and the other’s a convict.”

Bob lemon came in and brought calm to the team – in a certain sense – and new York pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history to win the World Series. When Lemon faltered slightly in 1979 he was fired and Billy came back for a second stint. Martin finished the season but was fired after having a well documented and oft lampooned fight with a marshmallow salesman. Martin landed a job right away with the Oakland A’s as their manager and Dick Howser took over the Yankees.

After the Oakland stint ended, martin came back to the Yankees for a part of the 1983 season. Then again for a part of the 1985 season. And then one more time for a part of the 1988 season. If he hadn’t died in 1989 he may have come back for more. What few people understood about the relationship between Steinbrenner and Martin is that their love/hate relationship was far more weighted to the love side than hate. They both had an intense desire to not just win, but make the Yankees a winner.

They were two men who during their years together shared the same intense all consuming desire to win and strive for perfection that were in many ways beyond grasp. They could not tolerate mediocrity nor could they tolerate excuses. They both loved the game but had very different views of how to make all of that passion translate into wins. Steinbrenner demanded that everyone in the Yankee organization look like a Yankee, take pride in being a Yankee, and carry them self to a certain high level of personal conduct that reflected that. That more than disagreeing on how to build and run a team is where the pair butted heads.

For all the genius Martin had as a baseball player and tactician, he never got beyond his personal demons which always made their way to the press. He may punch out a player, call a player a liar, punch out some random fellow he argued with in a bar, or any one of dozens of incidents Martin got into that violated that code of conduct Steinbrenner demanded.

Steinbrenner’s main beef was always more so about the bad press Martin brought down on the team and Yankee name with his drinking and fighting than his on field decisions. Regardless, Steinbrenner knew how much being a Yankee meant to Martin and how good Martin was when he was keeping himself under control. That is why Martin always got another chance. The respected and in many ways admired and loved one another for the positive qualities each possessed the other did not.

As Peter g

Gammons related, Martin was Steinbrenner’s favorite blunt instrument to smack a team back to reality. Martin had a fire Steinbrenner loved and respected, it was just everything else he had trouble tolerating. They were always entertaining as a pair, even in those awful car wreck like moments, and although they could say awful hurtful things they could and did always make amends and leave each other on a positive note. In the afterlife one can only wonder what the pair will be like, because rest assured, they will find one another.


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