A sympathetic examination of the fiery player and manager Billy Martin (1928-1989), who could dazzle between the lines but whose life outside the stadium was often boozy, libidinous, and rudderless.
Earlier in his own career, Pennington (On Par: The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide, 2012, etc.), now a sportswriter with the New York Times, covered the Yankees during one of Martin’s five terms as manager under owner George Steinbrenner. The author even witnessed one of Billy the Kid’s late-career barroom brawls. As he notes, Martin, slated to return for his sixth stint as manager in 1990, was killed in an accident in his pickup truck on Christmas night—an accident the author both begins and ends with, devoting many pages to the controversy about who was driving that night, Martin or his friend William Reedy (who survived). Pennington interviewed myriads for this comprehensive work—from kings to commoners. Among the latter was a housekeeper at the end of Martin’s life, a woman who tried to make Billy more accurate at the urinal. Although he focuses principally on Martin’s professional career, Pennington also explores his family background in California, his lifelong problems with drinking, his fondness for fisticuffs (he would invariably swing first), his inability to be faithful to his wives (he was married four times), his cluelessness with money, and his celebrated feuds with Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, and others. All the notable moments are here—Cleveland’s Ten-Cent Beer Night, the dugout fracas with Jackson, the spats with umpires (the dirt-kicking and -throwing), the firings and rehirings. As the author shows, Martin could charm as well as disgust and disappoint, and Pennington argues that although his record merits the Hall of Fame, his erratic behavior has kept him outside.
Baseball (and Yankees) fans will devour this like ballpark popcorn, and all will muse about the many what-ifs of Martin’s motley life.