Every Friday I’ve been releasing ‘A Brief History’ podcast about the Yankees. It started as a way to stay sane during quarantine, but evolved into something that I look forward to researching each week.
This week’s episode is Part II of The Subway Series, which starts in the golden era of New York City baseball — the 1950s. There were many stars at the center of the baseball world for the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants, but light-hitting infielder Billy Martin did as much to help his team win the World Series as any of them.
Martin is best known for his relationship with George Steinbrenner and being hired and fired five times as Yankees manager. But before he was a World Series winning manager, he was a World Series winning player.
Billy hit .257 in 11 big-league seasons for the Yankees, Athletics, Tigers, Indians, Reds, Braves, and Twins. He is a five-time World Series champion (1951, ’52, ’53, and ’56 as a player, and ’77 as a manager). His number 1 is also retired by the Yankees and he’s honored in Monument Park for his contributions to the organizations over the years.
While his career stats are underwhelming, he made a name for himself by making key contributions to the Yankees in the 1950s.
Saving the World Series
After the Yankees beat the Giants in the 1951 World Series, the decade was all about the Yankees vs. Dodgers.
The ‘52 Series was another 7-gamer between the clubs. All games except the second were close, and the Yankees had to win Games 6 and 7 at Ebbets Field to prevail.
Mickey Mantle and Johnny Mize had monster series, but Billy Martin was credited with “saving the series” late in Game 7.
The Yankees had a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 7, but the Dodgers had the bases loaded and Jackie Robinson at the plate. He hit a high pop-up in the infield that first baseman Joe Collins (who had come in the game for defense) lost in the sun and wind. Martin made a charging catch right next to the mound to end the inning, and the effectively end the series.
This was Jackie Robinson’s third World Series and he had yet to perform on the biggest stage. His team had lost each time and he was hitting just .212 in 66 World Series at bats to that point, punctuated by that pop-up with the bases loaded. The following year Robinson performed better (he hit .320 in the series) but his team lost yet again to the Yanks all thanks to Billy Martin.
Billy took things to another level in the 1953 World Series, torturing the Dodgers by hitting .500 with 8 RBIs.
Martin was then drafted into military service and missed the entire 1954 season, returning late in ’55. The Yankees lost the pennant in ’54 — coincidentally, the only year the Yankees did not advance to the World Series while Martin was on the team. Who knows what would have happened had he been there?
Martin’s accomplishments on the biggest stage cannot be ignored. In 105 World Series plate appearances, he slashed .333/.371/.566 with 5 home runs. Keep in mind he was not a home run hitter. In the regular season he hit a homer ever 58 plate appearances. In the World Series he hit one every 21 plate appearances. Billy saved his best for the biggest moments.
Podcast – A Brief History: The Subway Series, Part II