The Unofficial Billy Martin Homepage

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ALFRED MANUEL MARTIN was one of the most colorful managers in the history of baseball. Many remember him best for his stormy relationship with George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees. Others associate his memory with the popular style of "Billyball" he brought to the Oakland A's in the early 1980's. This page, however, takes a look at his pre-major league career as a player, through the display of baseball cards and photos from the collection of another kid who grew up in Oakland in the 1940's and 50's.

Billy Martin at Berkeley High School
A Page from Billy's High School Yearbook
Long before Little Leagues were what they are today, Billy Martin began playing baseball for teams sponsored by local businesses on the sandlots of Berkeley, California. During the off-season, major and minor league players would get together for games at James Kinney Playfield. Fifteen-year-old Billy would be there too, usually relegated to the outfield. Former major leaguer Augie Galan, who was born and raised in Berkeley, took notice of the Kid, and brought him to the attention of "Red" Adams, the trainer for the Oakland Oaks of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

Adams assessed Billy's potential, and invited him to join a team sponsored by the Oaks, called the Junior Oaks. In 1946, while still attending Berkeley High School, Billy began playing for the Junior Oaks in exhibitions before the regular games at the Oaks' ball park in Emeryville. Billy quickly became one of the leading players in those pre-game sessions.

The Oaks had a brand new manager that year. He was Charles "Casey" Stengel. Casey, looking toward putting together a winning team, was understandably interested in young prospects. Red Adams called his attention to Billy. When Casey first saw him, he was reminded of himself at that age, and Casey became like a father to Billy.

When a replacement was needed on the Yankees' farm team in the Class-D Pioneer League in Idaho Falls, both Casey Stengel and Red Adams recommended Billy for the job. The Yankees' scout, Eddie Leishman, checked Billy out and signed him to play for the Idaho Falls club for $200 a month plus a $300 bonus. Billy was 18 years old, just graduated from high school, and was thrilled. His professional baseball career had begun.

At Idaho Falls he played in 32 games, came to bat 114 times, and had an average of .254 with seven doubles and 12 RBI's in 1946. However, he also made 16 errors -- an average of one every other game.

Billy Martin with the
Oakland OaksThe next season, he was asked to report to the Oakland Oaks for spring training. Casey Stengel liked his spirit and worked with him personally through that Spring. Billy also got a lot of valuable pointers from his roommate, veteran Cookie Lavagetto. However, by the end of the Spring Casey felt the Kid still needed more seasoning and sent him to the Oaks' Class-C club known as the "Junior Gas House Gang" in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 1947 season. There, he had an average of .392, with 230 hits, 48 doubles, 31 stolen bases, and 174 RBI's in 130 games. Despite 55 errors, Billy had a great season. He was voted MVP in the league for 1947, and by the next year, he was playing for the Oaks.

The card to the left shows Billy Martin as a rookie third baseman for the Oakland Oaks in 1948. Click on this card to see the back side of it. Major league baseball had not extended west of the Rockies by that time, and the Pacific Coast League was regarded by many of the writers, fans, and players on the West Coast to be tantamount to the big leagues.

The team at that time was made up primarily of veteran players, whom many characterized as "old men." Several of them had turned down big league offers to play on the West Coast. They took kind of a paternal attitude toward the impetuous young infielder from the Berkeley sandlots, whom they called "the Kid." Hence, the nickname "Billy (the Kid)."

The 1948 Oakland Oaks

When the Oaks' regular second baseman, Dario Lodigiani, was injured early in the season, Billy was put in at second base. After Lodigiani returned, Billy continued to play at second, third, and even shortstop. While he didn't play a lot of games that year, Billy batted .277 for the Oaks in 1948. After Casey Stengel led the Oaks to their first pennant in 21 years, he was hired to manage the New York Yankees the following year. Billy stayed in Oakland and batted for an average of .286 in 172 games, with 12 home runs and 92 RBI's for his new manager, Charlie Dressen.

Billy learned of his next move late in the 1949 season, when a news blimp floated over the park during a night game flashing the words the words, "Billy Martin Sold to Yankees." To Billy, it meant leaving his friends and family in Oakland for a salary cut from $9,000 to $7,500 a year. But it meant that "the Kid" was to be reunited with Casey in New York.

Billy Martin with the
YankeesThe card to the left shows Billy as the second baseman for the Yankees. Little needs to be added to the description on the back of this card, an enlarged version of which may be viewed by clicking on the card. In his first season with the Yankees, Billy batted .250, with one home run and eight RBI's in 34 games. In his first four years as a Yankee, the team won four pennants and four world championships. The next year, 1954, when Billy was in the Army, the Yankees finished second. After he came back, they won two more pennants and one World Series. The folliwing year, 1957, he was traded to Kansas City. Billy played for many other teams after that, but he was always a Yankee at heart.

After his playing career was over, he managed several clubs. The term "Billyball" was coined by a sports writer to describe the kind of plays he initiated while managing the Oakland Athletics in the early 1980's. Double steals, hit and run, the suicide squeeze, and a lot of hot tempered discussions and dirt kicking with the umpires typified this aggressive brand of baseball. The Bay Area fans, including those who were the kids that collected his cards 30 years earlier, all loved it. But as a manager, just as a player, in his heart Billy never stopped being a Yankee. His number was retired in New York in 1986, and to the fans there he will always be Number 1.


Don't miss the Casey Stengel link!

To learn about the career and life of Billy Martin read his books, Number 1 and Billyball and Gene Schoor's book, Billy Martin. To learn more about the Oakland Oaks, read Nuggets on the Diamond, by Dick Dobbins and Jon Twichell, and Runs, Hits, and an Era, by Paul J Zingg and Mark D Medeiros.

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Created 1997 William (Billyball) Shubb, Webmanager