"I'd punch the bag at James Kenney for three hours every day without gloves," Martin recalls. "I'd also box with a heavyweight there, Trevio Torrez, who every once in a while would let me have it." Kenney Park was West Berkeley's Agincourt, but Burbank Junior High School—now the West Campus of Berkeley High—was the citadel from which issued the teen-age armies of the night. If the neighborhood seemed threatened by auslanders—from West Oakland maybe, or South Berkeley—these gangs, some numbering into the hundreds, rushed to the barricades. For the mild of manner and the faint of heart, acquiring an education in the Berkeley school system of that time was an experience comparable to an Apache rite of passage. Life could be terrifying.
Youngsters emerging whole from this crucible found they had a big adjustment to make at Berkeley High School. Its huge student body, then already more than 3,000, was neatly segregated by class distinctions as rigid as any in Victorian England. An off-campus magazine defined the castes and cartooned the prototypes for the edification of the unobservant. At the upper level were "The Goats," the scions of wealthy families who dwelt in the hills above town in houses that commanded spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay. The Goats had fraternities and sororities. They held all the good dances and parties. They weekended in Carmel. They occupied "The Slope," a part of the campus where the elite met to eat lunch. Goat boys wore cashmere sweaters and flight jackets, and they rolled up the legs of their Levi's so that half an inch of the bluish-gray underside of the denim showed. In the middle of the social strata were "The Lily-whites," outcasts who preferred scholarship to society. They did not care what they wore. And at the bottom were "The Shopboys," identified by their oiled ducktails and Levi's rolled under so that no bluish-gray appeared. Martin, technically, was not a Shopboy, having chosen an academic course of study, but the Shopboys were his people, the mean-spirited kids from West Berkeley.
There was no upward mobility at Berkeley High. If you fit into one category, you remained there until graduation did you part. But gifted West Berkeley athletes, like Martin and Babe Van Heuit, a three-sport star, achieved a measure of celebrity on talent alone. Martin was all-county in both baseball and basketball, and despite his relatively small stature, he probably would have succeeded in football had his mother given him permission to play. Those in baseball and basketball who messed with Martin quickly found themselves supine. Billy was an on-field brawler long before he reached the major leagues. At Berkeley High, though, he was essentially an athlete who could never make the school's inner circle.
"I was ugly then," Martin says. "Funny looking. My ears stuck out." Indeed, he seemed all ears, nose and fists. "I never dated a girl at Berkeley High. I went to one dance. I was afraid to stand up in class because my clothes were so bad."
"When Billy graduated [in 1946], I bought him a suit and gave him a $20 bill," his mother says. "I wasn't all that damn poor. I was poor, though."
Driving around the East Bay last week with his third-base coach, Clete Boyer, Martin somehow found fond memories surging back from the dark years of his adolescence. "I got real enthusiastic pointing out different places. Clete, I'd say, I did that here and that there." Later, in Scottsdale, he could smile over a memory that recalls only the good while rejecting the bad. "You know," he said, setting aside a beer at the Pink Pony restaurant, "I really enjoyed Berkeley High. I really did." Time heals.
The Pink Pony is where Martin and his coaching staff—Boyer, Lee Walls, Art Fowler and George Mitterwald—mull over how to deploy their young charges. There is a light, Martin and his staff claim, at the end of the tunnel. "I'm not going into the season just to show up," Martin says. "I guarantee you we won't finish last. I took over a team in Texas that had lost 105 games and drawn less than 700,000 the year before. We finished second and drew a million-two. The A's are a young team with a lot of good pitching arms. An older team is tougher for a manager. But they're all really the same." Then he lapsed into his familiar formula for managerial success. "You'll have 15 guys who will run through a wall for you, five who hate you and five who are undecided. The trick is keeping the five who hate you away from the five who are undecided."
One of Martin's first tasks this spring was to shore up the confidence of 24-year-old Pitcher Matt Keough, who had a catastrophic 1979 season, which included 15 losses in a row. Keough's suffering was attributable in part to shoddy infield play, Martin says, and that will be improved this year. The young righthander's reaction to Martin's hiring seems representative of the team's. "Hallelujah," Keough exults. "We need somebody like this. I have so much respect for him. He stuck his neck out for me by putting me in the 1978 All-Star Game. Now it's my turn to deliver the goods."
"With Billy coming in, things are automatically exciting," says Catcher Jim Essian, 29, one of the few A's veterans. "He's going to make us think about winning for a change. We're definitely going to be a lot better."
Such confidence may seem misplaced on a team that lost 108 games last season, but Martin's enthusiasm is contagious. On the Scottsdale diamond, under the warm Arizona sun, he seems omnipresent, counseling base runners here, instructing infielders there and, with hands characteristically thrust into his back pockets, exhorting hitters in the cage.