From the Archives: Billy Martin Killed in Icy Crash
Five-time New York Yankee manager Billy Martin died early Monday night in an alcohol-related crash when the pickup truck in which he was a passenger skidded off an icy road near his upstate New York farm and tumbled 300 feet down a gully.
Martin, 61, lived on the farm with his wife Jill.
Efforts to revive Martin at Wilson Memorial Hospital failed and he died there at about 6:56 p.m. of severe internal injuries and possible head injuries, hospital spokesman Michael Doll said.
The driver of the truck, William Reedy of Detroit, was listed in serious condition with a broken hip and possible rib injuries, Doll said.
Reedy was given a blood-alcohol test and charged with driving while intoxicated, Broome County Sheriff Anthony Ruffo told the Associated Press. Results of the test were not made available. Arraignment is set for Jan. 4.
Neither Reedy nor Martin were wearing seatbelts.
An autopsy is scheduled to be performed on Martin today.
Witnesses said the truck careened off a road in the town of Fenton near Binghamton, and it didn’t stop tumbling until it reached the stone pillars at the beginning of Martin’s driveway. Martin was thrown into the windshield, which was knocked onto the hood.
Martin arrived at Wilson Memorial’s trauma unit at 6:19 p.m. EST, but cardiopulmonary resuscitation failed to revive him.
Reedy and Martin had been spending the holiday with their wives at Martin’s house, according to Doll, who added that he had been told that they had left the house only minutes before to run an errand.
Martin, who played on five World Series winners as the Yankees’ second baseman in the 1950s, is best remembered for his volatile relationship with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who appointed Martin to run the Yankees for the first time on Aug. 2, 1975, and fired him for the fifth time on June 23, 1988.
“I feel helpless,” said Steinbrenner when reached Monday night at his Tampa hotel. He said Martin had come to Tampa last Wednesday to read “The Night Before Christmas” at the Tampa Performing Arts Center in a concert Steinbrenner put on for local underprivileged children.
“He and (Yankee second baseman) Steve Sax were here, and Billy really looked great. We spent two days talking baseball, and this sort of thing (the benefit) meant a lot to Billy. He talked about how lean Christmas was . . . when he was a kid.
“Billy was like family to me, and I knew he would be for life. A lot of people don’t understand that. We had our arguments early on, but, boy, he’d go to the wall for me and I’d go to the wall for him.”
Martin was honored with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s monument park, a place reserved for the likes of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. His plaque proclaims Martin “A Yankee Forever.”
“It was a big loss. He was a dear friend and I will miss him. He was a great little guy,” DiMaggio told the Associated Press in San Francisco.
Martin’s record on the field was as impressive as his problems off the field were legendary. By the time he took over in New York, he had managed two teams to division titles—the Minnesota Twins in 1969 and Detroit Tigers in 1973—been voted the American League manager of the year for taking Texas to a second-place finish in 1974, but been fired three times and suspended twice.
He brought his skill and his troubles to Yankee Stadium and took the Yankees to their first pennant in 12 years in 1976. He was voted American League manager of the year.
He won AL manager-of-the-year honors consecutively in Oakland, in 1980 and 1981, taking the A’s to the 1981 AL West title using a brand of baseball dubbed “Billyball.” Overall, he had 1,258 victories and 1,018 losses in 16 seasons as a major league manager.
“In on-the-field management, he was the best field general I ever played for. Off the field, he was all of those things and a lot more,” said Wayne Gross, who played under Martin in Oakland.
Martin, who was 5 feet 11 1/2 and weighed 165 pounds, was known as one of baseball’s fiercest competitors as a player. He got into fights with St. Louis Brown catcher Clint Courtney in 1952 and 1953 and in 1957 was part of a brawl at the Copacabana nightclub along with teammates, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and Johnny Kucks.
In August of 1960, he fought Chicago Cub pitcher Jim Brewer and allegedly broke Brewer’s jaw. Brewer was awarded $10,000 by a circuit court jury in Chicago.
While managing the Twins in 1969, he knocked down Dave Boswell, one of his pitchers, and in 1972 he got into a fight with a fan outside Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
In 1977, during a nationally televised game in Fenway Park, he nearly came to blows with star outfielder Reggie Jackson but was stopped by coach Elston Howard.
He was fired by Steinbrenner for the second time in 1979 after punching marshmallow salesman Joe Cooper. In 1985, his arm was broken in a fight with Yankees pitcher Ed Whitson during a brawl in a Baltimore hotel and parking lot.
In 1988, Martin got into a fight in the restroom of an Arlington, Tex., saloon and was hospitalized overnight.
Martin married his fourth wife, the former Jill Guiver, in January 1988. They had been living on a large farm in Port Crane, N.Y.
In an interview in July, 1989, Martin said he was enjoying life out of the spotlight of baseball and the publicity he earned with numerous barroom altercations.
“I have sheep, cattle, ducks, geese and a few horses,” he said. “I like it because we also have an 80-acre lake. I do everything. I raise pheasants and turn them loose.”
At the time of his death, he was a vice president for the Yankees and Steinbrenner said, “He was real excited about the job, and he was going to be in an office upstairs (in Yankee Stadium) right next to mine.
“What people don’t understand is that Billy never left me. In the five times I fired him and all, he never left. I knew he would be with me for life. He never left me, and he never would.”
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