Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baseball's "Bad Boy" Billy Martin

Alfred "Billy" Martin was only 17 years old when he was first signed to a baseball contract. When his manager and mentor, Casey Stengel, became the Yankee’s manager, in 1950, he signed Martin to the team. Martin proved to be a valuable asset, being named 1953’s MVP, the year the Yankees won the World Series. In 1975, after his playing days were behind him, Martin was hired by Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner, to manage the team. Under his leadership, the Yankee’s won the 1976 Pennant and the 1977 World Series. Yet, despite Martin’s successes with the team, his relationship with Steinbrenner was tumultuous and tales of his firings and subsequent rehirings filled newspaper pages. A 1985 NY Times article characterized their relationship as “sport's longest-running soap opera.”

Martin died on Christmas day in 1987, at the age of 61, when his pickup truck --driven by a friend--skidded off an icy road in upstate NY. His Funeral Mass, which took place four days later, was held at New York City’s venerable St. Patrick’s Cathedral. More than 6,500 hundred people packed the church --former president Richard M. Nixon, and sports greats Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto, among them—while another 3,500 hundred people stood outside in the cold. From the altar, Bishop Edwin Broderick quipped to the crowd, ”The cathedral was the last place you would expect to find Billy. But it so happens this is the last place we find him.” Martin’s pride in being a Yankee is evidenced by the inscription on his monument in Gate of Heaven Cemetery: I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.

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