Sunday, April 11, 2010

24. Billy Martin

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate the Yankees. In fact I am a third generation Yankee hater. That out of the way, you might be wondering why the heck I would produce a card of the ultimate Yankee, Billy Martin. Respect, that's why. As much as I can't stand the team that he has come to represent, I have to admire his grit and determination as a player. There are some players who just have that natural talent for the game like Ken Griffey, Jr, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth. And then there are those other players that seem to get by on sheer will, pouring everything they have into the way they play the game making it seem like they are playing for their life and will do anything to win. Pete Rose comes to mind as does Eddie Stanky and Ryan Freel. These were guys who may not have been the best fielder or the best hitter. They may not have been the fastest or the biggest. They did however always seem to find a way to beat you. Billy Martin is one of these guys and love him or hate him, it is for that reason he belongs in The Infinite Baseball Card Set.

Billy Martin was brought up in the slums of Berkley, California during the depression made all that more grim when his father, always referred to as "The Jackass" by his mother, abandoned the family. An ugly and awkward kid Martin had to grow up tough in his rough neighborhood and he was reputed to be the leader of a local gang. Sports became his way out of the hood and he excelled at both baseball and basketball at Berkley High School. Oakland of the Pacific Coast League signed him upon graduation and after 2 years on their farm teams he made the Oaks at the end of the 1947 Season.

When Billy Martin joined the team it was primarily made up of older veteran players. They took a liking to the feisty young player and dubbed him “The Kid”. Casey Stengel was the manager at the time and while today he is thought of as a kindly, grandfatherly figure he was actually a rough player and a proponent of the old school way of playing the game and winning by any means necessary. He was able to channel all of Martin's inner rage towards the Oaks' opponents and Stengel encouraged his young protege to needle the other team's players. Martin ably replaced the Oaks veteran second baseman Dario Lodigiani when he was injured early in the 1948 season and later also filled in at shortstop and third base providing a valuable utility role during the Oaks championship season. When Stengel became Yankee manager in 1949 he made sure “The Kid” followed. As the manager of The New York Yankees he was expected to win and what better insurance is there than having Billy Martin on your team.

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