A generation later, Indians fans held the same hopes about another manager who brought with him certain headaches but could be counted on to win: Billy Martin.
Martin played briefly for the Indians in the 1950s, during his exile from the Bronx following a fight at the Copacabana. He knocked around the majors until 1962. Following an unceremonious end to his playing career, the last team he played for, the Twins, gave him a job as a scout. He rose up the ranks and by 1969 was the team’s manager, leading them to the first American League West title.
Martin also won division titles in Detroit, New York (where he won two pennants and a World Series) and Oakland. But at each spot – and in Texas, the only managerial job that didn’t lead to a postseason appearance – he also wore out his welcome. So it was surprising and unsurprising at the same time when Athletics ownership let the Indians and Yankees talk to Martin, who felt he had nothing to lose from the conversation, but might have been a little insulted too. He had three years left on his contract in Oakland, and he wanted to stick around.
Of course, just the Indians talking to Martin put fans into a frenzy. A generation before rumors started flying about Bill Cowher and Tom Izzo buying houses in Strongsville, everyone was ready for Billyball.
“I’d like to play for Billy again,” said Mike Hargrove, who’d played for Martin in Texas. “This club is close to being a contender and anything that would give us that extra push would be a big plus.”
Dave Garcia announced that May that he would finish out the 1982 season and then resign as manager. He told Terry Pluto that Martin should succeed him at the helm, saying, “I think every club should be managed by Billy Martin at least once. He puts fans in the park.”
That also occurred to Gabe Paul. The 1970s had been a lost decade for the Indians, on the field and financially, and the 1980s were shaping up no better. So Paul was prepared to offer Martin the sun, moon and stars, because even if he didn’t make the Indians better – and his track record indicated that he would – he would be an attraction by himself.
On Oct. 20, 1982, the Athletics fired Martin, and almost instantly, the Indians made their offer.
“Gabe was willing to give Billy an attendance clause, big bucks per ticket,” said Martin’s lawyer Eddie Sapir in Peter Golenbock’s book “Wild, High and Tight.” “And Cleveland hadn’t drawn flies. But there were two jobs out there, and no matter what, if there was a chance to manage the Yankees, that’s where Billy’s heart was.”
Garcia also conceded as much, saying, “I don’t know where he will manage next year, but if I had to guess, I’d say it would be New York.”
The Yankees were also without a manager following the 1982 season.
Paul offered a $1 million, three-year deal, which would make Martin the highest paid manager in baseball. The deal also included an attendance bonus. All told, it was a high sum for a team that legitimately had trouble paying its bills.
But the man whose tombstone reads “I might not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest” couldn’t turn down the pinstripes. He signed with the Yankees yet again.
And the Indians hired Mike Ferraro.
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