Remembering Billy, twenty years later


Billy Martin, right, celebrates a World Series victory with George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra.

For Yankee fans of a certain age, Christmas Day is one tinged with sadness. On December 25, 1989, twenty years ago today, Billy Martin died in a drunk driving accident outside of Binghamton, New York. At the time, he had seemingly come to a peace with George Steinbrenner and was serving as an adviser to the Boss. He was 61 then with four World Series rings as a player and one as a manager.

Many of us don’t remember Billy. We hear tales of his playing days from our parents or grandparents and were not alive for or aware of the many times he was hired and fired. Martin, though, as Moss Klein, the long-team Yankee beat writer for The Star-Ledger, writes today was one of a kind. He was combative and fiery on the field and more so off as he struggled with his inner demons and fought with umpires, players — Reggie Jackson and Billy had some relationship — and his boss. A few weeks before his death, rumors swirled that Billy would be back in the dugout come March.

In the end, Billy died as he lived — on his own terms with no seat belt. As Klein writes, “As a manager, he could usually figure out a way to win. But sadly, he could never figure out how to manage himself.”

Today, those of us too young to remember Martin often don’t know what to make of him. As a player, he hit just .257/.300/.369 over 11 seasons and was seemingly more famous for getting traded from New York after a nightclub incident at the old Copacabana. But in Murray Chass’ obituary and George Vecsey’s profile and the comments from mourners, we see a man troubled and beloved by those who knew him.

To this day, no one really knows what happened on the icy roads in Binghamton twenty years ago. William Reedy, the other man in the truck that night, died this year in July, and as his obituary notes, he first said he was the driver to protect Martin. During his trial on drunk driving charges, he claimed that Billy was behind the wheel, but the jury found Reedy guilty anyway.

To me, Billy has always been an enigma. He shows up in Yankee biographies at odd moments. He plays a big role in the tale of Yogi as told by Allen Barra for a few years before his exile to Kansas and then reemerges as the manager in Jonathan Mahler’s The Bronx is Burning. He couldn’t live with the Yankees, and he couldn’t live without them.

Christmas Day Open Thread

"Awwwwww yeah!!!"

Happy Holidays to all of you who make RAB part of your daily reading. Go and spend the day with friends and family. Baseball can wait.

Details on Nick Johnson’s contract

The Yankees and Nick Johnson finalized their one year agreement two days ago, bringing the lefty swinger back to the Bronx six years after he was traded away. The basics of the deal are well known ($5.5M for 2010 with a mutual option for 2011), however the AP has some of the minor details:

  • The 2011 option is for the same base salary with a $250,000 buyout. If Johnson comes to the plate at least 550 times next year, the buyout jumps to $500,000. Both sides have to pick up the option for it to kick in.
  • The guaranteed value of the option year can increase to $6M with 500 plate appearances in 2010, $6.5M with 550 plate appearances, and $7M with 600 plate appearances.
  • Johnson could potentially pocket another million bucks in both years of the deal with plate appearance based incentives: $50,000 each for 400 and 425 trips to the plate, $75,000 each for 450 and 475, and $125,000 each for 500, 525, 550, 575, 600, and 625 plate appearances.
  • If both sides pick up the mutual option and Johnson reaches all of the incentives, he’d take home a total of $14.5M.

There doesn’t appear to be any no-trade protection or any other benefits like that, which is always a plus. Hopefully Nick The Stick stays healthy and it’s $14.5M well spent.

Christmas Eve Open Thread

Man, I miss the excitement of being a kid on Christmas. It’s fun giving gifts and all that, but it’s just not the same. I honestly don’t know what the best gift I ever got was, and frankly I don’t remember many of them. Such is life.

Use this thread to reminisce about your holiday experiences, talk about what the Yanks should do about leftfield, the Knicks game, whatever you want. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Christmas Eve rumors: Yanks talking to Reed Johnson

The baseball world slows down a bit on Christmas Eve as executives, agents and players settle in for some quality time with their families. The Yankees though are still working on their holiday shopping. As Joel Sherman reported this afternoon, the Yankees are “talking regularly” with Reed Johnson and his representatives. Johnson, 33, would be a left field target for the Yanks, and he would give them some flexibility as he is a right-handed batter who can play all three outfield positions. He doesn’t, however, hit too well. He has a career line of .282/.344/.411 with a 95 OPS+ and has had an OPS+ above 100 just twice in seven years and not at all since 2006. He played just 65 games last year and has averaged 84 games per season over the last three years while hitting just .269/.333/.383. Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann can probably do that.

Link Dump: Cliff Lee, Mark DeRosa, Curtis Granderson

Nothing better than some linkage before the Christmas Eve drinkage.

Yanks made a push for Cliff Lee

Joel Sherman, who broke the Javy Vazquez story while on vacation, scribbles a few notes on the deal. In the first he says that the Yankees were in on Roy Halladay, and “made a hard, late push for Cliff Lee.” Vazquez isn’t a bad alternative, especially at that price, but Cliff Lee in the Bronx would be amazing. He’s a free agent after this season, and with the contracts of both Andy Pettitte and Vazquez expiring, the Yankees could have some cash and a free rotation spot. I expect Lee to be their No. 1 target, other than their in-house guys (Rivera and Jeter).

Uribe returning to San Francisco?

Why would Yankees fans care about an infielder returning to a team 3,000 miles away? Because the Giants had interested in Mark DeRosa as their third baseman, and reportedly had a two-year, $12 million offer on the table. Because of DeRosa’s versatility, and the Giants’ lack of an outfield, that offer might stand. But having Uribe penciled in at third has to make the Giants less attractive for DeRosa. Plus, if he wants to play for a winner, like he says, San Fran might not be the best choice.

Breaking News: Curtis Granderson is a good dude

No, there’s nothing breaking about that. Curtis Granderson is known around baseball as one of the good guys, and he fulfilled that reputation when he went straight from his introductory press conference to the Yankee Stadium food drive. Bryan Hoch also talked to Granderson about his holiday traditions and memories. His favorite present was a Walter Payton football, pads, and jersey. I remember getting a Joe Montana jersey and football back in the day. My little brother got a Rodney Hampton jersey that Christmas. I pretended Joe Montana was a linebacker.

Cashman named Major League Executive of the Year

After constructing a team that won the World Championship in convincing fashion – remember, they never once played a game that could have sent them home, despite what the bridge jumpers think – Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman was named Major League Executive of the Year by the Boston chapter of the BBWAA. If you’re in Boston, click through the link for ticket information to the award dinner if you want to attend.

Congrats to Cashmoney.