Billy Martin, a controversial, tempestuous man, was fired tonight as manager of the New York Yankees and will be replaced by Dick Howser, a former Yankee player and coach with a temperament just the opposite of the fiery Martin.
Martin's second firing by the Yankees in two seasons apparently was triggered by a recent incident in a Bloomington, Minn., hotel. Martin, allegedly punched a man, who required 15 to 20 stitches to close a cut lip.
The Yankees made the announcement tonight, according to The Associated Press, after the wire-service received a tip and called the Yankees. A club spokesman confirmed that Martin had been fired. The spokesman would not give a specific reason and said owner George Steinbrenner would not be available for comment.
When he flew from his Florida home to New York to investigate the latest fight allegations, Steinbrenner may have already prejudged Martin when the owner commented: "We just can't have him getting into these things every two months. It's not good for organized baseball."
Martin, who was rehired as manager last June, was scheduled to manage the Yankees through the 1981 season. A Yankee spokesman said it has not yet been determined if Martin will remain with the club in another capacity for the remainder of his contract.
Martin was not available for comment tonight.
Steinbrenner first fired Martin in the middle of the 1978 season after the manager had a series of problems both with management and superstar Reggie Jackson. A week later, however, Steinbrenner shocked the baseball world by announcing that Martin would be back in 1980.
After Martin was involved in a fight with a sports writer in Reno, Nev., last November, Steinbrenner handed down an ultimatum that Martin would return to the Yankees only if he "were on his best behavior."
However, it didn't take Martin until 1980 to get back on the job. When the Yankees, whom Martin had managed to two World Series triumphs, faltered under Bob Lemon, Martin replaced Lemon, as Steinbrenner put it, "to fire up" the team. The Yankees, however, finished fourth in the AL East.
The latest Martin incident took place in the Hotel de France in Bloomington, where Martin once managed the Twins. According to police, Joseph Cooper, a marshmallow salesman, was identified as the man hit by Martin following a conversation in the hotel lounge.
Martin told United Press International that he did not punch anyone.
"I was going throught the lobby and heard a noise," Martin said. "I turned around and saw the guy on the floor. A security guard said the guy fell and cut his lip I just left and went to my room."
Steinbrenner first refused to comment on the incident, but according to UPI, Yankee sources said the owner felt such behavior was unbecoming the club's image.
"I am upset by it," (the reports)," Steinbrenner said at the time. I don't know all the facts yet, but Billy promised me he would not be involved in any more fights."
By Saturday, Steinbrenner apparently had collected enough information on the incident to make the change. Howser, the baseball coach at Florida State University who managed the Yankees for one game in the 1978 transition from Martin to Lemon, said he was on the field with his FSU team when he received a phone call from Steinbrenner.
The owner said there was a possibility the Yankees were going to make a change.
"Would you be interested? Howser said Steinbrenner asked him.
"Yes, that's a possibility," Howser said he replied.
He then flew to Steinbrenner's horse farm at Ocala, Fla., and "the deal was consummated," Howser said.
The Yankees said tonight that Howser had been signed to a multiyear contract. Its length and terms were not disclosed.
Howser, 42, was an infielder for eight years with Kansas City, Cleveland and the Yankees. He was the Yankee third base coach from 1969-78 and last season coached at Florida State.
Although he had settled in the Tallahassee area to get away from the major league limelight, Howser said, "It would be hard for anyone to turn down the New York Yankees managing job, especially when you've been part of the organization for 12 years. I'm a Yankee. . ."