Baseball's longest-running soap opera returns to New York
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So all is sweetness and light at the moment - but then there haven't been any runners thrown out at home yet, or second guesses about who should be playing where, or unguarded comments in airports, or encounters with marshmallow salesmen.Skip to next paragraph
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Throughout three decades as both a player and a manager, Martin has followed essentially the same script - doing his job on the field brilliantly, but wearing out his welcome by his inability to keep quiet and stay out of trouble away from the ball park.
The man has displayed an absolutely boundless capacity for self-destruction. He has a long history of feuding with his players and with the people who pay his salary (a habit which undoubtedly explains why he has never held any managerial job longer than three years). His penchant for putting his foot in his mouth is perhaps best illustrated by the ill-advised comment that got him fired in 1978 when he said Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner deserved each other because ''one's a born liar and the other's convicted'' (apparently referring to Steinbrenner's guilty plea in 1974 to giving a false explanation for a political campaign contribution). And even after being re-hired by Steinbrenner the following year, he hadn't learned his lesson - getting in a barroom fight with a marshmallow salesman that cost him his job again.
Along with all these negative aspects, though, Martin has the one thing that leads club owners to keep taking a chance with him - a winning record. First in Minnesota, then in Detroit, Texas, New York, and most recently Oakland, he took over teams that had been losers and turned them into winners - capturing at least a division championship in each of those places except Texas, and of course winning two pennants and a World Series with the Yankees.
Whether he can do it once again is something that only time will tell - and with the combination of these two volatile personalities, Steinbrenner's legendary impatience (he had three different managers and five pitching coaches in just one season a year ago!), and Martin's own penchant for self-destruction, he certainly won't be trying any long-term programs.
Today is the only thing that matters to George Steinbrenner, and Martin is taking over a team that plays in a tough division (Milwaukee, Baltimore, Boston, etc.) and that came close to finishing last a year ago. It's really a much better club than that, though, and Steinbrenner has done his usual off-season wheeling and dealing in the trade and free agent markets, so Billy shouldn't get too much of the credit if the Yankees do in fact improve over 1982. But if he should take them all the way to the top again, even his and Steinbrenner's severest critics would have to concede that this was indeed the right move for this particular team at this particular time.
Or as George put it at the press conference: ''Sometimes you have to have a little turmoil to make things work.''