Thursday, November 19, 2009

40 years ago: Billy Martin

This happened sometime late in the 1987 season – maybe during September, maybe during the playoffs, maybe even during the World Series:

A fellow Free Presser, now retired, told me he had not so much as watched a Twins game since Billy Martin was fired as manager after the 1969 season. Eighteen years and a change of ownership had intervened, but he still held a grudge over Martin's firing.

I pointed out that Calvin Griffith was only the first of several owners/general managers to conclude that life was a whole lot better if Billy wasn't part of it, but he wasn't budging.


Chris Jaffe has a book coming out on managers, and The Hardball Times this week posted this excerpt on Billy Martin, with a heavy emphasis on Martin's debut season — his one year managing Minnesota.

Jaffe, in an e-mail asking for the link, implied that Martin's Twins connection might be a bit surprising to my readers. That made me chuckle.

Jaffe's probably a bit younger than me; to Twins fans of a certain age, Martin remains the best manager the Twins ever had. Better than Tom Kelly, who won two World Series; better than Ron Gardenhire, who has won five divisional titles in eight seasons with just one losing season; better than Sam Mele, who took the 1965 Twins to the seventh game of the World Series.

Jaffe's excerpt captures a good part of what captivated Twins fans that summer. It doesn't detail the problems that lead to Martin's firing that fall — the drunken fights, the insubordination.

The Twins have had two managers since 1987 — Kelly and Gardenhire. They fit the stability the Pohlads treasure in their businesses. Someone like Martin wouldn't get in the door in this operation. And the Twins are better off for that.


A sizable part of Jaffe's piece focuses on the steals of home employed by Martin in the first few weeks of the 1969 season. I have some different thoughts about that — but that's going to be a big hairy post that I simply don't have time for right now. Maybe this weekend.

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