Most Tigers fans know that Billy Martin was famous for his fiery personality as Tigers manager in the 1970’s . He was also know for possessing a short fuse and lack of patience during a losing streak.
In 1972, when his first place Tigers began stumbling in August, Martin had seen enough. The Bengals had dropped 10 of the previous 13 games and had gone from 2 1/2 games up, in first place in the American League East, to one game behind the New York Yankees.
The offense was sputtering so much that even Mickey Lolich couldn’t save them. Lolich was tagged with two losses in the stretch, despite allowing only three runs in 14 2/3 innings.
Something had to change and Martin forced the issue. In the first game of a double header against the Indians on August 13th, Martin decided to do something drastic. He put the names of his starters in a hat.
The skipper than asked several players including Al Kaline to draw the names out of the hat, one by one. The order in which the names were pulled would be the lineup Martin would use that night.
It’s one thing to pull a stunt like that in your Sunday beer league, and quite another to employ the strategy in a major league game.
“Billy was crazy,” chuckled Kaline recounting the stunt. “He did some nutty things over the years, but that surprised us all.”
Slugger Norm Cash’s name was picked first and he would bat leadoff. Meanwhile Eddie Brinkman, who hit .203 that year, would bat cleanup. Not ideal.
Yet, Cash would end up with two hits and Brinkman doubled in a run.
The stunt worked as the Tigers won 3-2.
The Tigers would go on to win 86 games that year, on the way to a post season appearance that eventually ended with a loss to the Oakland in the American League Championship Series.
The concept was not exactly a new one for Martin. Back in 1968, he was managing the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate in Denver. His struggling team convinced him to pick the starting lineup out of a hat, and that night Denver won 8-7. That was Billy being Billy. He has been described many ways, and a good portion of those aren’t very flattering. Perhaps the best way to describe him was as an out-of-the-box thinker.
Most times his mission was to jump start a floundering team. In the end, that’s the manager’s job. No matter how unorthodox the manner.
Martin died tragically in a truck accident on Christmas Day in 1989 In Binghamton, NY. His good friend Billy Reedy was in the truck and survived the accident, claiming he was driving at the time of the accident to protect Martin, but later recanted the story.
Reedy, born in the Corktown area of Detroit, was part owner of the Hummer bar and restaurant and later Reedy’s Saloon. Reedy’
s friendship with Martin began in 1969 when the two were introduced by then Yankees pitching coach Art Fowler.
Reedy passed away in in 2009 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 72 .