Although he spent almost all of his playing career as a Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, Bill Virdon was originally signed by the Yankees in 1950 and spent his first five seasons as a pro climbing his way up New York’s minor league ladder. Then in 1954, he was included in a package of players and prospects the Yankees traded to St Louis for veteran outfielder Enos Slaughter. Virdon enjoyed a solid 12-season playing career in the NL, retiring for good in 1968. He then got into coaching and in 1972 he became skipper of the Pirates, leading Pittsburgh to a Division title in his first year as their field boss. When the team slumped the following season, Virdon was dumped. George Steinbrenner hired him to pilot the Yankees in 1974 and he led them to an 89-73 record and second-place finish in their division. “The Boss” was not truly a fan of Virdon’s low-key managing style and when the fiery Billy Martin became available during the second half of the 1975 season, Virdon was dumped again. He immediately got the manager’s job in Houston where he remained for the next seven seasons. Virdon then completed his managerial career with a two year stint as Montreal Expo skipper, finishing with a 995-921 lifetime won-loss record during his 13-seasons. I always felt it was the acquisitions of Willie Randolph, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers that won the Yankees’ the 1976 pennant and not the switch from Virdon to Martin. Imagine how different Yankee history would have been if Steinbrenner kept Virdon in the Yankee dugout instead of hiring Billy.
|3||1974||43||New York Yankees||AL||162||89||73||.549||2|
|4||1975||44||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||104||53||51||.510||3|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||2 years||291||163||128||.560||2.0|
|New York Yankees||2 years||266||142||124||.534||2.5|
|Houston Astros||8 years||1067||544||522||.510||3.2|
|Montreal Expos||2 years||294||146||147||.498||4.0|
One of the all-time great catchers in baseball history, Dickey was superb both at the plate and behind it. He hit .300 in ten of his first eleven seasons as the starting Yankee receiver and drove in over 100 runs in a season four times during his Hall of Fame career. This eleven-time All-Star played in eight World Series with New York, winning seven rings in the process. Dickey’s prime was the four-year-period from 1936 through 1939, during which he averaged 26 home runs, and 115 RBIs with a batting average of .326. He entered Military service in 1943, returning to the team in 1946. When Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy fell ill and resigned, the team made Dickey the player-manager for the balance of the ’46 season. After leading New York to a 57-48 finish that year, he ended both his big league playing and managing career. He then accepted the Yankee’s offer to manage their Minor League team in Dickey’s hometown of Little, Rock Arkansas. After one season there, he was back in the Bronx to begin a decade long career as a Yankee coach. His Hall-of-Fame Yankee successor at catcher, Yogi Berra credits Dickey for teaching him how to play the position.
Dickey was a quiet hard-working professional, much like his close friend and roommate, Lou Gehrig. He played hard on the field and behaved himself off of it. His playing career lasted 17 seasons. The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 (shared with Berra) and a plaque in his honor now rests in the Monument Park of the new Yankee Stadium. It certainly belongs there.
Dickey shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee prospect.
Dickey’s record as a Yankee player:
Dickey’s record as a Yankee manager:
I never was a big fan of Billy Martin. I was too young to remember his playing days with the Yankees in the fifties. When he started managing in the American League, first for the Twins in 1969 and then the Tigers in 1971, I remember trying to learn more about him. Everything I read seemed to indicate he had a great will to win, a strong knowledge of the game but an extremely bad temper. This helped explain why he was fired from his first three managerial positions even after he helped turn losing teams into winners.
When George Steinbrenner became managing partner of the Yankees the perfect storm necessary to bring these two unpredictable forces together in the Bronx had been formed. In the beginning, it worked marvelously. The Yankees got back to the World Series and fans filled the Stadium like never before. It didn’t last long, however. Martin’s dependence on alcohol worsened under the pressure of Steinbrenner’s meddling and the glare of the New York media. Once these fault lines became public during and after the 1977 season, Martin would never again be able to command the respect or support of his players necessary to lead them to championships.
As more and more Yankees and ex-Yankees began talking and writing about their experiences while playing for Martin, a clearer picture of his addiction to alcohol, his emotional insecurity, and his inhumane behavior emerged. What respect I had for his past achievements was quickly replaced by pity for what he had become.
Having written all this it is only fair to point out that there are many people who knew Martin personally and who played with him and for him on a baseball field who loved and deeply respected the guy. My opinions of him were formed from the far-away focus of a typical baseball fan.
He died on Christmas day in 1989 when his truck was driven into a ditch by a friend who was allegedly driving intoxicated at the time of the accident. It has also been reported that the driver and Martin had been drinking all day. May he now be resting in peace.
During his final season as Yankee skipper in 1989, Martin had this right-handed veteran starter who shares his May 16th birthday, on his pitching staff. Martin was not the Yankee manager when this other May 16th born right-hander pitched in pinstripes, during the 1981 season. This former Yankee reliever was also born on that day.
Martin’s record as a Yankee player:
|1954||Did not play in major leagues (Military Service)|
|NYY (7 yrs)||527||1887||1717||220||449||70||18||30||188||19||112||178||.262||.313||.376||.688|
|MIN (1 yr)||108||398||374||44||92||15||5||6||36||3||13||42||.246||.275||.361||.636|
|MLN (1 yr)||6||6||6||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|KCA (1 yr)||73||285||265||33||68||9||3||9||27||7||12||20||.257||.295||.415||.710|
|CIN (1 yr)||103||346||317||34||78||17||1||3||16||0||27||34||.246||.304||.334||.639|
|CLE (1 yr)||73||258||242||37||63||7||0||9||24||0||8||18||.260||.290||.401||.691|
|DET (1 yr)||131||536||498||56||127||19||1||7||42||5||16||62||.255||.279||.339||.619|
Martin’s record as a Yankee manager:
|8||1975||47||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 2||56||30||26||.536||3|
|9||1976||48||New York Yankees||AL||159||97||62||.610||1||AL Pennant|
|10||1977||49||New York Yankees||AL||162||100||62||.617||1||WS Champs|
|11||1978||50||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 3||94||52||42||.553||1|
|12||1979||51||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 2||95||55||40||.579||4|
|17||1983||55||New York Yankees||AL||162||91||71||.562||3|
|18||1985||57||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 2||145||91||54||.628||2|
|19||1988||60||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||68||40||28||.588||5|
|Minnesota Twins||1 year||162||97||65||.599||1.0|
|Detroit Tigers||3 years||452||248||204||.549||2.0|
|Texas Rangers||3 years||279||137||141||.493||3.7|
|Oakland Athletics||3 years||433||215||218||.497||2.5|
|New York Yankees||8 years||941||556||385||.591||2.5||2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title|
|16 years||2267||1253||1013||.553||2.5||2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title|