March 8, 2022

Billy in October 1969: A man without a job

With manager Billy Martin at the helm, the Twins won the American League West Division in 1969 and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the postseason, the first year of AL Championship Series play. The Twins battled the O’s in the first two games and were blown out in the last to be swept 3-0 in the series. That was on Oct. 6. A week later Martin was fired by owner Calvin Griffith.

Despite some off the field problems and a tendency for Martin to try to get under Griffith’s skin — he apparently had a thing for visiting Griffith during his afternoon nap — the Twins still won 97 games, drew more than 1.3 million fans (third most in the AL) and appeared poised to keep on winning playing Martin’s style of baseball.

But Griffith had had enough.

The Minneapolis Tribune gave the firing its full attention on Oct. 14, including a front page photo of Martin packing his bags alongside his five-year-old son Billy Joe. On the sports front, they went with three stories: fan reaction, a story on a breakdown in communications between Martin and Griffith and a third on Martin not following policies. Inside, Sid Hartman tackled the topic in his column.

The editorial page also weighed in and was on Martin’s side, wishing him a fond farewell.

“Regardless of the issues and motivations in the firing, however, we liked Martin’s kind of baseball and we will miss him,” the editorial board wrote.

Letters to the editor poured in shortly after that.

“Calvin Griffith’s firing of Billy Martin was the biggest blunder in sports that I can recall,” said John J. O’Neill of Minneapolis.

Kimball J. Devoy of Edina wrote that Griffith faced two choices: either rehire Martin or move the team.

“I have seen my last Twins game unless Martin returns,” Devoy said.

Fans also called the paper directly, with one saying that he/she was going to distribute bumper stickers with two messages: Bring back Billy and Boycott the Twins.

In the short term, Griffith’s decision to fire Martin worked. New manager Bill Rigney led the team to another division title in 1970 — and another postseason loss to the Orioles — but the Twins faltered badly over the next decade and a half. Martin, meanwhile, would go on to have winning seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers before winning a World Series with the New York Yankees.

And then there was this:



Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.