Billy Martin was a major league baseball manager for 16 years. He was colorful to put it mildly, but also very successful. Martin won 1,253 games (winning percentage of .553) and led the Yankees to victory in the 1977 World Series.
So what does Billy Martin have to do with the Eagles? Nothing specifically, but his preferred style of play is worth discussing. Martin loved the running game. His teams got on base and that’s when the fun began. He had them running because Martin liked his players to be aggressive, but also because he loved putting pressure on the defense. Check out this description:
Though Martin is most famous for piloting the Yankees, his first managerial stint running the 1969 Twins best reveals his method and madness. The gutsy bravado and intensity to win that highlighted his career amply demonstrated themselves that year. Martin approached his rookie managerial season the same way a tough convict handles his first day in prison—determined to prove himself immediately as the cellblock’s most dangerous man.
Martin’s approach to the base paths demonstrated how he wanted his team to play. In the second game he managed, Minnesota’s Rod Carew stole home. This was no fluke—by the end of the month, Carew had three steals of home and by the season’s conclusion he tied Ty Cobb’s single-season record with seven such swipes. Three of them came on triple steals. On another occasion, Cesar Tovar stole home as part of a successful triple steal. Four triple steals are the most by any one team in the last half-century, and probably the most since the deadball era.
On another occasion, opponents tagged Tovar out at the head of another triple steal—which Martin called when the Twins enjoyed a six-run lead. Graig Nettles, of all people, was once thrown out stealing home. Technically he was picked off of third and made a break for it, but he must have had a good-sized lead to draw a throw, as pitchers normally do not try picking runners off of third. Even slow-footed Harmon Killebrew, at age 33, stole eight bases that season. He had 11 the rest of his career. Billy Martin truly did not fear a damn thing.
The ultimate Billyball moment came on May 18 when both Tovar and Carew stole home plate in the same inning—in the same a- bat. Carew stole his way around the bases in that plate appearance. At the plate during this maniacal base running was Harmon Killebrew. Harmon Killebrew! It boggles the mind: With one of the greatest home run hitters of that or any other generation up Martin wanted his men running wild.
Martin took over teams that were struggling and delivered instant results. His teams averaged 91 wins per year in his first full season with them. That is astounding.
Martin brought solid fundamentals, lots of attitude and a very aggressive style with him. Some would call his methods reckless as much as aggressive. But they worked, so we’ll go with aggressive. History, after all, is written by the victors.
The problem with Martin is that he could not sustain success. Go look at his track record and you’ll see that he couldn’t stay anywhere longer than 3 full seasons in a row. The teams usually continued to win, but Martin wore on his players, and sometimes his owners. A big part of this is that Billy was an alcoholic. As you can imagine, that made him very hard to deal with at times. I read The Bronx Zoo (great book) as a kid and Sparky Lyle would talk about Billy “hitting the sauce”. I didn’t understand what that meant back then, but knew it wasn’t good. Lyle doesn’t rip Billy. He just tells the truth about him, good and bad.
Personal issues aside, Martin was a terrific manager. He knew how to push buttons and keep players motivated. He was able to coach Hall of Famers and marginal players, getting good production from both groups. He got some marginal pitchers to do great things for him.
His baseball ideas are similar to some of Chip Kelly’s football ideas.
We’ve talked about the logic behind the no-huddle offense. One reason to run it is to simply get the defense out of their comfort zone. Instead of attacking, they have to react to you. Martin did this with his running game. He put pressure on pitchers to hold runners. He put pressure on catchers to be ready to throw after getting the pitch. Runners on the move meant that middle infielders would be on the move.
Martin didn’t just have fast guys run. He had everyone run. It would be too predictable to just have the fast guys run. And if Harmon Killebrew could be made into an effective base stealer, then Nick Foles just might do an effective job with the read-option. Part of the reason to use both in said situations is that the defense won’t expect it.
Martin having his guys steal home is equivalent to Kelly going for it on 4th down or going for 2-point conversions at unusual times. Teams get lulled into a sense of security that “no team would do that” and then…you do just what they don’t expect. Both men strayed from the safety of playing the percentages. They weren’t afraid to fail.
It takes some serious confidence to do the things that Martin and Kelly have done and have them work consistently. Any coach could try unconventional ideas. The point is that you must be able to get the players to execute them successfully. I’m sure the first time that Martin told Killebrew that he’d be stealing bases he got a real funny look in return. Martin was able to coach Killebrew on the fundamentals of how to steal and also able to sell him on the idea. If Killebrew doesn’t believe in it, there is no way it will work.
When you are trying to turn around a losing team, one of the first things to do is get them to think like winners. The players have to believe in themselves. They have to believe in the coach. They have to believe in the scheme/system/strategy. Martin was great at this. He turned losers into winners and good teams into great teams. Kelly was only the head coach at Oregon. That program was well established before he got there, but he was able to take them from being a good program to a great program. The same principles apply.
I have no idea if Chip Kelly likes baseball or knows anything about Billy Martin, but I can tell you that Chip would love Billyball if he read about it and watched it. Anytime you can win by being fundamentally sound, aggressive and creative is right up Chip Kelly’s alley. That’s his kind of ball, whether football, baseball or whatever other sport you wish to bring up. The details of the strategy change, but not the thinking behind them.
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Special thanks to the great AC Viking for coming up with this idea. This is kind of odd, but I love baseball history so I couldn’t resist. I still know more about baseball history than I do football history. I have no idea who won the NFL title in 1955, but I know the Dodgers won the World Series and Sandy Amoros made a great catch to help them do it. I have no idea who the NFL MVP was in 1967, but I know Carl Yazstremski won the triple crown and hit just .301 in winning the batting title. I know Mike Schmidt’s middle name is Jack and that Steve Carlton’s 1972 season is one of the most amazing things in baseball history (the Phillies won just 59 games that year, but he won 27 of them).
My baseball knowledge is very basic for the last 15 years. I’ve devoted myself to college and pro football. The old baseball stuff is still buried in there. It just doesn’t come out very often.
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Here’s a depressing tweet from Jimmy Bama.
Last 2 seasons: #Eagles have 1 KR of 34+ yds. On that return they lost a fumble. In Week 3 vs PHI in 2012, David Wilson had 5 KR of 36+ yds.
— Jimmy Kempski (@Jimmy_Beast) June 28, 2013
The good news is that Dave Fipp came here from Miami. Last year they were 2nd in the NFL at 27.1 yards per KOR. They had 4 KORs of more than 40 yards. One was a 96-yard TD. And that wasn’t a star player. It was RB Marcus Thigpen.
You may recognize the name. He was a UDFA of the Eagles a couple of years back. Why didn’t he do that for us?