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Billy Ball, Revisited

Chris Jaffe over at The Hardball Times has a book coming out soon titled "Evaluating Baseball's Managers" that stretches back into baseball's history for what looks like a comprehensive look at managing over about a 130-year period.

(Harry Pavlidis also has a piece up today on Andrew Bailey, but this post is going to be about Billy Martin.)

In the excerpt Jaffe shares today he summarizes all of what made Martin the manager he was, detailing the ways he got each of his teams to play along with the short life span he had with each of them.  If there was ever a manager who ran things his own way, Martin was that guy.

Highlights of the excerpt include making an immediate impact with the Minnesota Twins in aggressively stealing home to not only instill a specific mentality in his team, but also to make his opponents play wondering what they'd do next. In one game, both Cesar Tovar and Rod Carew stole home in the same inning and Martin had a penchant for trying the triple steal.  At one point they basically made the A's look silly in an early July series that moved the Twins into first place to stay, his style helping cause the A's to also beat themselves with mistakes. Jaffe compares Martin to Hernan Cortes.

There's mention made of the complete games Martin's starters threw, including Rick Langford finishing 23 of 24 starts at one point in 1980 and missing the one by a single out, but while it led to some short-term success the pitchers quickly burned out within a year or two. Ever a manager who lived in the "now," it shows Martin did not look down the line to see how it would affect them later. Though his starters often worked a lot, he also tended to overuse some of his relief pitchers to the point of them frequently pitching on consecutive days more than they should have.

Looking back on Martin, it's easy to see where he was both good and bad as a manager. Everywhere he went, his teams performed well. There are some statistics in the excerpt that also further show this. The downside was his time with each team was very brief and his style led to a lot of immediate wins followed by rougher years once he was gone.

His Detroit teams finished first and third then averaged 96 losses the first two years after his departure, finishing last both times. They were already headed downward in Oakland in 1982 and didn't begin to recover until Tony LaRussa arrived in 1986. Still, his track record speaks for itself. In only three years did his teams play below .500 and just one of those (1982 in Oakland) was a full season. The others were partial years in Texas sandwiched around one full season.

Jaffe seems to do an excellent job of summarizing who Martin was as a manager and if this excerpt is any indication the book itself should be an interesting read, especially for anyone who likes to get deeper into the managing side of baseball.