(May 16, 1928 – December 25, 1989), commonly called "Billy", was an American Major League Baseball second baseman and manager who, in addition to leading other teams, was five times the manager of the New York Yankees.
First known as a scrappy infielder who made considerable contributions to the championship Yankee teams of the 1950s, he then built a reputation as a manager who would initially make bad teams good, before ultimately being fired amid dysfunction.
In each of his stints with the Yankees he managed them to winning records before being fired by team owner George Steinbrenner or resigning under fire, usually amid a well-publicized scandal such as Martin's involvement in an alcohol-fueled fight.
Martin was born in a working-class section of Berkeley, California.
His skill as a baseball player gave him a route out of his home town.
Signed by the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks, Martin learned much from Casey Stengel, the man who would manage him both in Oakland and in New York, and enjoyed a close relationship with him.
Martin's spectacular catch of a wind-blown Jackie Robinson popup late in Game Seven of the 1952 World Series saved that series for the Yankees, and he was the hitting star of the 1953 World Series, earning the Most Valuable Player award in the Yankee victory.
He missed most of two seasons, 1954 and 1955, after being drafted into the Army, and his abilities never fully returned; the Yankees traded him after a brawl at the Copacabana club in New York during the 1957 season.
Martin bitterly resented being traded, and did not speak to Stengel for years, a time during which Martin completed his playing career, appearing with a series of also-ran baseball teams.
The last team for whom Martin played, the Minnesota Twins, gave him a job as a scout, and he spent most of the 1960s with them, becoming a coach in 1965.
After a successful managerial debut with the Twins' top minor league affiliate, the Denver Bears, Martin was made Twins manager in 1969.
He led the club to the American League West title, but was fired after the season.
He then was hired by a declining Detroit Tigers franchise in 1971, and led the team to an American League East title in 1972 before being fired by the Tigers late in the 1973 season.
He was quickly hired by the Texas Rangers, and turned them for a season (1974) into a winning team, but was fired amid conflict with ownership in 1975.
He was almost immediately hired by the Yankees.
As Yankee manager, Martin led the team to consecutive American League pennants in 1976 and 1977; the Yankees were swept in the 1976 World Series by the Cincinnati Reds but triumphed over the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in the 1977 World Series.
The 1977 season saw season-long conflict between Martin and Steinbrenner, as well as between the manager and Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson, including a near brawl between the two in the dugout on national television, but culminated in Martin's only world championship as a manager.
He was forced to resign midway through the 1978 season after saying of Jackson and Steinbrenner, "one's a born liar, and the other's convicted"; less than a week later, the news that he would return as manager in a future season was announced to a huge ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.
He returned in 1979, but was fired at season's end by Steinbrenner.
From 1980 to 1982, he managed the Oakland Athletics, earning a division title with an aggressive style of play known as "Billyball", but he was fired after the 1982 season.
He was rehired by the Yankees, whom he managed three more times, each for a season or less and each ending in his firing by Steinbrenner.
Martin died in an automobile accident in upstate New York on Christmas night, 1989, and is fondly remembered by many Yankee fans.