His father was a famous baseball manager who was known for getting into trouble from time to time, so maybe that’s why Billy Martin Jr. has a soft spot for the Houston Astros.
After being penalized for the sign-stealing scandal that’s rocked Major League Baseball, the Astros have faced ridicule and scorn during spring training for their cheating ways in the 2017 World Series and beyond. The backlash probably hasn’t even really begun. To Martin, the ire Houston’s players have faced has been misguided.
“My biggest problem with the whole damn thing is that these guys are being vilified,” said Martin Jr., who’s been a sports agent for 25 years and is also president of the independent league Texas Airhogs. “They’re not villains. They’re not criminals. They were just trying to win baseball games!
“You know what that makes them? Good at stealing signs. They came up with a system. They were just better at doing what everybody else was doing. Then they finally got caught and penalized.”
Martin Jr. said his late father, Billy, was always reading through baseball’s rule book looking for an edge. And perhaps a way to bend some of those rules while managing the A’s and Yankees as well as other teams during a decorated 16-year managerial career?
“Trust me, my father tried to steal signs,” Martin Jr. said, while declining to elaborate on the details of his dad’s deeds during a phone call last week.
When asked about accusations his dad had his Oakland A’s pitchers throwing spitters, Martin Jr. said with a laugh, “I’m not perpetuating those rumors.”
As Billy’s son noted, it’s all part of the game, even if fans haven’t always recognized it.
“I know organizations that literally would have their guys work on stealing signs in spring training,” Martin Jr. said. “They’d have guys on second base sending signs to the hitter. They’d show them how to stand for a curveball and then how to stand for a fastball.
“That’s been going on forever. Like Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates, who were rumored to be tipped off on what pitches were coming on their scoreboard.”
Mazeroski, of course, authored perhaps baseball’s most famous home run of all-time. He hit a walk-off homer against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
Sixty years later and we’re still talking about stealing signs in the World Series.
“It’s just part of the game,” Martin Jr. said.