The Truth About George Steinbrenner's Relationship With Billy Martin

The New York Yankees are one of the most storied franchises in all of the sports, and over that time, some of baseball's greatest legends have thrown on the pinstripes. In fact, there have been so many legendary players, that the team has retired 22 numbers belonging to 23 players (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey share No.8), including every number from 1 through 10, per CBS Sports.

Even more greats have passed through the organization who haven't been honored with a jersey retirement, including Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Hank Bauer, and Roger Clemens, which means that for a former Yankee, having your number retired is an immense honor. One player who received such an honor and has his No. 1 set aside with the likes of Babe Ruth's No. 3 and Derek Jeter's No. 2 was a player who had a famously checkered relationship with the Yankees, and more specifically the team's pugnacious owner George Steinbrenner: utility infielder and five-time manager Billy Martin.

Billy Martin's time as a Yankees player

Martin's history with the Bronx Bombers started more than two decades before Steinbrenner bought the franchise. Martin hailed from Berkeley, California, and signed with the Idaho Falls Russets (a perfect name for an Idaho-based minor league team). He soon returned to his northern California stomping grounds when his contract was purchased by the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. After a handful of seasons with the Oaks, Martin and teammate Jackie Jensen were part of a deal with the New York Yankees (via Society for American Baseball Research – SABR).

According to Baseball Reference, Martin made his debut with the Yankees at 21 years old on April 18, 1950, in a game against the Boston Red Sox, where he had two hits and three RBIs in two plate appearances. Still, Martin's playing time was sparse for the 1950 and 1951 seasons, His playing time increased in 1952 and 1953, but Martin missed the entire 1954 season after being drafted into the Army. Martin became a corporal in the 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado. He was furloughed in 1955 and returned to the Yankees. He appeared in just 20 games during the 1955 season.

The end of Martin's first tenure with the Yankees

Martin was back to his usual amount of pre-military service playing time in 1956. That year he logged 121 hits and 9 home runs, enough to garner himself an All-Star nod, per Baseball Reference. It was arguably the best year of his career, but by then, Martin had picked up a reputation for brashness and a penchant for getting into fights, which didn't sit well with the team's general manager, George Weiss. This came to a head when Martin was involved in a brawl at the famous Copacabana club. Weiss saw the scandal as the final straw for Martin and dealt him to the Kansas City Athletics (via SABR).

Martin finished out the 1957 season with Kansas City but jumped around Major League Baseball from 1958 to 1961, when he spent time with the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Braves before retiring at the end of the 1961 season as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Steinbrenner buys the Yankees and hires Martin ... for the first time

Around 12 years after Martin decided to call it a day as far as his playing career was concerned, shipping magnate and former Ohio State football graduate assistant George Steinbrenner led a team of investors in purchasing the New York Yankees. The deal — which had a price tag of $10 million — was finalized on January 3, 1973, per History.

Steinbrenner, like Martin, was known for his brash, quick-tempered personality, so maybe that's why "The Boss," as he was known, thought that Martin could be a good fit for the team's managerial opening in 1975. Martin's career as a manager had started with the same club his playing career left off with, the Minnesota Twins, in 1969. According to Baseball Reference, he spent just one season there before taking a job with the Detroit Tigers. In 1973, he was hired by the Texas Rangers, but let go after just 23 games due to an abysmal 9-14 record, and was rehired by the Tigers. Surprisingly, Martin was rehired in 1974 by the Rangers. The next season, Steinbrenner called him up to return to the Bronx and lead the Yankees.

Martin took over the Yankees' reigns late in the 1975 season after being sacked by the Rangers a few weeks earlier. With the Yankees struggling, their attention turned to 1976.

Martin's first tenure

The first Billy Martin era started well. The Yankees posted a 97-82 record and managed to win the American League pennant. However, there was a major blemish on that season, which was when the Yankees were swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Martin was even ejected in Game 4. The next season, the team looked to return to the World Series, but that goal was threatened by inter-team tension.

The outspoken Martin butted heads with one of his star players, Reggie Jackson, and also with the man in charge of the entire operation, George Steinbrenner (via 12up). Despite this, in 1977, Martin led the Yankees back to the World Series, where this time they came up victorious with a 4-2 series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to Baseball Reference.

Martin's feuds flared up again in 1978, and he was famously quoted as saying, "The two of them deserve each other. One's a born liar; the other's convicted," per Bleacher Report, a reference to illegal campaign contributions Steinbrenner made to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign that got him a temporary ban from Major League Baseball, per History.

The returns of Billy Martin

Martin didn't stay away from the Yankees for long — he was rehired the very next season. This was not the only time Martin would be fired and then brought back by Steinbrenner, as he hired him five separate times. After being fired by the Yankees for the second time, Martin spent several seasons with the Oakland Athletics, per SABR. However, Steinbrenner brought Martin back in 1983. That season Martin initiated one of the most infamous moments in baseball history when he noticed Kansas City Royals third basemen George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat.

Martin went on to be fired at the end of the year, but brought back in 1985, and the cycle repeated itself one final time during the 1988 season. After that, he remained part of the team as a special consultant. There were rumors that Martin was going to return to the Yankees dugout in 1990, but he was killed in a car accident on Christmas Day 1989, at the age of 61.

Steinbrenner denied those rumors about the 1990 season, but his at times frigid relationship with Martin seemed to have thawed by the time of his five-time manager's death. Steinbrenner told The New York Times that he had seen Martin the week before his death at an event in Tampa, Florida. ”He was enthused about the coming season. In the past, it was a hit-and-miss thing, but he was going to be working a lot. I must have talked to him 20 times in the last month and a half," Steinbrenner said.