This week, George and Billy repeated their vows again, and for the third time Billy Martin is manager of Steinbrenner's Yankees. Their two trial separations didn't work, and they have fallen into each other's arms again, all lovey-dovey and kitchy-koo, until something doth them part.
At the well-attended press conference announcing the reconciliation, Martin said he had a sparkling five-year contract as proof of George's affections and Steinbrenner was beaming at Billy's compliments amid the popping of flashbulbs. They were delighted enough to put on an hilarious spoof of their memorable spats of bygone years.
Billy said, "I'll be in charge of making all the trades, and George won't be making any more telephone calls to the dugout." From Steinbrenner, this drew a screaming, incredulous "What!" And in mock anger he yelled to Martin, "You're fired." George needed no rehearsal for that line, having used it twice before, in 1978 and 1979, when he wasn't joking.
How long their new troth will last can be earmarked as the newest, popular guessing game. How long can two massive egos coexist and find happiness in the same ballpark? Their kind of rapture is vulnerable, unfortunately, to the standing of the club. If, under Martin, the Yankees can rebound out of sixth place and win, then their marriage could be saved. Otherwise, Steinbrenner would be very unhappy.
The usually fiery Martin was all charm and sweetness at the announcement, almost lamb-like you might you say. As for his ability to get along with Steinbrenner, one might also ask: Can the lamb lie down with the lion? There is a memory of what one of my favorite sages quipped: "If he does, the lamb won't get much sleep."
It has been observed that they both deserve each other, Billy and George. But they also both need each other. Steinbrenner was shattered by the Yankees' dive to within one game of last place as the 1982 season ended, and he needs the likes of Martin to restore respect to the Yankees' pin stripes.
The Yankees' plunge last season under the three managers Steinbrenner hired during the year was costly in more than pride for Steinbrenner. It cost the Yankees a 600,000 drop in attendance, assessed as a $4 million loss of revenue, at a time when Steinbrenner is already burdened with a backlog of his generous guarantees to his numerous free agents amounting to many, many millions.
Steinbrenner needs Martin, a four-time manager of the year, to get the Yankees to shape up and fly straight. He also needs Billy to take the heat off him. Martin can cause useful diversions, with his wars against the umpires and other belligerencies.
He also needs Martin to help obscure his own goofs, like stupidly attempting to make the Yankees a steal-minded go-go team. It was this misbegotten switch from their legend as a power club that caused the Yankees to suffer not only in the standings but at the gate. The fiery Martin also can cover-up nicely for Steinbrenner's many costly mistakes in signing free agents and the big one of letting Reggie Jackson go. Lately, George has been in bad odor in New York for trying to move some early Yankee games to Denver.
And Martin needs the Yankees. He was a sad and hurt man when he was out of a job after being fired in October by Oakland. He actually was hiding out in different cities, he said. His agent, Eddie Sapir, said Billy needed the Yankee job because he was dejected. And now Billy has that five-year contract with the Yankees worth, some say, $400,000 a year. The perfect therapy.
Martin's managerial credentials are impressive. Until the Yankees won the pennant in 1976 in Martin's first full season there, they hadn't won one in 12 years. Incredibly, they hadn't won a World Series in 15 years until Billy brought it off in 1977. He has won division titles with three other clubs in his gypsy tour of the league.
It also is known that Billy, for all his success, can't keep a job, is eventually fired wherever he works. It didn't work out for him with the Twins, Tigers, Rangers and A's, all of whom had enough of Billy despite the glory he brought them. And we know it didn't work out for him, either, in those two previous stays with the Yankees.
In each case, except at Detroit, Martin's firings were preceded by squabbles. He won the AL West title for Minnesota in 1969 and was fired at the season's end, having earned Calvin Griffith's wrath by getting in a saloon fight with pitcher Dave Boswell and also taking a punch at traveling secretary Howard Fox, one of Griffith's favorites. He took the once-hapless Texas Rangers to a second-place finish in 1974 and personally failed to finish the next season--fired by owner Brad Corbett because of violent difference of opinions. Won a pennant in 1976 and a World Series in 1977 for the Yankees and in 1978 was fired in midseason for saying things like "Reggie Jackson is a born liar and Steinbrenner is a convicted . . ."
Martin was back as Yankee manager within a year, rehired by Steinbrenner to rehabilitate a Yankee team finishing fourth under Bob Lemon. That was in 1978 and at the end of 1979 he was sacked again. This time, George didn't like what Billy did in a Minneapolis saloon during the offseason. He took a punch at, of all people, a marshmallow salesman. Nobody has anything against marshmallows and George seemed to think that was giving the Yankees a bad name.
Steinbrenner was considerate and did help Billy to get a job with Charlie Finley, managing Oakland, and when the Levi Strauss people bought that team Billy delighted the new owners by giving them a quick second-place finish and then an AL West title. They gave him a new, fat five-year contract and built him a house and made him boss of everything.
Billy never had it so good. But he wanted it better. After the season ended he asked the Levi Strauss people to sweeten his contract some more and extend it. It was bad timing. The A's, a division winner the year before, had flopped to fifth and the owners were not bemused by Billy's demands.
They fired him. That's what left Billy so dejected he tore up his office, pulled out the phones, threw the furniture around the room and went into months of hiding, until his reappearance with Steinbrenner.
Most people feel that it was Martin's dismissal by the Yankees following the marshmallow incident that was his low point. That's when he vowed, "I'll never put on a Yankee uniform again." Surprise, surprise.