Baseball Prospectus has a really nice piece up where Billy Martin Jr discusses his father’s life and times, and makes a Cooperstown case for the Veteran’s Committee to consider. It’s subs req’d, but content like this really makes the annual fee worthwhile, and I highly recommend it if you don’t already subscribe. Here’s some highlights from the interview:
On his childhood:
He came from a very humble upbringing. He was very poor. I know that this sounds like one of those “I walked seven miles in the snow” stories, but he used to take mustard sandwiches to school. He’d pull sacks out of the trashcan at school so he’d have a clean-looking lunch sack—one that didn’t have somebody’s name on it—and he’d make two mustard sandwiches. Then he’d grab fruit from one of his neighbor’s fruit trees on his way to school, so that his lunch sack would look more full and so that he had enough to eat.
He had a secretary who George had told, “Do not let them put mayonnaise on my sandwich.” Sure enough, after the second sandwich arrived with mayonnaise on it, George fired the girl. Afterward, one of the other girls in the office got the courage to walk into his office and say, “Mr. Steinbrenner, you do know that the only reason she was working here was to put her kid through college?”
Going back to the story, he fired that girl and someone told him she worked there because she was trying to put her son through college. George being George, he thought about it and then took the son out to lunch. He told him, “Here’s the deal. If you maintain this grade point average, and keep your nose clean, I’ll continue to pay for your college.” He didn’t hire the mother back. There was no way he was going to do that, because he was very demanding.
I’m sure that you saw when he pulled Reggie [Jackson] off the field? Reggie bashes him, still. Well, Reggie, my dad got the best out of you.
He did what he had to do to hold that team together, because all that Reggie said when he first got there divided that team. I think that if dad hadn’t gone out of his way to continue to keep Reggie down, he would have lost that whole team. The inmates can’t run the asylum. He was doing that to mess with Reggie, and he was doing it publicly so the team could see, “Hey, we’re not going to let somebody come in here and say that they’re better than the rest of the team.”
His case for Cooperstown:
He took every team he ever managed to the postseason, except the Texas Rangers. I think that only two managers have taken three teams to the postseason, Dad and La Russa, and Dad is the only one to take four teams. He also did it before they expanded the playoffs. And Texas came very close, in 1974, which was his only full season managing them. They fired Whitey Herzog and hired my father, and he took the same team and almost went to the postseason with it. This was a team that had lost over 100 games the year before.
On the Yankees: (Last week in Oakland as manager)
There were only a few weeks left in the season, and all of the reporters left, except for a guy named Randy Galloway. Dad trusted Randy, because he could tell him things without getting burned, and he told Randy, “I’ve got a little something for you, and in about three weeks you can let this out, but you didn’t hear it from me. You can say that I’m going to be the Yankees’ manager next year.” In unison, Randy and I both asked, “Why?!”
He looked at me like he wanted to kill me, because I asked him why he wanted to put up with the press there, and the owner, and everything. In Oakland he was The Show. It was Billyball. He was the Pope of that town. It was awesome, but he looked at me, so mad. He said, “Because I’m a Yankee, pard. I‘m not happy anywhere else.”