It was a week unlike any other in the recent tumultuous history of the New York Yankees. It began with Billy Martin, the beleaguered manager of a fourth-place team, self-destructing by uttering the now infamous words, "One's a born liar, the other's convicted." Owner George Steinbrenner, the party of the second part in Martin's valedictory, fumed, Martin resigned, and Bob Lemon was hired to take his place. Martin left tearfully, Lemon arrived pleasantly, and as the week wore on, Steinbrenner's team actually gained on the first-place Red Sox.
But that's not all, folks. At the Old-Timers' Game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, history repeated itself, more or less. It was at that game, three years ago, that Martin was introduced as the team's new manager to the New York fans, who greeted him like a long-lost son. In a final twist to a bizarre week, Steinbrenner orchestrated the entire scene all over again; Martin would manage the Yankees again, beginning in 1980.
"It's a soap opera around here," said Coach Elston Howard. Like the other Yankees, past and present, Howard was stunned by the words that he heard stadium announcer Bob Sheppard read over the P.A. system as Martin ran out of the dugout and onto the field.
"Managing the Yankees in the 1980 season, and hopefully for many seasons after that will be No. 1...." Sheppard's voice was drowned out by cheers.
The once-and-future manager responded to the crowd by time and time again lifting his cap to acknowledge the chants of "Billy, Billy, Billy," as the ovation continued for nearly seven minutes. At one point he turned and looked up at Steinbrenner and tipped his cap in the direction of the owner's private box on the loge level. Later he would ask Steinbrenner, "Did you see me? Did you see me?"
The day belonged to Martin. Not to Joe DiMaggio, not to Mickey Mantle, not to Whitey Ford. Yankee Stadium was his, but Steinbrenner had made it so, and he smiled as the near-capacity crowd roared its approval of his decision. It was, indeed, a masterstroke, if a weird one. Steinbrenner refurbished his image by rehiring Martin, and who knows what will happen between now and 1980.
Until Martin resumes his managing, health permitting, he will work in the Yankee front office as a consultant and scout. In 1980 Lemon will become the team's general manager. Both are agreeable, and no one doubts that Martin longs to return to the field.
"The white lines are Billy's arena. Between them he becomes the king," said Yankee President Al Rosen on Saturday night. "Outside of those lines, he is out of character. By bringing him back, George made a heartrending decision. Billy had problems dealing with everything that happened this year.
"There is no doubt that Billy is popular," Rosen added, "and he will still be popular in 1980."
But popularity alone did not bring Billy back. There were other factors—not related to baseball—that Steinbrenner had to weigh. First there was Martin's drinking problem. "Sure he drank," said former Yankee President Gabe Paul on Sunday morning. "Everyone knows he drank. Sometimes he drank too much. But I don't think that drinking affected his performance last year."