Managerial Trickery: Like Mentor, Like Martin

Billy Martin expressing a difference of opinion on a game call by an umpire.

Billy Martin expressing a difference of opinion on a game call by an umpire. – Has this picture ever crossed your own mind when you think of Billy Martin today?


“Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius,” the 2015 biography by Bill Pennington, a former beat writer who covered much of the contentious former Yankee’s career in the Bronx, is altogether insightful, factual, three-dimensional, and often funny. The guy that many of us first remember as the black and white TV-pictured second baseman stumbling into the shallow infield grass in the 1952 World Series to make would eventually proved to be a game-saving catch for the Bombers against Brooklyn comes fully alive.

The one aspect that we wanted to share here was how much Billy Martin’s relationship with Casey Stengel honed his already in-your-face attitude about winning to the additional science of trickery as an unsettling effect upon the opposition. – We all remember how “unsettled” George Brett was that time that Billy Martin waited through a game at Yankee Stadium until Brett homered for KC against the Yankees to call the umpire’s attention to how the pine tar on his bat stretched illegally high. Martin’s “helpful” alert to the rules violation only caused Brett to lose his homer, his mind, and the ballgame for KC. – Remember? Brett was a tad distressed by Martin’s attempt to redeem the integrity of the rules governing illegal bats.

Stengel and Martin

The relationship between Billy Martin and Casey Stengel really began when Martin signed with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL as a kid out of high school and Billy failed to make the final cut on the roster of the Oaks in 1947, when Stengel was the manager. An angry and disappointed Martin told Stengel that he was going to regret sending him down from AAA Oakland to Class C Phoenix for the ’47 season. – Sensing it would push Martin’s button to try even harder, Stengel answered Billy’s claim with a challenge of his own. “Prove it!” Stengel told Martin.

Martin more than accepted the challenge. At Phoenix, Billy Martin batted .392 with 230 hits at the Class C Phoenix stop. After finishing at Phoenix, he was called up to play the 15-game balance of games left on the Oaks ’47 schedule. He didn’t a glass of water, average-wise, but his doubles were keys to victory in a couple of games. And he played second base as a kid like veteran under fire. In 1948, Martin easily won a place under Stengel with the Oaks, batting .277 at the AAA level. More importantly, Billy attached himself to Casey on the bench like a Siamese twin whenever possible, discussing game situations and Casey’s strategies for same, and soaking up wisdom as through he were already an apprentice for a first managerial job at age 20. Stengel grew fond of Martin too, calling him “the Kid” – as others also began to refer to Billy Martin as “Casey’s Kid!” Billy sort of became “the kid” that Casey never had. – Billy Martin already had an excellent stepfather who raised him, but “Jack Downey” was not sports-inclined. Casey was the coming of Billy’s baseball dad. After 1948, it was to become a Stengel-Martin manager-player connection for seven more years with the New York Yankees (1950-53, 1955-57). Enough time to fill the mind of Martin with all of the Stengel tricks that Billy learned to use with skill and application to even scenarios that Casey had not seen in his time (i.e., George Brett and the Pine Tar Bat).

A Stengel Trickery Example

Casey even used trickery to help keep his much younger players in line after he became manager of the New York Yankees. The players who liked to carouse, drink, and disregard curfew on the road knew that Stengel was too old to stay up late and watch for clock violators – and Casey knew that they knew this about him too. He also knew that many of his Bronx Bombers enjoyed getting bombed regularly with alcohol.

So what did Casey do?

Stengel sought out the hotel night shift elevator operator who was going to be on duty past curfew time through the early dawn hours. He gave the elevator guy a pen and a baseball and asked him to simply pose as an on-the-job fan who desired their autographs whenever late arriving Yankees finally showed up for the trip to their upper story rooms. After his shift, by whatever financial arrangement Casey had worked out with him, the elevator guy would then leave the signed ball at the desk for Stengel to collect on his way to breakfast.

Casey Stengel. Brilliant. Absolutely. Ingenious.

A Martin Trickery Example

Years later, during Billy’s own managerial career, he instructed his players in the use of something we call the “inning-over, fake-out” play. It wasn’t a play you could use often, or possibly even more than once a decade, but it did work, if a manager had players with some natural acting ability working from the same page. It’s game situation needed to be one in which there were base runners and only one out.

It worked like this: A ground ball is hit to the second baseman. He under hands the ball to the shortstop for a 4-6 force out of the man advancing from first. – Then, even though it’s only now two outs, the infielders, except for the one who took the ball for the force play, all start jogging off the field, as though it’s three-outs, inning over. The shortstop with the ball lingers behind, scratching himself, or pretending to examine the lacing on his glove, and only slowly walking away, but really staying in the area. Then, whenever a remaining runner takes the bait and walks away from his base too, the fielder with the ball runs over and tags him for the real third out. And he leaves the infield too, symbolic “Oscar” in hand.

Pretty darn sneaky, Mr. Martin, but not nearly as cruel as the trick you once played on George Brett.

Thanks for the Memories, Billy Martin

"I know I'll never forget, you!" ~ George Brett

“I know I’ll never forget, you!”
~ George Brett


eagle-0rangeBill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


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One Response to “Managerial Trickery: Like Mentor, Like Martin”

  1. Larry Dierker Says:

    I tried to get Biggio to act like a bug flew in his eye and let an infield fly drop, hoping the runners wouldn’t know the rule and start running. He refused, postulating that the ball would bounce erratically away and everyone would be safe. Right! I think he was more concerned with his image, which didn’t seem to bother him when he reached his left arm out and caught a slow curve on the padding that covered his tricep.

    Stay dry!

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