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Billy Martin

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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 career.

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 1965.

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."

Managerial debut

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.


Where are the 1965 Minnesota Twins?


Born in 1928, Billy Martin was sometimes called "the bad boy of baseball" during his playing days. If so, he wasn't an entirely bad influence on his roommates. Three of them -- Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Mickey Mantle -- won Most Valuable Player Awards.


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