Martin was not an overly gifted athlete by any stretch of the imagination. He got his chance to play in the big leagues because of his grittiness and the fact that he was a hard nosed player and not because of his talent and skills. A second baseman at the time when second basemen were supposed to be gritty and play good defense and thats all that was expected. Casey Stengel saw enough of him and liked the way he played the game, Martin was in the middle of a lineup that included the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Moose Skowron and Elston Howard. He was a very influential player on the Yankees teams that seemed to win or be in the World Series just about every year. Of course, he was known as a "bad influence" in the clubhouse which led to him being traded in 1957. Though that didn't hinder the Yankees and his 2B replacement Bobby Richardson, as the team continued to win without him, he still was a main fixture on the team. Though he blamed Stengel for not keeping from being traded, he still owed it to Stengel, without whom he would have never been an every day player.
After being traded away from the Yankees, he was never the same player. He used this time to polish up his baseball knowledge, which he had already mastered. He showed that during his managerial career, which sometimes does not get the credit that it deserves. He vastly improved the on-field product of the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers before being hired by the Yankees in 1975. Though he had inherited a team that was ready to win and followed through with leading the team to the World Series in 1977. His major drawback was his temper and his knack for doing things to get himself fired. He was fired from every one of his managerial jobs, not just the five times he managed the Yankees, but an additional four times with the Twins, Tigers, Rangers and Oakland Athletics. His baseball knowledge was instrumental in turning around franchises but the drawback was the little shelf-life he could sustain in one place for an extended period of time. Though the teams always got better, an organization needed to part ways with him after time due to issues with top management, players and sometimes even media and fans.
Its hard to distinguish oneself as a manager enough to make the Hall of Fame. Many very successful managers have not made the Hall. But Martin should be appreciated for what he brought to the game as a manager. It was no coincidence that EVERY team he managed got better. I am confident he could have turned around some of the terrible Mets teams because of his preparation and ability to get players to play the game right. Very few exist in the game today that can turn around a team that absolutely has no talent. Talent, nowadays, is the only way a team can improve. You can never have a group of players that overachieve the way Martin got players to.
While you are out with your family today, take a couple of minutes to acknowledge the influence of one of the better managers the game has ever seen. Maybe you can share some of the most volatile moments of his career. One of the things I most remember about the time he passed away was my friend's father saying, "Billy won't be back to manage the Yankees for the 6th time." He was definitely one of the craziest figures the game has ever seen. He would be 83 right now, and who knows what would have happened had he not been killed in a car accident on this date in 1989.