From the Contra Costa Times -
Alfred Manuel (Billy) Martin was born May 16, 1928, in Berkeley to Alfred and Joan Martin. He was raised by his mother after his parents separated. She, being of Italian ancestry, called him “bello,” which is “beautiful” in Italian, and that’s how he got the nickname “Billy.”
Billy started his major league career as the second baseman for the Yankees. He went on to be the MVP in the 1953 World Series and was an All-Star in 1956. Billy played and partied hard, and the partying got him traded in 1957 to the Kansas City Athletics. Despite their deep friendship, Billy and Casey didn’t speak for years after that trade. Billy always felt that Casey did nothing to stop the trade.
He returned to the Yankees in 1975. He took the Yankees to the World Series in 1976 and 1977 and won the World Series in 1977. Billy resigned briefly in 1978 after feuding with outfielder Reggie Jackson and team owner George Steinbrenner. He returned to the Yankees in 1979 and was fired for fighting with a salesman.
Billy went on to manage the Oakland Athletics and won the Western Division split-title in 1981 after he perfected a play called “Billyball.” The A’s went on to sweep the Royals and then lost to the Yankees. He was fired from the Athletics in 1982, and returned to the Yankees in 1983, 1985 and 1988, but for never more than one full season, due to his temperament.
On August 10, 1986, the Yankees retired his uniform number — 1. They also dedicated a plaque in his honor at Yankee Stadium. The plaque says, “There has never been a greater competitor than Billy.”
His untimely death on Dec. 25, 1989, in a car crash shocked all. His grave is located close to Babe Ruth, with the epitaph being something he said: “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.”
They said Martin was the only man who could actually hear someone give him the finger.
He was a funny guy – there’s a story about him and Mantle, when they were young, running from rangers after they were caught poaching on a farmer’s land (featured in one of Mantle’s books) that’s priceless.
In summary, the usual drill was for the rangers to just run the guys off the land and give them a scare. However, on that day, Martin didn’t feel like running too long and told Mantle “Screw it, I’m going to shoot it out” and then Billy turned and aimed his rifle at the rangers. If I recall correctly, in the book, Mantle said that the rangers looked like they saw a ghost when this happened at hit the dirt in an instant.
I still would have not retired his number though…that was a gift from Stein.