Billy Martin 1952 #175
by William Szczepanek
Finding Billy Martin in the Baseball Card Hall of Fame is somewhat a surprise, but it shouldn't be. His statistical accomplishments as a player are considered average at best, but his ferociousness and combativeness as a player are unsurpassed. His image as a battling, clutch player are what most remember of him as a competitor. This same temperament surfaced in his more memorable stint as a manager.
This scrappy player will be remembered for his playing days in the early fifties with the Yankees as an excellent fielding 2nd baseman and clutch hitter with 5 World Series appearances. His defensive prowess was often overshadowed by his teammate Phil Rizzuto. Together as a keystone combo they solidified the Yankee infield up the middle.
He did lead the league in sacrifice hits in 1958 with 13. His attitude was all about winning, not personal statistics. His glory was in his World Series performances. He saved game 7 the 1952 World Series by charging a little popup off of Jackie Robinson's bat with the bases loaded while no one else made an attempt to go after the ball. he made the catch as he crossed to the first base side of the pitcher's mound. Not a difficult catch, but one that required him to take control of the situation. Martin set a Series record with 12 hits in the seven games in the 1953 World Series, earning him the Babe Ruth Award. In 28 World Series games over 5 years Martin accumulated a .333 batting average.
The hard-playing, hard-drinking Martin was considered a bad example for Mickey Mantle, and the New York brass traded him in 1957 after an incident at the New York Club, the Copacabana. Martin was involved in a fight when Sammy Davis Jr. was heckled by spectators. Martin was the roommate of Elston Howard, the first black player for the Yankees, and showed no hesitation in defending Sammy Davis, Jr. With Bobby Richardson in the wings Martin was expendable and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. His glory days were as a Yankee and he resented being traded by them and never seemed to realize his full potential after that.
Martin was so popular in New York that his #1 uniform was retired.
My best personal memory of Martin was when he was with the Cincinnati Reds. I was watching the game on television on August 4, 1960 when Jim Brewer of the Cubs brushed him back. Martin was angered and threw his bat at Brewer. Brewer picked up the bat and appeared to be apologizing to Martin as he handed Martin the bat. Martin hit Brewer with a right hook and broke his cheekbone.
As a result of the incident the Cubs and Brewer sued Martin. The Cubs' suit was dropped but Brewer won his and was awarded $10,000. When informed of the judgment, Martin asked, "How do they want it? Cash or check?" >
This 1957 card of Martin is one of my personal favorites.
You can check out Martin's statistics at Baseball Reference.com.