Billy Martin won everywhere he coached.
They also fired him from all the places where he directed.
However, the strangest firing of all he suffered was none of the five times that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fired Martin or pressured him to resign. It wasn’t the first time he was shown the door, either, after the Twins won 18 more games than the previous season and moved up to seventh to first place and the 1969 SCLA, their only season in Minnesota.
It was the time in Texas when the owner of the club made the decision because of a John Denver song.
Here’s the story of how Billy Martin – born and raised in Berkley, California, and a four-time World Series winner at second base in New York – lost his job, at least in part, because of the song “Thank God I ‘m a Country Boy “.
“I loved playing for Billy. I always saw him as a manager of the players, ”said Tom Grieve, who played for the Rangers throughout Martin’s stay in Texas and has been a commentator for the team since 1995.“ I loved his intensity, how competitive he was. We always felt – at least I felt – that if we are even in talent with the other team, we were going to win because our manager was better than the one on the other side ”.
Martin’s ability to bring out the best in his players is perhaps best evidenced by his record during his first season at each stop. Working with the same group of players as the previous driver – especially before the advent of free agency in 1976 – Martin won more often than his predecessor at every opportunity, averaging 20 more wins and 3.8 places in the table (just watching his first stint with the Yankees for this year).
1968 under Cal Ermer: 79-83 (.488), 7th place in West LA
1969 under Martin: 97-65 (.599), 1st place
1970 under Mayo Smith: 79-83 (.488), 4th place in East LA
1971 under Martin: 91-71 (.562), 2nd place
1973 under three leaders: 57-105 (.352), 6th place in LA West *
1974 under Martin: 84-76 (.525), 2nd place
* Whitey Herzog was 47-91, Del Wilber 1-0 and Martin 9-14 to close out the season.
1975 under two managers: 83-77 (.519), 3rd place *
1976 under Martin: 97-62 (.610), 1st place
* Bill Virdon went 53-51, then Martin 30-26
1979 under Jim Marshall: 54-108 (.333), 7th place in West LA
1980 under Martin: 83-79 (.512), 2nd place
“Billy knew how to motivate each player individually,” explained Grieve. “He didn’t have a formula for everyone. I think he adjusted his style depending on who the player was. In most cases, he brought out the best in his players and you can see that in how quickly his teams improved when he arrived. “
But in each case, the effect passed quickly. His longest stay anywhere was the parts of four seasons he spent on his first experience in the Bronx. He finished the 1975 season, led the Yankees to the World Series for the next two years (crowning himself in 1977) and then was fired after starting with a 52-42 record in 1978.
“I think one of the things that probably happened every place Billy went is that after the first year and a half, two years, things were starting to change,” Grieve explained. “That first effect was beginning to wear off and things were not going as well as when it had arrived. It is a history and it is very easy to see it. That is not the fault of the organizations, that can basically be attributed to Billy. That’s how he was ”.
In Texas, Martin helped the Rangers achieve their first positive record since moving to Arlington from Washington, nearly doubling the attendance from 662,974 fans in 1972 to 1,193,902 in his first full season in 1974. And he loved the lifestyle, quickly adapting to Texas.
“It was a really good fit (in Texas),” said Jim Sundberg, who was one of Martin’s catchers in 1974. “He had his boots and his cowboy hat. It was the perfect role for him before things went down the drain. “
The Rangers changed ownership – from Bob Short to Brad Corbett – in early 1974 and that stirred things up a bit. Corbett hired Dan 0’Brien as general manager (Martin was also the GG when he came to Texas and made a trade with the Cubs for future Hall of Fame Fergunson Jenkins), and Martin was less influential in choosing the players for your roster.
“Billy’s plan was to turn the team around and then in a short amount of time he basically sabotaged himself,” Sundberg said.
Martin’s off-field ways would affect the team as well, with players noticing his drinking problems and the people he hung out with, according to Bill Pennington’s 2015 biography, “Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius. “
“His occasional drinking problems are well documented, and I think that at times prevented him from succeeding,” Grieve said. “There were times in 1975 when we were taking batting practice not knowing what the lineup was because he still hadn’t made it to the stadium.”
As that sweltering Texas summer of 1975 wore on, friction between Martin and the board produced even higher temperatures. A well-known problem at the time involved catcher Tom Egan, a backup released by the Angels on June 30, 1975. Martin wanted the Rangers to sign him, but O’Brien and Corbett said no.
“You noticed that the relationship he had with the owner and the manager was changing,” Grieve said. “There were times when Billy wanted to find a certain player, not a star, to have his personality on the team. But the board did not agree with some of those suggestions and it created tension. You knew it wasn’t going to last. “
Among the Texas things Martin liked was country music. In early July, the No. 1 song in the Billboard Top 100 was “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver, perhaps because Martin began to insist that the put in the stadium. But not just between innings. I wanted to hear it in the middle of the seventh act, instead of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Martin and Corbett argued over the songs and in the end the owner – it was his team, after all – chose to stick with the traditional baseball theme.
During a Sunday day – July 20, 1975 – Martin made one of his last decisions as a Rangers manager. At some point during the doublegame against the Red Sox, the driver picked up the dugout’s phone, but not to call the bullpen. According to Pennington’s biography, Martin called the press box, looking for the person in charge of putting the music between inning and inning. Umpire Ron Luciano had walked into the dugout to fetch water and recalled the scene in his autobiography: “Billy was saying, ‘I don’t care what the owner says, put on the bloody John Denver song.’ He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Billy yelling, ‘You better listen to’ Thank God I’m a Country Boy! ” And he dropped the phone.
When Martin’s petition was posted during the recess of Act 7, “Corbett was furious,” Pennington wrote. The next day, the Rangers announced the firing of Martin.
Did that really happen? Was Martin’s fate decided by a song? Two baseball players who played for him don’t specifically remember him, but you can imagine something like this happened.
“He was getting very dominant,” Sundberg said. “I was doing things like that. And that was not the only night in which he called the press box to demand something. Yes, I think that could have happened ”.
“I heard that story, and based on the person I heard it from, I trust there is some truth to it,” Grieve opined. “I don’t think it’s a myth. I think it did happen, but I don’t remember knowing when it happened. Maybe they wrote it in the newspapers the next day. “
Indeed, Dave Anderson of The New York Times wrote about it: “‘He wanted to run everything in the organization,’ said a Rangers official. ‘Until the music that was placed’. During the seventh inning break at Arlington Stadium, a version of ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ could be heard, on Billy’s orders. “
A couple of days later, a story from the United Press International agency noted that when Martin left, the song from the stadium also disappeared.
No matter how good a manager Billy Martin was, he was often his worst enemy. Perhaps if I had reduced some of his many requests – like the music in the stadium – he could have gotten some of the players he wanted. But on the other hand …
“I don’t think it was that hard for the team to please Billy either,” Grieve said. “Put on the song on the weekends, do it for a while and see what happens. Please, today a player can call the box to change the song with which he goes to bat in the fifth inning. “
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Billy Martin got fired for a song?