Saturday, March 25, 2017
Top Five: Billy Martin
One of the reasons I love my bookseller job is that you just never know who might walk into the store on any given day.
There's a relatively new book out about Billy Martin that I've flipped through on a couple of occasions at work. We hadn't sold a copy of it for three months before last week, and I figured it'd stay on the shelf until inevitably getting returned to the publisher (most books are generally given four months to sell before being sent back).
That is, until the other day, when a customer -- a middle-aged woman, of all people -- came into the store, poked around the biography section for a minute, and walked to the counter with the Billy Martin book. She and I went on to have a nice conversation about Martin, the '50s Yankees, and many other baseball minutiae before she went on her merry way. Those five minutes of baseball talk lit up my entire ten-hour shift that day.
It's in honor of her that I've decided to focus on Billy in this week's edition of Top Five.
#5 -- 2000 UD Yankees Legends #81 Billy Martin
Martin is often remembered for his controversial years as a manager, but a lot of people forget that he was a key cog in those dynastic Yankee teams of the '50s.
He was known to be a favorite of Casey Stengel's, and this great shot of the Casey and his boy is pretty darn near the happiest baseball card you'll ever find.
#4 -- 1982 Donruss #491 Billy Martin
But for better or worse, most fans -- myself included -- best know Billy as the temperamental (yet brilliant) manager he became during his later years.
Here's a particularly hotheaded Martin in the middle of what may or may not be one of his 51 career ejections as a skipper.
#3 -- 1994 Ted Williams #61 Billy Martin
Many of the tired baseball cliches you've heard in the past could probably be attributed to Billy Martin: "scrappy," "hard-nosed," "a grinder," etc., etc., etc.
While I usually cringe when words like that get thrown around these days, I wouldn't be surprised if Martin was the inspiration behind a lot of that terminology. He's the kind of pint-sized, against-all-odds guy that so defines what makes baseball great.
Case in point: this masterpiece, probably one of the top ten double play cards ever made (which wouldn't be a bad list to create one day, now that I think of it).
#2 -- 1957 Topps #62 Billy Martin
This is the only vintage Yankee card I own of Billy Martin, and I bought it at one of the first card shows I ever attended as a young lad.
I got it on the cheap due to the .264 (Martin's 1956 batting average) scrawled across the front by (presumably) another young lad who's probably close to retirement age these days.
My current adoration for '57 Topps was greatly influenced by this beautiful card being housed in my collection at such a young age.
#1 -- 1972 Topps #33 Billy Martin
But my favorite Billy Martin card is, and always will be, the infamous '72 Topps issue.
Baseball cards are a wholesome hobby. No profanity, no violence, no voices raised, no conflict. Kevin Arnold collects baseball cards. They're all-American and all that.
And yet here's Billy Martin not-so-subtly flipping a downward bird to the thousands of kids, teenagers, and adults who have come across this card at some point in the 45 years since its release. That doesn't seem so wholesome to me!
If I could pick one image that perfectly sums up the life of Billy Martin, this would be it, and it's not even close.