On Christmas Night 1989, a Yankee legend was killed in a car crash. Billy Martin died on December 25, 1989 when the pickup truck he was in crashed on an icy road in upstate New York.
He was 61 years old.
It was a sudden ending for a man full of life and controversy, whose baseball career had begun 40 years earlier. From fresh-faced rookie to embattled manager, Billy Martin baseball cards tell the story of an eventful career.
Known better as a manager than as a player, Martin was hired and fired five times as the Yankees skipper, often butting heads with the equally tempestuous owner, George Steinbrenner. Their on again, off again relationship even became the stuff of beer commercials.
He’d already managed the Twins, Tigers and Rangers before he returned to New York.
Martin had played his first eight years in the big leagues (1950-1957) as a Yankee infielder before being traded. His first card however, came out even earlier than that.
In 1949 when Martin was a member of the Oakland Oaks, a AAA Pacific Coast League team with no affiliation, he was pictured on the unnumbered Remar Baking issue. The company issued several sets in northern California from 1946-1950, but the Billy Martin pre-rookie card might just be the most popular. Believe it or not, it is actually cheaper than his big league rookie card as it can be had for less for well under $100 in EX or EX/NM condition.
The card released in 1952 Topps three years later that many consider to be his rookie card (#175) may be found for around $200 in EX condition, but high-end examples run into the thousands.
A year later, Martin was depicted on a great-looking posed Bowman card (#93) alongside Hall of Famer and defensive whiz Phil Rizzuto. Both Rizzuto (#10) and Martin (#1) have their numbers retired by the New York Yankees, so it is no wonder why this card often goes for $150 and up, depending on grade.
In 1954, Martin appeared not only in the Topps and Bowman issues but also on the Red Heart Dog Food set. Quality examples are usually under $200.
Like all players, Martin’s cards get cheaper every year that he played. From 1958 onward, the vast majority of his cards can be found ungraded for less than $15. The 1961 Post Cereal card he was featured on (#190) depicts his move to the Cincinnati Reds and is just a few dollars despite the fact that far less of them exist than their Topps counterparts.
For those who are not big spenders but still want a card of Martin, fear not. There are plenty of affordable options. He began his managerial career in 1969 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. His 1969 Topps card (#547) is his managerial rookie card and an excellent pickup. A nice example shouldn’t cost more than $5-10. Anything mid 1970’s and beyond of Martin should be available for a dollar or two.
No stranger to controversy, one of Martin’s more well-known cards among collectors is Bill Ripken-esque to say the least. In this 1972 Topps card (#33) from his time as manager of the Detroit Tigers, he is bracing himself on a bat, with middle finger extended. Whether there was any truly offense being attempted, whether it was an attempt at humor or whether that’s just the way he had placed his hand isn’t definitively known but considering Martin’s fiery nature, it’s not a stretch to imagine he was making a statement. Martin’s ‘bird’ and his In Action card from that year, which shows him arguing with an ump, are must haves for collectors who like uniqueness.
In the early 1980s, between the on again, off again tenure in New York, Martin returned to his native Bay Area and managed the A’s,
As an MLB All-Star who both played and managed for the New York Yankees, remake cards and tribute cards are plentiful for Martin. Whether it be in the 2000 Upper Deck Yankees Legends set or in the 2003 Flair Greats set, there is no shortage of Martin cards issued since his death, although most come from the early part of the 2000’s when such sets were among the most popular.
Even though he passed on 25 years ago, autographs of Billy Martin are not exactly a tough find or too expensive for that matter either. PSA certified signed cards of his run are under $100, making him a natural pickup for any die-hard Yankees fan.