24 March 2009

20. Billyball

Billyball by Billy Martin

What a pisser this guy was.

I have always been a Red Sox fan. I never "hated" the Yankees though. I have always had a healthy respect for the team and it's accomplishments, but always wanted the Red Sox to whip their asses.
When I saw this book on the shelf it brought back some fun memories, so I made the purchase using my lunch money. :-)
The book is not written well. It jumps around from events of the 1950s to events of the 1980s. Sometimes it was strange how the leaps were made from managing Texas to managing Minnesota to managing the Yankees and then coming back to Texas to make the original point.
But...amidst the poor authorship are some really good stories and anecdotes. After all, the guy was a baseball player for perhaps the greatest team ever in their golden era, a controversial public figure, and a very interesting human being.
I loved reading the stories about Micky Mantle, Whitey Ford, George Steinbrenner, Joe Dimaggio, Casey Stengel, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, Charlie Finley, Don Mattingly, and so many more.
Do I know he was telling the truth about all this? Absolutely not. In fact, I rather doubt that it is all truth. While reading the book I definitely got a sense that Billy Martin was a bit paranoid. I am quite sure he has twisted the stories in order to justify, or try and convince the reader, that he was right and others are wrong.
Repeatedly throughout the book he would tell a story about how something turned into controversy in the press or he would have a problem with an owner, player or other manager. Each time one of these stories was told we would get the Billy Martin side of the event. We would get the story he wanted everyone to see...but I really doubt he was telling the truth in all instances.
The book seemed like he was justifying his actions over and over. He would give his reasons for making the decisions he made. Why did he bench a guy? Why did he bunt in a swing away situation? Why did he leave a pitcher in who was getting shelled? He would answer these questions. he wrote about his thought process in given situations and it made sense...but is it what really happened? I don't know.
Then there was the constant rolling out of statistics. I could not count how many times he would tell the reader the record of a team before he arrived, then the record while he managed them, and then the record after he got fired. He used this kind of stuff repeatedly to convince the reader he was god's gift to baseball team management. The problem was that he never understood why he was getting fired. He always blamed the owner, pointed out the mistake they were making, and then showed how much he improved the next team. If he had really improved the teams that much and that easily, why did they keep firing him?
There was one chapter where he defended himself against accusations of overusing pitchers until their arms were hurt. He spent the first half of the chapter pounding a point home that you can't measure pitcher use by counting innings pitched. You must use pitches thrown. There is a big difference between a complete game using 85 pitches and a complete game using 150 pitches. I understand that, and I agree. So why did he then spend the second half of the chapter pointing out how Ron Guidry was not overused because he only pitched blah blah blah innings in 1985 and blah blah blah innings in 1986. If innings pitched don't mean anything then why tell us how many he pitched? What were the pitch counts? He never said. This kind of stuff happened a lot in the book. I mean, it looked very obvious to me that he was just defending himself in things his detractors were saying about him.
The stories from the 1950s were excellent. I enjoyed reading that stuff very much. He played with legends of the game. Mantle, Dimaggio, Ford, Casey Stengel, Ted Williams, and a zillion others. He had a ton of stories. Even if they were embellished or half truths, I very much enjoyed them.
Should you read this book? If you are a baseball fan like me, sure. It was fun. If you don't care how many times he made Rod Carew steal home in one season or why he moved Harmon Killebrew from first to third and eventually the outfield then you may find a lot of this book to be the ramblings of a strange little man.

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