Billy Martin was only 31 and enjoying another competent season -- and
one of his best in the field -- when he was hit by a pitch from Washington's
Tex Clevenger early in August of 1959. Martin was playing with Cleveland
at the time. The pitch broke Martin's left cheekbone, blackened and closed his
left eye and ended his season. It also probably hastened the end of his playing
That career wrapped with the Minnesota Twins, who sent money and Billy
Consolo to Milwaukee for Martin early in the 1961 season. Martin was
immediately installed as the Twins' starting second baseman that June, and was
soon hitting well above .300. But he finished hitting less than .250 for the
second straight season, and that was it.
He scouted for the Twins before joining the team as a coach on the field in
On the eve of March 1965, Martin spoke with baseball writers about his new
position with the Twins, which not only involved coaching third base, but
working with infielders. He spoke of shortstop Zoilo Versalles and said, "I'm going to
spend a lot of time with Versalles and I would not be surprised if he turned
out to be the most valuable player next season."
Of course, Versalles became the first Latin American player to win a Most
Valuable Player award. There is little question that, regardless of what Billy
Martin was off the field, on the field he knew the game as well as anyone, and
better than most.
When the Twins sent him to manage Denver in 1968, the Twins' top farm team
was 7-22. The Bears went 58-28 the rest of the season, and in '69 Martin's
big-league managing career began with the Twins.
Martin's death in a one-car crash on Christmas Day 1989 probably prevented
the inevitable: he had problems with his liver because of his drinking, and
refused to listen to friends and others, such as former Twins' physician Dr.
Harvey O'Phalen, who had urged Martin to quit.
Reckless on the field and off, Martin attracted people by the thousands. He
invited nuns to games on a regular basis in 1965, but also had friends across
the upper Midwest -- many of whom he met in saloons. He claimed to have visited
every bar in Minnesota, North and South Dakota.
Because of his friendships and his turbulent personality, Martin was
certainly one of the few managers to draw fans to the ballpark.