By Glen Sparks
The Minnesota Twins gave a 40-year-old, self-made ballplayer his first chance at managing in the majors in 1969.
What did the Twins expect from Billy Martin? He relied on modest tools and battled in every game as a player. The tough guy from Berkeley, Calif., hit .257 over 11 big-league seasons, mostly with the New York Yankees. He knocked 64 career home runs and drove in 75 runs in 1953. Martin played in five World Series while in the Bronx (batting .333, 33-for-99) and made a shoestring catch with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the ’52 Series.
Once, he fought Red Sox shortstop Jimmy Piersall underneath the grandstand at Fenway Park. He also duked it out with catcher Clint Courtney of the St. Louis Browns. The word got around: Billy Martin, who did some boxing as a teenager, liked to brawl.
New York shipped Billy out of town midway through the 1957 campaign. Or, about a month after that famous incident at the Copacabana night club in Manhattan. It was Martin’s 29th birthday. He, along with teammate Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, decided to celebrate. The evening turned into a mess. Bauer, for instance, slugged a patron.
Yankee brass blamed Martin for being a bad influence. The team shipped him to the Kansas City A’s, a perennial loser. Over his final 4 ½ years in the majors, Martin played on six teams. He drank and fought and got fined and suspended.
Martin did some scouting and minor-league managing after his playing career ended in 1961. He served as skipper of the Twins’ Triple-A team in Denver before getting the major-league gig. Martin ended up managing five different squads and did five tours as the Yankees skipper. He won five division titles, two pennants and one World Series. Then, there was all that other stuff … Once, he battled it out with a marshmallow salesman.
This is a brief rundown of Billy Martin the manager, in the Twin Cities and elsewhere:
Minnesota Twins (1969): Martin’s squad compiled an admirable 97-65 mark in the skipper’s rookie season, 17 games better than in ’68. The Twins finished in first place after sinking to seventh the previous year. Hamon Killebrew pounded 49 home runs; Tony Oliva slugged 24. Rod Carew hit .332 and won the first of his seven batting titles. Jim Perry (20-6, 2.82 ERA) and Dave Boswell (20-12, 3.23) led the pitching staff.
The Baltimore Orioles swept the Twins in three games in the playoffs. Martin started Bob Miller, 5-5 during the regular season, in the final game. Owner Calvin Griffith asked Martin why he would do such a thing. “Because I’m the manager,” Billy replied. Griffith fired him.
Detroit Tigers (1971-73): Detroit, fresh off a 79-83 campaign, hired Martin in the fall of 1971. The new skipper led his squad to 91 victories and to second place in the American League East. The next year, Detroit dropped to 86 wins but still won the division. Veterans like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich led Detroit on the field.
Once again, Martin lost in the playoffs. This team, the Oakland A’s beat him. In Game 2, Bert Campaneris, angry at being hit by a pitch, flung his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. Martin practically came out his underwear trying to get to Campy.
Detroit fired Martin on Sept. 2, 1973. The team was 71-63, but Billy was wearing out his welcome, as he would so often do. He already had gotten himself arrested during a public disturbance at spring training. Later in the season, he told reporters that he wanted his pitchers to throw spitballs. He also ripped management, the commissioner and everyone else in the newspapers. Billy was great ink.
Texas Rangers (1973-75): Well, it didn’t take Billy long to find a job. The Rangers nabbed him before the season was up. Martin guided the team to a 9-14 mark in the closing weeks (Texas ended up 57-105 after going 54-100 in 72.). Even better, Texas improved to 84-76 in ’74, good for second place in the A.L. West. Young outfielder Jeff Burroughs hit 25 homers, drove in 118 and hit .301 to win the A.L. MVP award. Future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins won 25 games.
Expectations were high going into ’75. The Rangers, though, struggled. On July 20, with the team 44-51, team owner Brad Corbett fired Martin.
New York Yankees I (1975-78): Once again, Martin didn’t stay out of work for long. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired Billy on Aug. 1. The skipper would be going back to his baseball roots. His team went 30-26 to close the season.
The Yankees won the pennant in 1976 and met the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Cincy swept the Yankees in four games. Billy didn’t even have to watch the final out from the dugout. First-base umpire Bruce Froemming tossed him out in the ninth inning after Martin threw a baseball at home-plate ump Bill Deegan.
New York signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent before the 1977 campaign, won 100 games in the regular season and knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in the World Series. Steinbrenner, a.k.a. The Boss, gave Billy a fat bonus and a new car. Everything looked good until midway through ’78. Martin uttered his famous quote on Jackson and George: “One’s a born liar (Jackson) and the other’s convicted (George, who pleaded guilty in 1974 to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign).” Martin resigned July 24. … (Billy kept a mustache for much of his managerial career. He looked a bit like cartoon villain Snidely Whiplash, famed nemesis of Dudley Do-Right.)
New York Yankees II (1979): Well, why stay mad? Steinbrenner hired Billy to right the ship after the Yanks got off to a slow start in ’79. Billy led the team to a 55-40 mark. New York finished 89-71 overall, good but not good enough to make the playoffs. Steinbrenner fired him at the end of the year. (This was the year that Billy clobbered the marshmallow salesman during a bar brawl. The guy, Joseph Cooper, required 15 stiches to close up his injury.)
Oakland A’s (1980-82): Billy, who grew up near Oakland, was going home. Charlie Finley, one of baseball’s most eccentric owners (orange baseballs, a mechanical rabbit that would pop up near home plate and deliver new baseballs to the umpire, etc.) hired him to lead a team filled with talented pitchers like Mike Norris, Brian Langford and Matt Keough. The three combined for 72 complete games in 1980; Oakland finished second at 83-79.
The next year, the split season of 1981, Oakland made the playoffs but got bounced out by the Yankees. Once again, the A’s starters threw a ton of complete games. Following a disappointing 1982 season (68-94, fifth place in the A.L. West), Billy got the boot. The biggest criticism? He burned out those starting pitchers.
New York Yankees III (1983): The third time is a charm, right? Well, sorta. The Yanks did manage to go 91-71. The problem was, that was only good for third place in the division. This was the year of the infamous pine-tar game, by the way. The Kansas City Royals’ George Brett hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium to give K.C. the lead. Or, so everyone though. Martin, a stickler for details, knew that Brett liked to lather up the bat with pine-tar, even more so than the rules allowed. The umps agreed, took the runs off the board, and Brett—as the video shows—went berserk. (Baseball later overruled the umps.) Anyway, Steinbrenner canned Martin about a week before Christmas this time.
New York Yankees IV (1985): This is when it got funny. George fired team icon Yogi Berra 16 games into the season and hired Billy. The Yanks got into a groove and went 91-54 under the new/old skipper. They were only 6-10 under Berra, though, and missed the playoffs. This time, Steinbrenner cut Martin loose on Oct. 27, a few days before Halloween. Things were getting scary.
New York Yankees V (1988): This is when it got farcical. Martin replaced Lou Piniella as skipper nearly 100 games into the season, went 40-28 and got fired. Most people didn’t care at this point. It was getting silly.
There was no Billy Martin VI. Martin died Dec. 25, 1989, in a one-vehicle accident in Fenton, N.Y. He was 61 years old. The man who once dubbed himself “the proudest Yankee of them all” is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., not far from the greatest Yankee of them all, Babe Ruth.
By Glen Sparks
Nolan Ryan put in some time as a paper boy while growing up in southeast Texas. That leads to all sorts of speculation.
How hard do you think young Nolan could fling a copy of the Houston Chronicle? Did he always throw the fastball, or did he like to mix in a 12-6 curveball?
Ryan started delivering newspapers at the age of eight. That was one way to build up arm strength. Supposedly, Ryan could hurl a softball 100 yards by time he was in junior high, 30 yards or so farther than any other kid in Alvin.
Not surprisingly, just a few years later, scouts crowded into Alvin High School to check out the Yellow Jackets’ right-hander. The kid went 19-3 as a senior. He pitched in 27 games and struck out 211 batters, many of whom were likely afraid for their lives.
That was in the pre-radar gun days. So, the argument began: Just how hard was this teenager throwing?
The New York Mets selected Ryan in the 12th round of the 1965 major league amateur draft, the first one ever held. So, 294 players were chosen before Ryan. What happened? The story goes that the Alvin baseball coach, upset at the team’s mental mistakes, put his players through one wind sprint after another. The next day, he told Ryan to take the mound. Still tired, the pitcher suffered through a bad day. Teams took notice; Ryan’s draft position plunged.
But, boy, did Ryan rebound to his old form. From 1965-67, he struck out 445 hitters in 291 minor-league innings. New York brought the kid with the golden right arm up to the majors in April 1968. In his first major-league start on April 14, 1968, against (appropriately enough) the Astros, Ryan tossed no-hit ball for five innings and left the game after 6.2 innings and eight strikeouts. In another early start, he struck out 14 Cincinnati Reds. The rookie was good, very good. Orlando Cepeda even declared that Ryan was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen.
Ryan spent five seasons in New York. He missed the 1967 season due to a military commitment and also suffered from finger blisters. Oh, and he walked a lot of batters. Nolan Ryan, with a fearsome fastball and no real control over it, was the very definition of an “uncomfortable at-bat.”
Over his Mets career, Ryan pitched 510 innings and struck out 493 hitters. He also gave up 344 walks. But, he only surrendered 244 hits. All that led to a 29-38 won-loss mark and a 3.58 ERA (98 ERA+). What exactly did the Mets have in Lynn Nolan Ryan? Would he ever join an outstanding Mets rotation that already included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Gary Gentry?
In the end, the Mets decided they couldn’t control Ryan’s wild side. On Dec. 10, 1971, they sent him all the way across the country, to the California Angels, along with Frank Estrada, Don Rose and Leroy Stanton, for Jim Fregosi.
Fregosi, a six-time All-Star in Orange County, didn’t do a whole lot in Flushing, Queens. He lasted a season and a half, battled some injuries and got into just 146 games. He hit five homers and batted .233 before being shipped to the Texas Rangers.
Ryan, meanwhile, came into his own in southern California, playing just one freeway exit away from Disneyland. He made 39 starts in 1972 and finished 19-16. Over 284 innings, Ryan struck out 329 hitters. And, despite walking a league-high 157 hitters, he posted a 2.28 ERA (128 ERA+). It helped that he gave up just 166 hits.
In 1973, the Ryan Express went 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA (123 ERA+). He also struck out 383 hitters, beating Sandy Koufax’s single-season record by one and doing it Sept. 27 against the Minnesota Twins in memorable fashion. He punched out Steve Brye for No. 382 in the eighth inning. Tied 4-4 after nine innings, the game went into extra innings. Ryan fanned Rich Reese in the 11th inning for the record, and the Angels won 5-4.
On May 15, 1973, at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Ryan did what everyone probably thought he would do one day. He tossed a no-hitter. Ryan struck out 12 Royals and walked three. And, he wasn’t done.
The man with a 100 mph heater tossed a second no-hitter in 1973, on July 15 at Tiger Stadium. That time, he fanned 17 and walked four. Ryan retired after the 1993 season with seven no-nos, three more than Koufax. Ryan also threw 12 one-hitters, tied with Bob Feller for the most.
In his epic 27-year career (with the Mets, Angels, Astros and Texas Rangers), Ryan went 324-292. He struck out 5,714 batters, more than anyone in baseball history and almost 1,000 more than No. 2 Randy Johnson. (Ryan also is No. 1 on the all-time walks list with 2,795, nearly 1,000 in front of runner-up Steve Carlton.) The writers elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1999 with 98.8 percent of the vote.
He put together one of the most spectacular careers in the history of baseball.
By Glen Sparks
Tough guy Adrian Beltre most likely is headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.
He certainly possesses the requisite numbers for enshrinement: 413 home runs and 1,467 RBI going into the 2016 season. The 36-year-old has a .285 career batting average, a .477 slugging percentage and a .814 OPS. His nifty defense at third base has translated into four Gold Gloves (That number should probably be higher.) and numerous ESPN highlights. Beltre’s lifetime WAR (Baseball-reference.com) stands at 83.8.
Yes, the chances seem good that Beltre will join George Brett, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt and other great third baseman as Cooperstown immortals.
The more interesting question might be this: Who is going to write the Adrian Beltre story? Y’know, the one that packs in all the drama, all the twists and turns, and all the humor of Beltre’s incredible career? This is a best-seller in the making.
Beltre broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a precocious teenager in 1998, a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, filled with raw talent and heart. Scouts loved him.
He actually signed with the Dodgers in 1994 for a $23,000 bonus. Beltre weighed 130 pounds, but he swung big and threw bullets from third base. The trouble was, he was only 15 year old and underage for signing. Baseball found this out later and suspended the Dodgers’ Dominican operations.
He just about died when he was 21. Doctors botched his surgery for a ruptured appendix. That put him on a diet of watery soup and orange juice for two months. He still reported to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla. Sick and weak, he took ground balls and batting practice with a colostomy bag underneath his uniform.
Beltre mashed a major-league leading 48 home runs for the Dodgers in 2004. The 25-year-old drove in 121 runs and hit .334 with 200 hits and 104 runs scored. The writers voted him runner-up for National League MVP. Then, he left L.A. as a free agent, and the Dodgers didn’t even know it.
The Seattle Mariners signed him to a five-year, $64 million contract. They didn’t give the Dodgers a chance to one-up that deal even though Beltre had married an L.A. girl and had just bought a new house in the area.
He did OK, not great, in Seattle. He won a couple of Gold Gloves but topped out at 26 homers. He did, though, suffer another one of his famous injuries. See, Beltre doesn’t wear a cup for protection of his, uh, sensitive parts.
In 2009, he took a line drive that ruptured a testicle. That did require a trip to the disabled list. When Beltre returned to action in Seattle, he walked up to bat with “The Nutcracker Suite” playing in the ballpark. And, no, he still doesn’t wear a cup, he says.
Beltre left Seattle and signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2010. Boston paid him $9 million to play great defense, pop 28 homers, drive in 102 runs and hit .321 over 154 games.
Then, he left for the Texas Rangers. Beltre signed a five-year deal, $80 million (with a vesting option for 2016). He hit 32 homers in his first year with Texas, 36 the next and 30 in 2013.
The last two years, he has slugged just 19 (2014) and 18 (2015) homers. Thanks in part to his continued great defense, he has posted WARs of 7.0 and 5.8, respectively.
An article about Beltre in the March 28, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated goes over some of the player’s other Hall of Fame qualifications. It especially covers his defensive prowess. (He ranks fifth in baseball history, for instance, in fielding runs saved.) His trademark play is his barehanded pick-up of grounders down the line, flinging the ball to first base from impossible angles.
Stephanie Apstein’s article also goes in-depth on Beltre the leader. Some teammates affectionately call him “Grandpa.” He is famous, of course, for going ballistic—in a fun way—if anyone dares to touch his head. So, of course, teammates—the daring ones, at least—like nothing more than to flip off Beltre’s cap or helmet and pat his noggin. All for some laughs.
More importantly, Apstein reports, Beltre acts as the leader in the Rangers’ clubhouse. He buys birthday cakes for everyone, offers a kick in the butt if needed and just the right encouraging word. He is a future Hall of Famer and a great story.