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November 22, 2010

Prospectus Hit and Run

Billy and George

by Jay Jaffe

 

The pairing is straight out of the classic Miller Light TV commercial, the most famous Odd Couple of their era in baseball, a poor street tough from a broken home and a child of privilege and wealth, united by their volatility and their indomitable will to win but unable to coexist in each other's company long enough to share the fruits of victory more than once. Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner share space on the new Expansion Era Hall of Fame ballot to be voted upon at the upcoming Winter Meetings, and it's no stretch to suggest that both men, now deceased, could join the ranks of the Cooperstown immortals together.

To review: The 12 candidates on the ballot—Martin, Steinbrenner, Marvin Miller and Pat Gillick as well as eight former players—will be voted upon by a 16-member panel reminiscent of the old Veterans Committtee which was phased out with a radical expansion in 2001 and then revived this past summer with an announcement which explicitly avoided the term "Veterans Committee." The panel includes Hall of Fame members (Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith), major league executives past and present (Bill Giles, David Glass, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf), and media members (Bob Elliot, Tim Kurkjian, Ross Newhan and Tom Verducci). To gain entry, candidates need to receive at least 75 percent of the vote. Nowhere in the rules is there mention limiting the number of candidates for whom an individual can vote.

Best known for his five stints (!) with the Yankees, Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin managed four other teams as well during a career spread of 16 (sometimes partial) seasons spread out over 20 years from 1969-88. During that time, he compiled a 1,253-1,013 record, good for a .553 winning percentage, reached the playoffs five times, and won two pennants and one World Series. He was a master at turning teams around on a dime, as well as a strategic genius whose style differed radically from, say, Earl Weaver, but he invariably wore out his welcome thanks to a tempestuous nature exacerbated by alcoholism, triggering verbal battles with owners and players (most notably Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson), some of which spilled into actual brawls. 

After an 11-year big-league career as a player which began in the Bronx in 1950 and ended in Minnesota in 1961, Martin joined the Twins organization, first as a scout (1962-64), and then as a coach (1965-68) before taking over the job of managing the team's Triple-A Denver Bears affiliate early in the 1968 season. He graduated to the Twins' managerial job in 1969, and won a division title in his inaugural season, piloting a club that featured future Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew as well as other talented notables like Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Jim Perry. Yet Martin was dismissed following the season because he'd beaten up ace pitcher Dave Boswell to the point that the latter needed 20 stitches.

After sitting out the 1970 season, Martin was hired by the Tigers, whom he pushed to 91 wins, 12 more than the year before, in his first year on the job. He won a division title in his second year, one where the players' strike ate up the first week of the season, which was never replayed, causing the 85-70 Red Sox to fall half a game short of the 86-70 Tigers, the single worst scheduling screw job in baseball history. Martin was fired late in 1973 after ordering his pitchers to throw at Indians hitters in retaliation for Gaylord Perry's spitballs.

Almost immediately he landed a job with the Rangers, who'd gone 48-91 under Herzog and his interim replacement, and while the team finished a godawful 57-105, they vaulted to 84-76 the next season, their first winning campaign since moving from Washington to Texas. Again, by the middle of the next season, Martin was gone as the team underperformed, and again, he landed a job almost immediately, this time with the Yankees, who had fired Bill Virdon in-season. In the view of Mike Shropshire, who covered the Rangers beat for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the mid-'70s and later distilled his accounts into the hilarious tomes Seasons in Hell and The Last Real Season, once Martin saw the writing on the wall for Virdon, he deliberately exacerbated conflicts with his players in Texas in an effort to free himself to come home to the Bronx and the one job that mattered more to him than any other: manager of the Yankees. Martin had spent the bulk of his playing career in pinstripes, and it was for the Yankees he'd enjoyed his brightest moments, particularly when it mattered: he hit .333/.371/.566 with five homers in the four World Series in which he had an at-bat (he was limited to a pinch-running appearance in the other in 1951). The Yankees won three of those four series, and had a series MVP award been given back then (it began in 1955), he'd have won at least one.

Martin's task was to restore glory to a franchise which hadn't been in a World Series since 1964, and he did so in short order, taking the Yankees to the AL pennant in 1976 and winning the World Series the following year. He resigned in mid-1978 after taking an unsuccessful swing at Jackson in the dugout during a nationally televised game; under Bob Lemon, the Yankees would overcome their 10-game deficit behind the Red Sox and go on to repeat as champions. In a twisted love-hate relationship with Steinbrenner, Martin would go on to be hired and fired four more times by the Yankees (1979, 1983, 1985, 1988), completing just one full season and never taking them to another postseason despite racking up 91 wins twice (once in just 145 games). Amid that turmoil, he spent three years at the helm of the Athletics, turning a 54-108 last-place sad sack into an 83-79 dynamo in his first year in 1980 at the expense of his starting pitchers' arms; that team completed 94 games, the highest total since integration (1947 onward) and one of the 12 highest totals of the live ball era (1920 onward). During the strike-torn 1981 season, the A's made the playoffs, but they sank to 68-94 the following season when the pitchers he'd ridden so hard in the previous two years began breaking down.

Among the skippers who managed at least 1,500 games in the big leagues—a cutoff which incorporates every Hall of Fame manager in baseball history save for the Negro Leagues' Rube Foster—Martin ranks 16th all-time in winning percentage. Twelve of the men above him are Hall of Famers, three (Frank Chance, Cap Anson and Fred Clarke) as much for what they did as players as managers. Eleven Hall of Fame skippers, including contemporaries Sparky Anderson, Herzog, Tommy Lasorda and Dick Williams, have lower winning percentages; Weaver is the only enshrined contemporary with a higher one. Raise the bar to 2,000 games, a level of experience only 50 other skippers reached, and Martin rises to 13th, with 10 Hall of Famers (including Anson and Clarke) above him; Davey Johnson and Bobby Cox are the other two; the latter is a lock for Cooperstown. Right there is a strong argument for Martin belonging in Cooperstown.

Furthermore, at 240 games above .500, Martin ranks 20th all-time, with 14 Hall of Famers (including Anson, Clarke, Chance and Charles Comiskey, whose credentials also incorporate his playing and ownership careers) above him and nine manager-only Hall of Famers below him. Everybody else above him who's not already in the Hall of Fame is headed there eventually except perhaps for Johnson: Cox, Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, all active this past season, though both Cox and Torre have since retired. Among Martin's contemporaries, again Weaver is above him, as is Anderson. Still, his standing in this category has to be taken as a point in Martin's favor.

Martin's managerial career exactly coincided with the dawn of division play, which doubled the number of playoff teams per league from one to two; as late as 1968, the team with the best record in the league went to the World Series, and the rest went golfing or hunting or whatever. Martin's teams made five postseasons while he was still at the helm—1969 with the Twins, 1972 with the Tigers, 1976 and 1977 with the Yankees, and 1981 with the A's, in a year cleaved in two by the players' strike with the field of post-season teams thus doubled. Martin's 1978 Yankees won the World Series, but only after he was fired in midseason with his team 10 games above .500 (52-42) but 10 games back. They were 14 back earlier that week before winning five straight; in any event, that one isn't counted in his total.

Overall, those five playoff appearances are tied for 15th. Anderson (seven in 26 seasons), Lasorda (seven in 21), Weaver (six in 17) and Herzog (six in 18) had more, Williams (five in 21) had as many. All managed longer, some of them considerably so, because they were all more successful in the art of job keeping. All of them won more pennants than Martin's two, and only Herzog and Weaver had as few as one world championship.

Martin's inability to keep a job is the big strike against him, but the effect he had on clubs was indisputable. The 1968 Twins, 1970 Tigers, 1973 Rangers, 1975 Yankees and 1979 A's combined for a .429 winning percentage in the season before or in which Martin took over (not including his own stints). In his first full season on the job, those teams won at a .571 clip—the equivalent of a 23-win improvement—with two of the five making the playoffs. In the second season, they won at a .563 clip, with three of the five making the playoffs. In the third season, or the part he managed, they slumped to .490. There was never any fourth season at any stop.

Focusing on his various Yankees stints from 1975-88, Martin won at a .591 clip, while the other managers in his midst—Virdon before him, and then Lemon, Dick Hoswer, Gene Michael, Yogi Berra, Lou Piniella and Clyde King in his various wakes—won at a .548 clip, a  difference equivalent to seven wins per year. Excluding the first stint, which is incorporated into the data in the previous paragraph, the difference is slightly wider: .589 for Martin, .543 for the rest.

How did Martin do it? Where Weaver played for the big inning, Martin was a master of one-run tactics. He loved to play for that first run, for it meant that his opponents would have to score at least twice to beat him, and so he used the hit-and-run, the stolen base and the sacrifice bunt with frequency. He taught Carew to steal home in 1969; Carew did it seven times that year, the most since 1946. Martin let Rickey Henderson set a record with 130 steals in 1982. Sportswriter Thomas Boswell described his outside-the-box strategy in Ken Burns' Baseball:

 

Billy Martin proved what a powerful strategic tool paranoia is. He believed that everyone was against him. And so he spent every waking moment figuring out how imaginary enemies could be defeated in their nefarious plots. And sometimes he not only created strategies to defend against things that would never be done against him, but he realized that those attacks were in themselves novel and he would then try those attacks that he had already dreamed up a defense for. That's why he was so wonderful at suicide bunts and double steals and any way that you could humiliate or psychologically defeat the other team, he was sure that's how the world reacted to him. He was sure the world hated him. And so he turned that really raw, frightened paranoia into wonderful strategic intelligence.

 

Which isn't to say that Martin's teams couldn't bash; his 1969 Twins led the AL in scoring and were fourth in homers, his 1971 Tigers led the league in both, his 1972 Tigers were in the top five in both, his 1976 and 1977 Yankees in the top four in both, his 1981 A's—the stop where the "Billy Ball" tag really stuck—led the league in homers while running fourth in steals and fifth in sacs.

Martin's inability to keep a job is a hindrance when it comes to comparing him to peers like Weaver, Lasorda and Anderson, who spent long stretches with one or two teams, but overall, his is a unique and impressive track record. He was a tormented son of a bitch, but for all of his personal failings, he could give a ballclub the kick in the ass it sorely needed to win like perhaps no other manager before or since. That's a Hall of Fame skipper.

As for Martin's frequent employer and occasional tormentor, George Michael Steinbrenner III was often a bully, and sometimes a buffoon, but unequivocally "The Boss." A football player at Williams College and an assistant coach at Northwestern and Purdue, he fully subscribed to Vince Lombardi's "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" ethos, often failing to understand that running a baseball team on a daily basis required a subtler touch and a deeper reserve of patience than his gridiron sensibility could muster.

Nonetheless, aside from Connie Mack and Walter O'Malley, perhaps no other owner in baseball history was as influential or successful over such a long period as Steinbrenner. Beyond the latter, who uprooted the Dodgers from Brooklyn, none gave more ammunition to his detractors, or unified so many in their hatred. Steinbrenner spent much of his tenure as a cartoon villain, and was suspended from baseball not once, but twice. Even in absentia, he had the foresight to embrace the dawn of the free agent era, not only spending top dollar to stock his team with the market's marquee players but also reinvesting his considerable profits back into the team. For all of his tyrannical meddling—hiring and firing 21 managers in his first 20 years, burning through general managers at a similarly absurd clip—he stayed out of the way of what his baseball men built in his absences long enough to preside over four pennant winners and two world champions from 1976-81, and six more pennants and four world champs from 1996-2003, adding one final title in October 2009. In the end, the Cleveland shipbuilding magnate who had spearheaded the purchase of the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for less than $10 million was the benevolent despot who restored the luster to the franchise. When he passed away back in July, the Yankees were the most valuable property in professional sports, worth an estimated $1.6 billion.

Having traced the arc of Steinbrenner's career just a few months back when he died, I'll save the space and cut to the chase. The question of whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame is a thorny one, because for starters, the ranks of owners in Cooperstown, like those of general manager, are underrepresented. Only four non-playing owners—and four very different men—are in the Hall: Barney Dreyfuss, O'Malley, Bill Veeck, Jr., and Tom Yawkey. Dreyfuss was the Smartest Man in Baseball during his time, a man in the middle of every important decision about the game for four decades dating from the 1890s to the early 1930s. O'Malley was the game's ultimate power broker, the man whose sneeze gave the entire National League a cold. Veeck was the game's ultimate iconoclast, someone who thumbed his nose at baseball's establishment on matters both fun and serious. Yawkey… well, he was an open racist who ran his team like a country club and spent lavishly in pursuit of a championship that never came; what the hell he's doing in the Hall of Fame is utterly baffling. Also occupying Cooperstown's executive class are Comiskey, Clark Griffith, Mack, and Albert Spalding; all owned teams, but they all had playing and managing careers as well, and their contributions were of particular importance during the game's infancy, so it's tough to measure Steinbrenner against them.

The most glaring absence from the ranks of enshrined owners is that of Jacob Ruppert, who owned the Yankees for 24 years (1915-39), a span during which they won their first 10 pennants and seven world championships. Ruppert and partner Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (who would sell his share of the team in 1922) would purchase the contract of Babe Ruth, build Yankee Stadium, and hire Hall of Fame general manager Ed Barrow, the architect of those winning teams. Dan Topping, who co-owned the Yankees from 1945-64, a span that included 15 pennants and seven world championships, has a strong case as well. An incomplete list of other owners with reasonable cases would at the very least include Sam Breadon, August Busch, Jr., Charlie Finley, John W. Galbreath, Ewing Kaufmann and Ted Turner, and I'm sure I've left off others.

Those owners aren't under consideration on this ballot, so this panel cannot remedy their oversights. Instead, the committee is limited to deciding whether the positive aspects of Steinbrenner's case outweigh the negatives. On the one hand, he was undeniably one of the game's foremost power brokers. His teams had stretches of great success in part because he was a visionary when it came to surviving in the post-Messersmith-McNally world. He was a singular personality who used his team's financial might to best advantage, a marked contrast to today's often-anonymous corporate bean counters demonstrably more concerned with profits than championships. Steinbrenner put his money where his mouth was, time after time, and in doing so he built the Yankees into what they are today.

On the other hand, Steinbrenner's pursuit of free agents helped to drive up salaries considerably, which in turn played a part in widening the gulf between the game's haves and have-nots. His preference for seasoned and often over-the-hill veterans resulted in many a bad contract, and cost the team hordes of quality prospects over the decades, players who may have brought home even more glory had they been permitted to develop in the Bronx. He flaunted the rules by participating at least somewhat in the behind-the-scenes operation of the Yankees during his two suspensions, the first of which, owing to a conviction related to illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon, had nothing to do with baseball but the second of which, paying a known gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, did. He bullied his employees—general managers, managers, players, secretaries, et cetera—when it suited him, and at his worst made their lives living hell.

That's a lot to weigh, and the relative proximity of his passing doesn't make it any easier. Ultimately, Steinbrenner is something of a Rorschach Test for baseball's economic expansion in the free agency era. Some can look at him and see History's Greatest Monster, others a particularly savvy businessman whose mellowing with age was an important part of his success. I do think the specifics of Steinbrenner's third act—his evolution during the success enjoyed by the Yankees under the relative stability of the Joe Torre/Brian Cashman era—may be enough to sway voters. But I'm not sure it's a bad idea to table the decision on his candidacy for another cycle to let the emotions surrounding his legacy settle.

So, having completed the roundup of the Expansion Era ballot, it's safe to say that all four non-playing candidates—Martin, Steinbrenner, Miller and Gillick—have stronger cases for enshrinement than the ex-players—Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub—do. We'll find out who's in on December 6.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

35 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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steve.k

Appreciate the work on Billy and George. As a forever Yankee fan, I went back and forth between blind allegiance and embarrasment over both. Billy's great skill was as the turn-around specialist, but had the staying power of the glue on a post-it note. Much as it pains me, thumbs up on GMS, down on Billy.

Nov 22, 2010 04:25 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

when they get george in and still refuse admission to miller, it will be another glorious landmark in the history of the hall of fame.

Nov 22, 2010 05:38 AM
rating: 3
 
Michael
(736)

It seems to me that the perceived knock on Billy Martin is that he was so focused on winning in the short run that he managed in a manner that may have harmed his teams' long run performance. Piling on complete games on a young Oakland rotation was the most prominent example. Is that perception correct or not?

The data about his teams improving in his first full year is essential, but I knew that already.

Nov 22, 2010 09:18 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

Several less than exemplary characters are in the Hall of Fame. That's a given. However, the fact that Martin was a violent, abusive drunk certainly affected his managerial performance and tenure. The fact that Ty Cobb may have been racist or that Mantle was also an alcoholic did not for the main part affect their play on the field. I realize addiction and criminal behavior are more tolerated in today's society, but I hope that they are not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. A person's character is not conducive to sabermetric measurement but there has got to be some minimum standards. However minimum you want to go, Martin does not measure up to them.

Nov 22, 2010 10:16 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

P.S. ....If George and Billy do both get in, I suggest that their plaque be written by Reggie Jackson.."One's a liar and the other's convicted."

Nov 22, 2010 10:18 AM
rating: 2
 
bhalpern

Sorry if this is meant to be sarcastic and I'm missing it, but it was Martin who said that about Reggie (the liar) and George (the convicted). That specifically led to one of his firings if I remember correctly.

Nov 30, 2010 12:14 PM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

Let’s check in on Billy Martin:
1. Won the AL West in 1969 --- beat out the Seattle Pilots and KC Royals expansion teams 36 games against these two!), the dysfunctional White Sox and Angels (Sandy Alomar!), and Oakland (two years removed from their dreadful Kansas City existence, with Danny Cater holding down 1B, Phil Roof catching, and Jose Tartabull and Tommie Reynolds totaling 600 PAs in the outfield)..Wow!...Then they got swept by the Orioles…Then the next year Bill Rigney (who’d never finished higher than 3rd in his 12-year managerial career) took the same team to the same division title…Basically, a fine 1965-67 Twins team slumped in 1968,making Martin look better than he was --- on top of that, he ruined Dave Boswell…
2. Won the AL East in 1972 --- the Orioles had an off year, somebody had to sneak in (think Cincinnati in 1971, Pittsburgh in 1973, etc)…The most likely winner would be the division’s previous pre-Oriole World Champion, Detroit, so this is nothing special either --- this was the remnants of the 1968 Tigers holding on against Rob Gardner’s Yankees and always-unlucky Red Sox (32 years before 2004)…
3. Texas in 1974 --- Fergie Jenkins (who wasn’t with Texas in 1973) dropped in his lap (for Bill Madlock), and won 25 games…Again, before-after comparison makes him look better than he was…If Texas keeps Madlock (which they should have, did this move make any sense?), Martin has another solid young hitter to go with Burroughs, Hargrove, etc, but he’s got to find 41 more starts and 25 wins from somewhere else – team probably finishes fifth with 69 wins….
4. Yankees 1976-77 (78) ----After Steinbrenner and Autry decimate the two top AL franchises of the previous decade (Baltimore and Oakland), the Yankees fill the void…Orioles lose Grich, Baylor/Reggie, Torrez, Grimsley, etc., and it takes them until 1979 to re-load --- again, like in 1972, Martin was there to cash in (barely winning the division in 1977, even w/ Tom Shopay holding down CF for the Birds for a month)….Oakland loses everybody: in their stead, the Andy-Hassler-led Royals fall in the play-offs each year…Gets humiliated by the 1976 Reds, beats the 1977 Dodgers (avoided the superior Phillies team ousted in Game 4 of the NLCS which was played in the worst conditions of any post-season game in history)…
5. The Oakland years…Come on…Are you even serious about this?...The entire AL East fit above the entire AL West at that time…He made the post-season because the music stopped on June 18th at 4:33 am and he was next to a chair…He ruined countless young pitchers with great promise…
6. And finally --- Where you see hit-and-run/suicide-squeeze small ball, I see a sick, sadist maniac …What he did to Jimmie Piersall was unconscionable….Really, how does that not get a mention?…And the bean-ball battles….Tony LaRussa is a rank amateur in this department compared to this guy…What series with the Orioles went by without him instigating a bean-ball war?…I remember one time Palmer went and hit Elrod Hendricks (who was with the Yankees at the time) just to move things along…and the rest: Pestering opponents over uniform codes…Pestering opposing pitchers over little ridiculous things to throw off their rhythm (including arguing with umps long past the point of reason)...And don’t forget pine-tar game: You think Tim McCelland (who was always a lousy, lousy umpire anyway) would have called Brett out if it was anybody else but Martin? --- He was afraid that if he’d ruled otherwise, Martin would have grabbed the bat and smashed his skull with it…You want this guy in the Hall of Fame?

Nov 22, 2010 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Wow, now that's a laundry list of bitter compaints. Since when is sneaking into the playoffs a crime? I'm not sure you can explain away all of Martin's successes so easily. You blame him for winning with an underdog. You blame him for winning with a favorite. You blame him for beating out a 97-win Orioles team that had the benefit of Eddie Murray's rookie season and Mike Flanagan's breakthrough and you're obsessed with Tom Shopay?

Worse, you've taken some massive liberties here. The Andy Hassler-led Royals? Hassler was the fourth starter on a staff that had Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorf at the front; Hassler made two of the team's 10 postseason starts vs. the Yankees in 1976 and 1977, and those teams had George Brett, Hal McRae, and some pretty fair supporting casts. They won 102 games in 1977, two more than the Yankees, and their run differential was just nine fewer. they would have ranked third in the majors in the year-end Hit List behind the Phillies and Yankees based upon their Pythagorean records and strength of schedule adjustments.

Likewise, the 1981 A's had the AL's best record and third-best run differential, and would have ranked fourth in the majors in the year-end Hit List behind the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros.

Nov 22, 2010 11:30 AM
 
dodgerken222

Let's imagine a superstar player, equal to the superstar manager the author of this article suggests Mr. Martin was. If this player had numerous suspensions because of violent behavior on the field, in addition to other numerous suspensions by the club or MLB due to substance or alcohol abuse, would we still be looking at a HOF candidacy? A player's career is short, and someone like this would probably miss at least two seasons due to suspensions and rehab. Imagine a Milton Bradley with twice the talent and twice the problems.
But with Martin, thanks to the fact that a managerial career does not have the time constraints of a player's, we have a miscreant who is being touted for the Hall. I thank baseball for keeping somebody like Martin off of the streets as much as it did, but it owes him nothing else.

Nov 22, 2010 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

Not to change the subject, but what happened to Dave Boswell? Pitched pretty well from age 20 to 25, then out of the league by 27?

Nov 22, 2010 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

Dave Boswell? What happened to Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Rick Langford and all the other pitchers from the 1980 A's? 94 complete games by a pitching staff? What kind of sick manager does that? What was Martin trying to prove? None of these pitchers ever threw 100 innings in a season after 1982. When you count up Martin's titles, also count up how many players' careers he ruined.
Yes...he turned Rickey Henderson loose to steal 130 bases...and get thrown out 42 times. Big whoop. Billy Martin for HOF? Get real.

Nov 22, 2010 11:43 AM
rating: -1
 
ddrezner

Jay, one quibble to your point about "the specifics of Steinbrenner's third act—his evolution during the success enjoyed by the Yankees under the relative stability of the Joe Torre/Brian Cashman era." Wasn't that stability achieved only because Steinbrenner was barred from making baseball decisions in the early 1990's? That allowed Gene Michael and others to amass the home-grown talent that formed the core of their late 1990's dynasty.

Nov 22, 2010 12:34 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

The success of that era owes much to Michael's work during Steinbrenner's second suspension, but George WAS back in power by 1995, and after firing Showalter and burning through Bob Watson (GM 1996-1997), he's the one who chose to retain Cashman and Torre, which wasn't tough when the Yankees won (1998-2000) but it took more restraint not to blow them and the roster up after those trips to the World Series became a less-than-annual occurrence.

In those dark years, the Yankees still made the playoffs perennially (except for 2008), they pushed their attendance well over 4 million, and one can argue that the way they retained continuity with that homegrown nucleus was at least as helpful from a branding perspective than ripping it up and starting again would have been. Would the next generations of homegrown talents such as Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes have had a chance to reach their potentials in pinstripes had that stability not been there? I don't know that it would have had Steinbrenner fallen back on his earlier ways.

Nov 22, 2010 13:24 PM
 
BrewersTT

I think Mr. Jaffe did an estimable job here of trying to fairly dissect these complex candidacies. I would prefer neither Martin nor Steinbrenner were honored in this way, but this article does show why there's a non-trivial discussion to be had. Some reactions are emotional, similar to those that argue for a player along the lines of "He was our hero in 19xx, we'll never forget him nor that wonderful summer, and on top of that he was a good guy. Smith is in and he hit 10 points lower." Only these fall along the lines of "he was such an inexcusable jackass, how can we stomach calling him the best?" Good stuff to know, but not enough to settle the matter. I found npb7768's response about Martin both very entertaining and iluminating, but I'm not sure how comfortable I am with dismissing Martin's record as one of being lucky over and over and over. Still in the end I agree - is this the sort of career we honor? We need a new kind of HOF plaque, the Dissenting Opinion, to be mounted next to the regular one, and depicting the player in a dunce cap, a prison cap, or whatever is appropriate.

Nov 22, 2010 13:13 PM
rating: 1
 
BrewersTT

Re Boswell, in comparison to the As pitchers who burned out: Boswell did throw 256 innings in 1969, with 10 CG, but that was not that unusual for the era, was it? It was a jump from what he was used to, but not insanely, it seems to me. I actually don't know what finished him - apparently injury, but what kind?

Nov 22, 2010 13:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Offhand I'm not exactly sure what did Boswell in, but the workload was hardly out of the question even for a 24-year-old in that era.

From 1966 through 1972 - going three years on either side of the season in question, and cutting off prior to the DH, there were 26 pitchers between the ages of 23 and 25 (Boswell was 24) who threw at least 250 innings in a season. Twelve of them did so more than once, including Hall of Famers Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Don Sutton, and Ferguson Jenkins. Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton did so once apiece as well, and in fact, what stands out looking at that list is that most of those guys had at least a few years of success: Larry Dierker, Mel Stottlemyre, Ken Holtzman, Joe Coleman (a guy who turned into a frontline pitcher on Martin's watch in Detroit and lasted at that level for a few years), Dave McNally, Andy Messersmith, Jim Lonborg, Jerry Koosman, Bill Singer... and more:

http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/B4nyn

Nov 22, 2010 13:36 PM
 
dodgerken222

According to the 1971 Sporting News Baseball Guide, Dave Boswell "was plagued with physical and emotional problems throughout the year, ending the season on the disabled list in early August."
By the way, in 1969 Martin hit Boswell with a punch requiring 20 stitches. Now THAT's impressive.

Nov 22, 2010 13:39 PM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

Let’s look at Martin in terms of his “value added” at each stop
1. 1969 --- You basically get any year of Bill Rigney’s career (plus the Dave Boswell thing).
2. 1972 --- You get any year of Mayo Smith’s AL career (without the Mickey Stanley move).
3. 1973 --- He develops Ron LeFlore (but only because he knew someone at the same prison --- figures), so you get any year of Jimmy Conway’s Atlanta career.
4. 1974 --- He develops Steve Foucault (impressive), gets a productive year out of Cesar Tovar, but destroys David Clyde (he’s never given credit for this), basically you get the first year of any Chuck Tanner stint, WITH the subsequent deterioration, only he’s not around to get blamed for it…Note: George Bamberger was much more impressive in 1978 --- and he didn’t get the Pilot-Royal-Mariner-Jay expansion jump Martin got in 1969 (vs. 1968) or in 1977 (vs. Lemon, Michael, etc).
5. 1976 -77 --- Any more impressive than Jim Frey?...Frey won the AL pennant w/ KC in 1980 (sweeping the Yankees) and a tough NL East in 1984…And, yes, Andy Hassler was a big deal in the 1976 and 1977 ALCS…Believe me, it was unheard of at the time to cart a guy of this mediocrity out to start games of this magnitude…If they’d’ve won his starts, KC’d’ve won the series in 4 and a sweep respectively…
6. 1981 --- Again, are serious you about this?... Thank God he didn’t get the full summer to abuse these guys…Dr. Richard Kimble would have gone nuts chasing four one-armed men around the Bay Area with Lt. Gerard in pursuit.

In sum, he’s a BillRigney/MayoSmith/JimFrey comparable.

Nov 22, 2010 16:09 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I appreciate the level of detail in your examples, but...

Blaming Billy Martin for David Clyde's career failure is ridiculous. The Rangers' ownership turned him into a circus act from the moment they drafted him and brought him straight to the majors at age 18. He belonged in the minor leagues during the entirety of Martin's tenure.

Hassler - the guy was basically a league-average lefty at the time and the Yankees had a lot of lefty bats. He kept the Royals in both starts before faltering in his final inning. I don't hear you blaming sainted Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog for starting him, and he's hardly even the most obscure guy to start a playoff game for his team. Giving fellow lefty Larry Gura, who had just eight starts in 1976-1977 regular season, three starts in the two ALCS (two in 1976, equaling his two reg. season starts) was an even stranger deal.

The problem with your comparisons is that you fail to account for the fact that Martin was able to repeat some level of success with different casts of characters at different stops. At every stop until his later Yankee years, basically. Rigney was a sub-.500 manager beyond the Twins (who admittedly were better in the years before 1968 than I had realized). Smith was a sub-.500 manager beyond Detroit. Tanner inherited strong teams in Oakland and Pittsburgh and was a sub-.500 manager overall. Frey completed only three full seasons of big league managing. Bamberger had exactly two good seasons as a manager.

Nov 23, 2010 06:18 AM
 
npb7768

Funny how the Sainted [not by me] White Rat figures into both the Hassler and David Clyde sagas...

1. Herzog began Clyde's demise (he's even confessed to leaving him in too long in starts so fan's could 'get there money's worth') and Martin finished him off...At least Herzog had the excuse of being a rookie manager with little major league playing experience. Martin was an established manager with a celebrated Yankee career behind him...If ever Martin's "pugnacious" "fight for my players" style was ever going to be worth anything, it would have been insisting that he was going to use Clyde like he wanted, not how Bob Short did...What is so ridiculous? Why don't you just ask Clyde yourselves?...I can imagine the BP Q&A --- BP: "What was it like playing for Billy Martin?" DC: "Billy was great. Really. I was a 19 year-old kid at the time and I learned so much from him, but also Art Fowler, who, you know, followed Billy everywhere he went and really helped me with my mechanics. I find it absolutely hysterical that anyone would think Billy has anything to do with my unfortunate career path."
2. Back to Hassler: League average lefty?..This guy, remember, showed up in KC mid-year (he and Gura were in-season acquisitions that year, though Gura was a far better pitcher at any point in their careers) after a year and half of some of the worst pitching this side of Kevin Ritz or the 1969 Expos...He had lost 15 games in row (which at the time, I think, was an all-time record), and had an ERA over 5.00 (which was unheard of at that time). He pitched well for two months for the Royals. This was basically like Spicio Spinks getting hot for two months, or Al Santorini, or Steve Dunning...He was left-handed and had had two good starts against the Yankees that summer...So you start him in Game 3 of the ALCS? Then the next year his ERA is the equivalent of 5.40 and you bring him back to start Game 2 (the famous Hal McRae tries to kill Willie Randolph game)? This was nuts...Believe me, Yankee haters at that time were pulling out their hair when this guy showed up on the mound staked to a 3-0 lead (which was HUGE at the time) in the bottom of the first. The only laugh we had that agonizing night was when Reggie did one of his pre-taped up-close interviews with players that they ran between pitches. ABC went with this one for Hassler -- Reggie: "What has it been like for your wife, going through those 15 consecutive losses?" Hassler: "Well, my wife doesn't follow baseball at all, she doesn't understand it, so it hasn't really been a problem." ABC decided we needed to know this.

Nov 24, 2010 11:39 AM
rating: 0
 
flyingdutchman

What exactly does it mean that Martin was a "master of one-run tactics"? The passing mention of "mastery" makes it sound like something from the culinary or martial arts world. Did Billy have special, esoteric knowledge of the ins and outs of baseball that allowed him to employ one-run strategies in an elusive and extraordinarily successful way? Can we demonstrate that he did and, if so, do we have an idea of what these strategies were, specifically? Roughly how many wins did he add to his teams’ totals by using these strategies?

Sorry, but I guess it’s a pet peeve of mine. This chess match, this highly complex tapestry of managerial brilliance, is almost always mentioned in passing. Rarely are there examples of what it was that the genius was doing, and even more rare is the actual accounting of the number of runs being scored or saved under his sage guidance. Get ready for Tony LaRussa to be referred to this way, and start paying attention now to these little things he’s doing, because they are going to be written about, in vague but glowing terms, when he hits the ballot in 10 or so years. Unless you consider constant, unnecessary pitching changes to be the height of managerial acumen, you’re not going to find anything worth mentioning. He’s just a guy who got the job. There are countless people who, under the right circumstances, could do just as well, but they go into other lines of business. This is what separates being a great player from being a “great” manager. I believe that there are probably interpersonal, managerial skills that go into running a ballclub well, and though these are very important, I’d bet they aren’t all that different, in essence, from managing a group of architects or even running a construction company. Baseball is not chess.

The reason Earl Weaver’s managerial strategies made sense is because they make sense on a basic, fundamental level, and most of the things we’ve learned about baseball since his tenure back him up. If Martin seemed to be Weaver’s polar opposite, someone is going to have to explain why it is that Martin’s teams were succeeding because of this, not despite it.

He was in a lot of ways a colorful character, he made a lot of noise, and he managed the Yankees a bunch of times. He rode pitchers, plus he probably got a little lucky. I don’t think anyone can make a truly convincing case that his special set of skills make him uniquely great at his job. He’ll make it though.

Nov 22, 2010 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

Let's just be thankful that Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Frank Robinson are on this committee --- Martin will need grab 12 of the remaining 13 votes....
Let's also be thankful he left MInnesota before he could destroy Bert Blyleven...

Nov 22, 2010 20:10 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

But were they good for baseball? Was the effect of the nominees, outside the s[heres of their respective teams, on the game of baseball, a positive thing?

Nov 22, 2010 17:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Llarry

But should we be enshrining just those who had a "positive impact"? Or is the magnitude of impact also worth consideration (no, I'm not recommending the 1919 Black Sox or Hal Chase...)? I'm not sure I can unequivocally say whether George's contributions were entirely positive or negative. What state would the game be in without him? I don't know...

Nov 23, 2010 16:59 PM
rating: 0
 
awayish

There is no transcendental meaning to positive or good for the game. is it from the owners' perspective? from the fans? or does the interest of players or the game's social justice play a part as well? if so, how much?

that the idea of good for the game is up to debate is the best argument for enshrining influential but controversial figures.

Nov 23, 2010 17:18 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

First, that argument should not really extend to players - I would hope they would be judged for what they did on the field. But for others (be they owners, commissioners, umps, GMs, managers, whatevers), I think we should be discussing their impact on the game at large.

Nov 24, 2010 06:38 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

what about someone like curt flood?

Nov 24, 2010 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Yes

Nov 24, 2010 10:12 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

or the negro league guys

Nov 24, 2010 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Which ones? The Negro League players should be looked at just like the MLB players. My comment mostly referred to non-players in contention for the HOF. Negro League players were players. I am a member of the Hall of Merit over at baseballthinkfactory, which has a mandate (just in my humble opinion) to look at all North American players under the same critical eye, whether they be MLB, pre-MLB, Negro League, pre-integration Caribbean leagues, etc...

Nov 24, 2010 10:14 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

when viewing baseball as a human activity rather than in abstraction as a game, player vs nonplayer becomes an arbitrary distinction. both groups have done things and mean things "outside of the game."

Nov 25, 2010 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I don't think I ever said "outside of the game" - my line of delineation was between those whose contributions to the game were "on the field" and those whose contributions to baseball were "off the field".

Nov 25, 2010 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

what about those who did both? pretty sure your delineation is not perfect and those caught in the middle are not resolved.

Nov 28, 2010 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I believe (but may be wrong) that it is the mandate that those being considered as executives (all flavours thereof) should also have their playing careers considered, if applicable. Such as in the case of Joe Torre. When he is eligible again, his playing career should be weighted in. His plaque will also make reference to it. See for example, Connie Mack's HOF plaque - http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1178350060054344540IFMGUi

Nov 28, 2010 15:41 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

Really intriguing set of articles, Jay. With respect, I'd just note that Steinbrenner *flouted*, not *flaunted* the rules. Flaunting is more the work of, say, Lady Gaga.

Nov 22, 2010 18:57 PM
rating: 0
 
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