Skip to main content
Select Source:

Martin, Billy

Billy Martin

1928-1989

American baseball player

Billy Martin was known as a "scrapper" for his tendency toward fist fights and arguments, but he was a spirited and brilliant baseball manager who brought his teams to the top of their league every time he took the helm. He was inclined to express his opinions, a trait that got him into trouble more than once. Martin began playing semiprofessional baseball in his teens, and by age twenty-two he was with the New York Yankees, where he was a protégé of manager Casey Stengel and was befriended by teammates Joe DiMaggio , Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle . His term with the Yankees ended, however, soon after his twenty-ninth birthday, when he was accused of instigating a brawl at a Manhattan nightclub. He was traded to six different ball clubs in five years following the incident. In 1965 he began coaching, and by 1968 he was offered his first managerial job. In 1975, he came full circle as manager of the New York Yankees. Over the next twelve years, Martin was fired and rehired five times by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner , with whom he had a "love-hate" relationship. Martin's successes with the Yankees, as well as his misbehavior on and off the field, became baseball legend.

"Belli," but Tough

Billy Martin was born Alfred Manuel Martin, the son of Joan Salvini Pesano Martin, an Italian-American woman whose mother had immigrated to California from near Foggia, Italy, and Alfred Manuel Martin, a Portuguese man from Hawaii. Billy never used "Jr." as part of his name, however. In fact, until he entered grade school he thought his given name was Billy, a corruption of the nickname his grandmother gave him at birth: "Bellissimos" (most beautiful), shortened to "Belli" and then transformed to Billy by his playmates. Billy's natural father left the family when Billy was eight months old. His mother later married Jack Downey, who was the only father Billy ever knew.

Growing up poor in a tough West Berkeley neighbor-hood during the 1930s and 1940s, Billy learned to fend off members of the massive street gangs. This "scrappiness" would follow him throughout his life. From childhood, his biggest dream was to be a major league baseball player. After graduation, he hoped to be signed by a Pacific Coast League team, but no one was interested because he was too small and thin. Finally, he got a call from an Oakland Oaks farm team, which sent him $300 to buy good clothes and a suitcase and hired him to play ball. Several weeks later he was playing in the Arizona-Texas League at Phoenix. He led the league in hitting (.392) and runs batted in (174) in 130 games, and at third base led the league in errors (55), putouts, and assists. This won him a spot with the Oaks, where he played for Casey Stengel, who immediately loved Martin for his outspoken toughness. He was a kid after Stengel's own heart.

New York Yankee

After Oakland won the Pacific Coast pennant, with Martin playing three infield positions, Stengel was hired to manage the New York Yankees. In 1950, Stengel signed Martin to play with the Yankees, although he spent much of his first year with the farm team. In 1951, Martin met the sensational new player Mickey Mantle, and the two young menopposite in temperamentbecame lifelong friends.

When the Yankees played the Dodgers in the seventh game of the 1952 World Series, Martin made a name for himself by running up from second base to catch Jackie Robinson 's pop-up ball near the pitcher's mound, winning the game, and the World Series, for the Yankees, their fourth straight World Series victory. The following year, the Yankees made it five straight World Series titles. That season, Martin had twelve hits, batted .500, and played regular second base.

Chronology

1928 Born May 16 in Berkeley, California
1946 Graduates from Berkeley High School; begins playing baseball on an Oakland Oaks farm team
1947 Is hired to play for Phoenix in the Arizona-Texas league; leads league in hitting, at bats, hits, doubles, and runs batted in; as third baseman leads league in putouts, assists, and errors
1948 Plays professional baseball on Casey Stengel's Oakland Oaks team; team wins Pacific Coast League pennant
1950 Stengel, now with New York Yankees, brings Martin on board as a utility player; Martin marries Lois Elaine Berndt on October 4they will have one daughter, Kelly Ann
1950-51 Serves in U.S. Army
1951 Meets Mickey Mantle at Yankees training camp and the two begin a lifelong friendship
1952 Steps in from second base to catch a pop-up ball, saving a seventh-game win for the Yankees over the Dodgers, making it the Yankees' fourth straight World Series win
1953 Plays second base in Yankees' fifth straight World Series-winning season, batting .500; is divorced from Berndt
1953-55 Serves in U.S. Army
1955-56 Plays with Yankees; team wins another World Series in 1956
1957 Martin is blamed for a headline-making brawl at Manhattan's Copacabana Club after his twenty-ninth birthday party; he is traded in June to the Kansas City Athletics and again at the end of the season, to Detroit
1958 Is traded to Cleveland; gets hit in the face by a pitch, breaking his jaw and ending his playing season; is traded to Cincinnati
1959 Marries Gretchen Winkler, an airline stewardess; they will have a
1960 Jim Brewer and the Chicago Cubs file a $1 million lawsuit against Martin after a brawl with Brewer on the pitcher's mound; Martin is traded to the Milwaukee Braves
1961 Is traded to the Minnesota Twins
1962-64 Works as scout for the Minnesota Twins
1965-67 Works as third-base coach for Minnesota Twins
1968 Is hired as manager of Twins' Denver Bears farm club; team finishes fourth and makes playoffs
1969 Is hired as manager of Minnesota Twins; is fired at end of season
1971-73 Manages Detroit Tigers; is fired in September 1973
1973-75 Manages the Texas Rangers; is fired in July 1975
1975 Is hired to manage the New York Yankees; Yankees finish first in league in 1976 and 1977
1978 Martin resigns as Yankee manager after ongoing conflict with owner George Steinbrenner; Steinbrenner hires him back the next day for the 1979 season
1979 Steinbrenner fires Martin after Martin hits a marshmallow salesman in a barroom brawl in October
1980-82 Manages the Oakland Athletics, making "Billyball" famous; resigns after conflict with owner representative Roy Eisenhardt
1981 Is divorced from Gretchen Winkler
1983 Manages New York Yankees; is fired as manager after 1983 season but kept on payroll
1985 Is rehired as manager of Yankees but fired at end of season
1988 Marries Jill Guiver, a freelance photographer, with Mickey Mantle as best man; is hired for fifth time as manager of Yankees; is beaten up in a barroom brawl in Texas after losing a game in May; Steinbrenner fires him as manager in June but keeps him on as special adviser son, Billy Joseph
1989 Dies of injuries sustained in a car accident on Christmas night, December 25, in Binghamton, New York, at age 61
1990 Martin's son, Billy Joe, throws out the ball to open the New York Yankees season; the Yankees win

After returning from military service in 1955, Martin played in another World Series and then in 1956 played one more regular season with the Yankees. Then his world collapsed. For his twenty-ninth birthday party, on May 16, 1957, a group of players went to dinner with their wives, although Martin, being divorced, attended alone. Afterwards, they went to Manhattan's Copacabana Club, and player Hank Bauer supposedly got into a fight with men at the next table. The following day, the newspapers broadcast the story. Yankee owner George Weiss blamed Martin for the mess and called him a bad influence on Mantle. One month later, Weiss traded Martin to the Kansas City Athletics, ending his playing career with the Yankees and leaving him hurt and bitter for years to come.

The Hard Years

Martin remained a professional ball player over the next five years, but was traded to six different teams during the period: the Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Braves, and the Minnesota Twins. In 1959 he was hit in the face with a pitch and suffered a broken jaw, which put him out of the game for the rest of the season. In 1960 he hit Chicago Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer on the mound after Brewer just missed Martin with a pitch. In the fight, Brewer suffered a broken bone near his eye socket. Although batters and pitchers routinely scuffled in such situations, Brewer and the Cubs sued Martin for $1 million, an unprecedented action. Martin eventually had to pay much of that amount.

Career Changes

Winding down as a player, Martin began scouting for the Twins in 1961 and held that position for three quiet years. He had remarried in 1959 and had a son, Billy Joseph. In 1965 he accepted a job as third-base coach for the Twins, where he remained until the beginning of the 1968 season. Then he was sent to manage the Denver Bears, the Twins' top farm club. After a successful season there, he was offered the job as manager of the Minnesota Twins.

Martin brought the team to first place, from seventh the previous year. However, Howard Fox, the Twins' road secretary and an old enemy of Martin's, wanted Martin out. The Twins fired him, but the Detroit Tigers hired him for the 1971 season. Martin came on board, bringing with him his right-hand man, pitching coach and friend, Art Fowler, whom he had met with the Bears in 1968. The two worked wonders with the Detroit team, bringing it up to second place from fourth.

The next year, the Tigers came in first place, even though they lost the playoffs to Oakland. By 1973, however, Martin wanted to trade some aging Detroit players for new blood, but the general manager remained loyal to his longtime players. The team slipped to third place, and Martin, blamed for the downfall, was let go.

One week after Detroit fired him, the Texas Rangers hired Martin as manager. The team did poorly during the first season but in 1974 moved up to second place. By 1975, however, a new owner would not renew Martin's contract giving him control over hiring players. The owner then fired Martin when the team's ranking dropped.

Awards and Accomplishments

1952 Yankees won World Series
1953 Yankees won World Series; named Most Valuable Player in World Series
1956 Yankees won World Series; named to All-Star team
1974 Named Manager of the Year in the American League by the Associated Press
1976 As manager of New York Yankees, won American League pennant
1977-78 As manager of New York Yankees, won American League pennant and World Series

Related Biography: Pitching Coach Art Fowler

John Arthur "Art" Fowler, born July 3, 1922, in Converse, South Carolina, was Billy Martin's pitching coach from the time Martin took over as manager of the Minnesota Twins in 1969 until George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, fired Fowler in June 1983. He was rehired briefly during the mid-1980s but was fired again in June 1988, along with Martin.

Although some critics said Fowler was Martin's "drinking buddy," the two had great success with players. The tough and disagreeable Martin passed along his instructions to Fowler, who then, amicably and with a sense of humor, passed them along to the players. The three-way rapport worked well. The Twins came up from seventh to first place in the American League Western Division in 1969 under Martin and Fowler. In 1972 the pair helped to bring the Detroit Tigers in first, over the Baltimore Orioles, who had been on a winning streak. In 1974 the Texas Rangers improved by twenty-seven games and finished second to Oakland. Martin and Fowler went on to three American League pennants and two World Series wins with the New York Yankees from 1976 to 1978 and first- and second-place wins at Oakland in the early 1980s.

Fowler was mostly a relief pitcher during his playing days, with the Cincinnati Reds (1954-57), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959), and the Los Angeles Angels (1961-64). His brother Jesse had played with the St. Louis Cardinals thirty years before Art began his career in the major leagues. Art finished his pitching career with a 54-51 record, 539 strikeouts and thirty-two saves.

Martin wrote in his autobiography Billyball, "My pitching coach, Art Fowler, has taught our pitchers how to throw the spitball." Fowler also encouraged them to throw strikes. Pitcher Matt Keough recalled, "Art was master of the psychological approach. If you weren't throwing strikes, you'd have to go to the bullpen and watch him throw fifty pitches- and forty-five for strikes. It was embarrassing."

Return to the Yankees

Just eleven days after the Rangers let him go, the New York Yankees asked Martin to be manager. In New York he began a tumultuous relationship with owner George Steinbrenner, who wanted control as much as Martin did. However, as Martin took the position once held by his mentor, Casey Stengel, he began to work miracles. With some new players, the team came in first place in 1976 but lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1977 they came in first again and this time won the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martin managed for the first half of the 1978 season, but the tension with Steinbrenner, coupled with conflicts with player Reggie Jackson , pushed Martin to the breaking point. In late July he told sportswriters he was disgusted with both men.

"The two of them deserve each other," he said. "One's a born liar," (referring to Jackson) "and the other's convicted." (Steinbrenner had been convicted of perjury in 1972 in an elections law violation case.) He told the writers to print his statement and then resigned from the Yankees. The next day, Steinbrenner invited him back as manager for the 1979 season. He made the announcement at Yankee Old-Timers' Day, to the delight of 46,000 fans, who gave Martin a seven-minute standing ovation. Bob Lemon from Chicago took over for the rest of the 1978 season, and the Yankees won the World Series, so Stein-brenner kept him on until the middle of the 1979 season, when he fired Lemon and got Martin back.

Seasons of Billyball

The constant frustration drove Martin to heavier drinking and barroom brawls, which never failed to make headlines. In 1979 he punched a Minnesota marshmallow salesman in a bar, and Steinbrenner fired him again. This time Martin was hired to manage the Oakland Athletics. In 1980 the A's came in second in the league; the following year they were first and then second in a season split by a players' strike, but they were defeated by the Yankees in the World Series. In 1982 they fell to fifth place, even though Rickey Henderson stole a record-breaking 130 bases. Martin left, believing that the team owners had interfered with decision making and the pitchers had failed to stay in shape during the strike.

During Martin's seasons with Oakland, he built a playing strategy around Stengel's "run sheep run baseball" style. Columnist Ralph Wiley of the Oakland Tribune gave it a name: Billyball. Equipped with Henderson as a base stealer, Fowler as his pitching coach, and the freedom to hire players he thought could do the job, Martin developed Billyball as the envy of the baseball world. His plays included the hit-and-run, the double steal, and the suicide squeeze, adding up to a total of runs that led the league. Henderson said of Martin in 2001: "We did anything to get a run. He was a genius as a manager. He might not say anything until the sixth inning. He'd let you play until then. Then he would start managing."

Bouncing Back to the Yankees

When Martin left Oakland, his old antagonist Stein-brenner wanted him back again. The Yankees finished third in 1983, and Martin was suspended twice for abusing umpireshe kicked dirt on one and called another "a stone liar." In December, Steinbrenner fired Martin as manager but kept him on as adviser. In 1985, Steinbrenner fired manager Yogi Berra and rehired Martin, for the fourth time. The team finished second, and Martin was fired again but kept in the office. In 1988 Steinbrenner again put Martin in the manager's position, and the team was on a winning streak when Martin got injured in a brawl in a Texas nightclub. In June, Martin was let go again, and the Yankees finished fifth.

Martin was still employed by the Yankees as an adviser when, on Christmas night, 1989, he and longtime friend William Reedy, a Detroit bar owner, were driving on an icy road near Martin's home in Binghamton, New York. With Reedy at the wheel, the truck skidded off the road and Martin was thrown through the windshield, fracturing his neck and injuring his spinal column. He died soon afterward in a Binghamton hospital. Reedy was charged with driving while intoxicated.

Just eight days earlier, on December 17, Martin and Steinbrenner had read "The Night before Christmas" together at a charity concert. Rumors circulated that Stein-brenner was considering Martin for a sixth term as manager, but Steinbrenner told the New York Times, "No way. He was too happy doing what he was doing. He was coming upstairs. He was going to be there more than ever before."

Man and Manager

Billy Martin has been called a baseball genius, yet he seemed bent on self-destruction. Because of his many conflicts with umpires, Richie Phillips, general counsel of the Major League Umpires Association, called him "the quintessential recidivist in baseball." However, he had another side, one that the public rarely saw. Michael Goodwin wrote in the New York Times that away from the baseball stadium Martin was "generous, thoughtful, a loyal friend, wonderful with children, the elderly, and even strangers down on their luck." Matt Keough, a former Oakland pitcher now working as a scout, told journalist Ron Bergman in a 2001 interview, "It's a travesty that Billy's not in the Hall of Fame. He won with every kind of team he ever had."

Martin had firm convictions about his management style, and he adhered to them throughout his career, in spite of his seemingly brash personality. He told sportswriter and author Leonard Koppett, "For a team to win, a manager has to find ways to motivate different individuals. He has to judge correctly each man's abilities and weaknesses, and find the right ways and the right time to use them. He has to show them how something can be done better, and offer them loyalty and confidence. And he has to have authority, above all, because none of the other things can happen if the players don't have confidence in the manager's judgment." Martin established personal relationships with his players, and they loved him for it. He once said, "Out of 25 guys, there should be fifteen who would run through a wall for you, two or three who don't like you at all, five who are indifferent and maybe three undecided. My job is to keep the last two groups from going the wrong way."

SELECTED WRITINGS BY MARTIN:

(With Peter Golenbock) Number One (autobiography), Delacorte Press, 1980.

(With Phil Pepe) Billyball, Doubleday, 1987.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Koppett, Leonard. The Man in the Dugout: Baseball's Top Managers and How They Got That Way. New York: Crown Publishers, 1993.

Periodicals

Bergman, Ron. "Ex-A's Look Back Fondly on the Summer of Billy Ball." San Jose Mercury News (July 3, 2001).

Creamer, Robert W. "Arrogance: Umpires Issue Resolution Censuring Billy Martin and Criticizing AL Pres. Bobby Brown's Light Sentence of Martin." Sports Illustrated (June 13, 1988): 13.

Creamer, Robert W. "Golden Friendships." Sports Illustrated (June 27, 1983): 18.

Harvin, Al. "An Outburst of Affection from Martin's Fans." New York Times (December 28, 1989): A27.

"Married, Billy Martin and Jill Guiver." Time (February 8, 1988): 71.

Neff, Craig. "A Pair of Battlers: Billy Martin and Doug Harvey Die." Sports Illustrated (January 8, 1990): 7.

"Road Accident Kills Billy Martin, Ex-Yankee Player and Manager." New York Times (December 28, 1989): A1.

Wickens, Barbara. "A Violent Death for Billy Martin." Maclean's (January 8, 1990): 35.

Other

Baseball Almanac. "Art Fowler." http://www.baseballalmanac.com/ (November 5, 2002).

Baseball-Reference.com. "Billy Martin." http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/ (October 31, 2002).

Gallagher, Mark. "Billy Martin." BaseballLibrary.com. http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/ (November 4, 2002).

Historic Baseball: Art Fowler of South Carolina. http://www.historicbaseball.com/ (November 4, 2002).

Jozwik, Tom. "Art Fowler." BaseballLibrary.com. http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/ (November 4, 2002).

Newsmakers, Issue Cumulation. "Billy Martin." Gale Group, 1988. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 31, 2002).

Newsmakers 1990, Issue 2. "Billy Martin." Gale Group, 1990. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 31, 2002).

Sketch by Ann H. Shurgin

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Martin, Billy." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Martin, Billy." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martin-billy

"Martin, Billy." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martin-billy

Steinbrenner, George

George Steinbrenner

1930-

American baseball executive

Called by the Tampa Tribune "Tampa's biggest icon," George Steinbrenner is best known today as the owner of the New York Yankees baseball team, arguably the best baseball team in the United States. Under Steinbrenner, the team won six World Series championships by 2002 (in 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000). On the occasion of Steinbrenner's 72nd birthday in 2002, the Tampa Tribune 's Ira Kaufman summed up Steinbrenner's career by, "few individuals have changed the face of baseball or Tampa Bay more profoundly." And Sporting News has called Steinbrenner the second most influential person in sports, after Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner of the National Football League.

Born on the Fourth of July

George Steinbrenner was born on July 4, 1930, in Rocky River, Ohio, to Rita and Henry Steinbrenner. He was the oldest of three children born to the couple. His father was the president of Kinsman Marine Transit Company, a shipping company based in Cleveland, Ohio. While a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Henry Steinbrenner competed on the track team, and became a national low-hurdle champion. Steinbrenner later said of his father, wrote Carol Slezak in the Chicago Sun-Times, "My father was an outstanding man. I never worked as hard as him and I never was as smart as him."

Steinbrenner grew up on a farm near the Ohio town of Bay Village, on the banks of Lake Erie. He attended high school at the Culver Military Academy in Indiana beginning in 1944. At Culver, he excelled in athletics, playing both on the football team and on the track team. After graduating from high school in 1948, Steinbrenner went on to Williams College in Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. Following in his father's footsteps, at Williams Steinbrenner ran on the school's track team. He also worked on the school newspaper, and became president of the school's glee club (men's chorus).

Chronology

1930 Born on July 4 in Rocky River, Ohio
1948 Attends Williams College in Massachusetts
1952 Earns B.A. from Williams College
1952 Serves in U.S. Air Force
1952 Pursues master's degree in physical education at Ohio State University
1955 Relocates to Evanston, Illinois to become assistant football coach at Northwestern University
1956 Joins football coaching staff at Purdue University
1956 Marries Joan Zieg
1958 Returns home to Ohio of work for Kinsman Marine Transit Company
1960 Purchases Cleveland Pipers basketball team
1962 Becomes president of Kinsman Marine Transit Company
1967 Merges Kinsman Marine Transit Company with American Ship Building Company
1973 Buys New York Yankees
1974 Pleads guilty to running an illegal scheme to raise money for Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign
1976 Leads New York Yankees to its first World Series game since 1964
1989 Receives pardon from President Ronald Reagan
1999 Merges New York Yankees with New Jersey Nets into YankeeNets

After his graduation from college in 1952, Steinbrenner served in the United States Air Force. Stationed in Columbus, Ohio, he served as a general's aid. He also coached his base's basketball and baseball teams, and set an Armed Forces low-hurdle record. While in the Air Force, Steinbrenner met his future wife, Joan Zieg, a civilian living in Columbus. (They were married in 1956, and they eventually had four childrenHank, Hal, Jenny, and Jessica. By 2002, Steinbrenner had a total of 12 grandchildren.)

A Career in Athletics

After leaving the Air Force, Steinbrenner went on to Ohio State University to work toward a master's degree in physical education. Leaving graduate school, Steinbrenner took a stab at athletic coaching, becoming an assistant football coach at Chicago's Northwestern University. His first foray into coaching did not go well, however, and he and his entire staff were fired because his team made an extremely poor showing. Undaunted, Steinbrenner went on to become assistant coach at Purdue University in Indiana, where he achieved better results.

Success in Business

Two years into his tenure at Purdue, in 1957, Steinbrenner received a call from his father, who wanted to him to work for the family business, which was in danger of failing. "He told me to get home and get busy," he later told Slezak. "I wish I could have stayed in coaching. My father never asked that much, but when he did it was an order."

Working in the family business as treasurer, Steinbrenner proved himself as a businessman, becoming president of Kinsman after four years. He stayed involved in sports as a businessman, however, in 1960 establishing a partnership to purchase a semiprofessional basketball team called the Cleveland Pipers. This enterprise was ultimately not successful, but it gave him a taste for what was to come. In 1967, he completed a merger of Kinsman and the American Ship Building Company, a move that firmly established Steinbrenner as a wealthy man.

Also active in politics, Steinbrenner served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Dinner (a political fundraising event) in 1969, and again in 1970. But he always stopped short of running for political office himself, in the early 1970s turning down a chance to run for the governorship of Ohio. A supporter of both Democratic and Republican candidates, Steinbrenner has told Kaufman, "I don't stay on one side of the aisle or the other. I go for the man."

Steinbrenner's success with the shipbuilding company gave him the clout he needed to purchase a major athletic team, and in 1972, he almost completed a deal for the Cleveland Indians. After the deal collapsed, he looked around for another, comparable venture, and that's when the New York Yankees baseball team came up for sale.

The Yankees' New Owner

In 1973, Steinbrenner entered into the business venture for which he was to become best known. That year, he became head of a group of 17 investors that bought the New York Yankees from the CBS television and radio network. At the time, the team was down on its luck, not having made it to a World Series game since 1964. The sale was reported at $10 million. By 2002, the team was said to be worth $730 million. Kaufman called the mere $10 million Steinbrenner paid for the Yankees "astonishing," especially considering that the City of New York foot the bill for a more than $1 million parking lot to go with it, making Steinbrenner's effective purchase price even lower.

Steinbrenner has admitted that he has been tempted to sell the team to realize the enormous profit. "But," he told Kaufman, "athletics are in my blood, and being a successful team owner gives you prestige you can't get anywhere else."

At the time of the Yankees deal, Steinbrenner was an unknown businessman from the Midwest, so nervous at meeting the legendary chairman of CBS, William Paley, that he could hardly eat breakfast that morning. The two met in Paley's office, and verbally agreed on the deal. Steinbrenner spoke at a press conference soon after and promised to end the Yankees' losing streak within four years.

Related Biography: Television Executive William Paley

Called by Patricia Hluchy of Maclean's the "unrivalled godfather of American Broadcasting," William Paley is the CBS chairman from whom Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1973. Paley is credited with building CBS from what was a group of 22 struggling radio stations when he bought the company in 1929, into a vast empire that helped to usher in the era of television. He retained control of his company until his death in 1990 at the age of 89.

William Paley was born in Chicago in 1901. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant and a prosperous cigar merchant. Paley became vice president of his father's company in 1922, and he became interested in broadcasting when his company purchased advertising time on a radio station. The station was part of the United Independent Broadcasters Network, and Paley later bought that company, later known as CBS, for $400,000.

Paley was among the first to recognize the potential of the medium of television, and his company first began regular television broadcasts in 1939, by 1950 becoming the leading American broadcaster.

CBS bought an 80 percent stake in the Yankees in 1964, and later bought the remaining 20 percent. The company paid $13.2 million for the Yankees$3.2 million more than Steinbrenner was to later pay for the team.

A Controversial Figure

Steinbrenner's political activities put him in the public eye in 1974, when he was formally charged with running a scheme to illegally funnel funds through his shipping company's employees to contribute to the 1972 presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon. He admitted guilt in the ensuing court proceedings, but he refused to turn over any of his associates who were also involved in the deal. As he later told Kaufman, "There are lots of things you wish you could do over. But you have to live with it. You make your mistakes and there's no reason to get anyone else involved." Steinbrenner was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1989.

The Yankees allowed Steinbrenner to keep his promise that he would make them a winning team by the fourth team of his ownership. In 1976, Steinbrenner's fourth year as owner, the Yankees went to their first World Series in more than ten years, and the following year his team won the World Series.

As owner of the Yankees, Steinbrenner became known for his fiery disposition, and for impulsively firing managers, most notably former player Billy Martin , who was dismissed by Steinbrenner a total of five times. He also once fired an assistant after she brought him the wrong sandwich for lunch.

However, he is also known for his loyalty, for instance, sticking by Darryl Strawberry even when the star Yankee repeatedly ran afoul of the law for drug possession and other charges. "Straw has a bad sickness," Steinbrenner explained to Kaufman. "He needs to know there's someone out there for him if he turns things around."

Active in Many Ventures

Steinbrenner's many philanthropic activities include the founding of the Gold Shield Foundation in 1982. This is an organization of business executives in Tampa Bay, Florida dedicated to providing support to the families of police officers and firefighters who were killed on the job. "It's nice to have money because of what you can do with it," he later told Kaufman. "I live OK because I work hard, but when I see a need is there, I like to give."

Awards and Accomplishments

1976 Led Yankees to their first World Series since 1964
1977-78, Led New York Yankees to World Series victory
1996, 1998-2000, 2002 Won top National Football Foundation honor, the Gold Medal Award

In addition to the Yankees, Steinbrenner has remained involved in several other business ventures, including operating Kinsman Stud Farm, a sprawling thoroughbred horse farm in Ocala, Florida that has regularly bred and trained champion race horses. He has also invested in several Broadway theater productions; he is said to enjoy attending theater productions and other art events near his home in Tampa, Florida. To succeed him as Yankees owner, Steinbrenner has been grooming his two sons, Hal and Hank, and his son-in-law, Steve Swindal. All are general partners in the Yankees already.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Hluchy, Patricia. "Broadcast Visionary." Maclean's (November 5, 1990): 58.

Kaufman, Ira. "Yankee Doing Dandy." Tampa Tribune (July 4, 2002): Sports, 1.

Slezak, Carol. "Curious About George." Chicago Sun-Times (April 2, 2001): Baseball 2001, 1.

Other

"George Steinbrenner." Infoplease.com. http://www.infoplease.com/ipsa/A0109670.html (November 13, 2002).

"George M. Steinbrenner III, A Profile." Clevelandmagazine.com. http://www.clevelandmagazine.com/editorial/thismonth_features.asp?docid=278 (November 27, 2002).

"New York Yankees History." Official site of the New York Yankees. http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/nyy/history/nyy_history_timeline.jsp?period=3 (November 27, 2002).

"Paley, William S." Museum of Broadcast Communications. http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/P/htmlP/paleywillia/paleywillia.htm (November 27, 2002).

Sketch by Michael Belfiore

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Steinbrenner, George." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Steinbrenner, George." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/steinbrenner-george

"Steinbrenner, George." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/steinbrenner-george

George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner (born 1930), the Cleveland shipbuilding magnate who purchased the New York Yankees in 1973, has been one of professional sports most controversial and quotable figures. Twice suspended by baseball for legal and ethical violations, Steinbrenner nevertheless earned the respect of his fellow owners for his record of success on the field. The Yankees won multiple championships under Steinbrenner's aggressive style of leadership.

George Steinbrenner was born on July 4, 1930, in Rocky River, Ohio. His father, Henry Steinbrenner, owned a Great Lakes shipping company. His mother, Rita, managed their home in Bay Village, the suburb of Cleveland where Steinbrenner spent his formative years. As a child, Steinbrenner delivered eggs to earn spending money. His father, a former collegiate track and field star, instructed him to work hard and urged him to try competitive athletics.

At age twelve, Steinbrenner took up hurdling. Whenever he finished second in a track meet, his father appeared instantly at his side, demanding to know: "What the hell happened? How'd you let that guy beat you?" These scoldings instilled a perfectionist streak in the young Steinbrenner that he often cited as the key to his later success.

Education and Early Career

Steinbrenner was educated at the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He then went on to Williams College in Massachusetts where he continued to run track and edited the sports section of the campus newspaper. In the glee club, he stood directly behind future Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim and-by his own account-outsang him. After earning his bachelor's degree in 1952, Steinbrenner joined the United States Air Force. There he took charge of a succession of successful projects that showed his emerging leadership skills. He established a sports program and set up his own food service business on the base.

After three years in the military, Steinbrenner got a job coaching high school football in Columbus, Ohio. He later moved on to the college level, becoming an assistant at Northwestern and then at Purdue, but his Big Ten coaching career was to be short-lived. In 1957, at the request of his father, Steinbrenner returned to the shipyard, where he was put to work counting rivets in crawl spaces. He married the former Elizabeth Zweig on May 12, 1956, and seemed set to take over his father's business. The lure of big-time sports proved too powerful, however, and Steinbrenner invested a considerable sum of money into his first pro franchise, basketball's Cleveland Pipers. The team failed, and Steinbrenner lost all his savings.

Builds Fortune

Urged to file for bankruptcy, Steinbrenner instead worked to pay off his debt. When his father retired in 1963, he took control of the family shipping business and helped turn around its sagging fortunes. With the money he made, he formed a partnership with a group of investors and bought into the American Ship Building Company. Elected to the company's presidency in 1967, Steinbrenner fetched his father out of retirement to help him run the operation. American Shipbuilding flourished under Steinbrenner's leadership and made him a multimillionaire.

In the late 1960s, Steinbrenner began to exert his new-found influence on the national level. He used his political connections to become the chief fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, raising nearly $2 million over a two-year period. The election of Republican Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968 made Steinbrenner fear reprisals against himself or his business. In order to hedge his bets, the shipbuilder contributed to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. Unfortunately for Steinbrenner, his donations violated several campaign finance laws. He eventually pleaded guilty to all counts and was fined a total of $35,000.

Yankee Owner

These charges came just as Steinbrenner was embarking on a new career as a major league baseball owner. In January 1973, Steinbrenner joined with a group of investors to purchase the New York Yankees for $10 million. Once baseball's hallmark franchise, the Yankees had slipped to second-division status in recent years under the ownership of CBS, and a management team headed by Mike Burke. Steinbrenner, who at first announced he would "stick to building ships" and let others run the team, promptly forced Burke out and hired Cleveland Indians' general manager Gabe Paul to supervise the rebuilding process.

In November 1974, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn did briefly return Steinbrenner to the shipyards when he issued him a two-year suspension for his campaign finance transgressions. In Steinbrenner's absence, Paul made a series of shrewd trades and personnel decisions that laid the groundwork for the Yankees return to prominence. By the time Steinbrenner returned from exile in 1976, the Yankees had a top-flight club poised to contend for a world title. The team won its division going away that season, then relied on a clutch ninth-inning, game-winning home run by Chris Chambliss to secure the American League pennant in a five-game playoff against the Kansas City Royals. Only a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series dampened the spirit of rejuvenation surrounding the Yankees.

Championship Seasons

In 1977, Steinbrenner opened his checkbook to bring in free agent slugger Reggie Jackson, the former star of the Oakland Athletics. Jackson added considerable star power and clutch hitting to the team, but also heightened dissension in the clubhouse. He had a stormy relationship with manager Billy Martin and was considered selfish by his teammates. Nevertheless, the talented, if volatile, team survived these distractions to make it to the World Series for a second year in a row. This time they were victorious, ousting the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. Steinbrenner had fulfilled his promise to bring a championship to New York.

He brought a second world title in 1978, though again at a high cost in terms of hostility. The simmering Martin-Jackson feud bubbled over in mid-season, prompting Steinbrenner to fire his manager. On his way out the door, Martin took a few parting shots at both Jackson and the team's owner. "One's a born liar, the other's convicted," Martin observed-an apparent reference to Steinbrenner's campaign finance activity. Relations between the two men would forever be colored by this ugly incident.

Controversial Figure

Over the next few years, the Yankees continued to contend for the American League pennant. Steinbrenner's increasingly meddlesome management style was blamed for a lack of stability that doomed the team's best efforts. He hired Billy Martin back as manager again in 1979-only to fire him at season's end. It was the first of four instances in which the erratic Martin was invited back to take control of the club, only to be let go with assurances that he would never be hired again. In 1980, the Yankees won 103 games under manager Dick Howser, but Steinbrenner fired him after the team was beaten in the playoffs.

In 1981, the Yankees returned to the World Series. However, after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two games, the Yankees dropped the next three. Following Game Five, Steinbrenner called a late-night press conference to hold up a flimsily bandaged hand and announce that he had defended the Yankee honor by beating up two Dodger fans in an elevator. The Yankees failed to take a "get tough" cue from their owner and lost the sixth and deciding game. Before the game was even completed, Steinbrenner ordered the Yankee publicity department to issue an apology to the people of New York City for the club's lackluster performance.

Decline and Exile

The rest of the 1980s proved to be a bleak period for the Yankees and their fans. Steinbrenner signed many high-priced players, but with seemingly little regard for their adaptability to the pressures of playing in New York. Managers were put under intense pressure to succeed, subject to dismissal at any time according to the owner's whims. Three men were hired and fired during the 1982 season alone. Steinbrenner engaged in protracted contract squabbles with one star player, Don Mattingly, and publicly belittled another, Dave Winfield, by comparing him unfavorably to the departed Reggie Jackson. By 1990, the Yankees were one of the worst teams in baseball-thanks in large part to the instability wrought on the club by its owner.

By that time, Steinbrenner's relationship with Winfield had deteriorated to the point where he reportedly hired a known gambler to dig up information that would destroy the slugger's reputation. Acting on evidence of this plot, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Steinbrenner from baseball on July 30, 1990. Control of the Yankees was handed over to limited partner Robert Nederlander for an indefinite period. Yankee management used this period of "exile" to rebuild the team's shattered minor league system and make a few judicious trades. When Steinbrenner was allowed to regain control of the team in 1994, it was once again ready to contend for a world championship.

Successful Return

Many observers expected Steinbrenner to return to his imperious ways and jeopardize the club's progress, but banishment seemed to have mellowed Steinbrenner. He changed his management style, showing a renewed willingness to let his "baseball people" run the team. Other than ousting manager Buck Showalter after the 1995 season, he made few personnel changes and largely avoided making the kind of public comments that had generated controversy in the past. Under new manager Joe Torre, the team capped a stellar 1996 season with a come-from-behind upset victory over the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Two years later, the Yankees posted the best record in American League history, going 114-48. They then completed an impressive playoff run by sweeping the San Diego Padres in four games in the World Series.

During this period of success, Steinbrenner turned his attention more frequently toward the future of the Yankees. He lobbied city and state officials in New York for the construction of a new stadium, or at least the refurbishing of the old one. He engaged in negotiations to sell the team to a local cable company, but the talks broke down when the potential buyers would not agree to let him continue to run the team. In early 1999, Steinbrenner did reach a deal with the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets to merge business operations with the Yankees. The agreement would allow Steinbrenner to investigate the possibility of creating his own regional sports programming network, something that could generate the revenues necessary to keep meeting the Yankees' high payroll. Steinbrenner has repeatedly said that, no matter what ownership arrangement is struck, he will continue running baseball's premier franchise into the foreseeable future.

Further Reading

Frommer, Harvey, The New York Yankee Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1997.

Gallagher, Mark, The Yankee Encyclopedia, Sagamore Publishing, 1996.

Madden, Bill, Damned Yankees, Warner, 1991.

Schapp, Dick, Steinbrenner! Putnam, 1982. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"George Steinbrenner." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"George Steinbrenner." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-steinbrenner

"George Steinbrenner." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-steinbrenner