I’m currently reading a great biography on Billy Martin by Bill Pennington.
I found this excerpt from the 1977 American League Playoffs to be fascinating. The Yankees were down 2 games to 1 in the best of 5, in Kansas City for game 4.
As much as the Yankees pounded on Gura, Yankees starter Ed Figueroa was also struggling. In the fourth inning, the Yankees were leading 5-4 when the Royals put runners on first and third with two outs and George Brett coming to the plate.
In a move that was so unorthodox it seemed absurd at the time, Billy brought in his closer, Sparky Lyle, to the mount to face Brett. As Billy later explained, if the Royals took the lead, the Yankees might never have recovered and would have been eliminated from the series.
“Why save your closer for some other moment when that could be the do-or-die moment that decides a do-or-die game?” Billy reasoned.
Lyle got Brett to fly out to left field, then pitched five more scoreless innings, a rare achievement for a closer.
Billy Martin brought his closer in to face George Brett in the 4th inning, and then left him in to pitch the rest of the game.
In game 5, with the Yankees facing a tough lefty in Paul Splittorf, Martin made the decision to bench Reggie Jackson, his superstar clean-up hitter, because he had an awful time dealing with Splittorf.
Catfish Hunter famously said before the game “If we win, Billy’s a genius. If we lose, he’s fired.”
Jackson pinch-hit in the 8th inning and drove in a run with a single to cut the Royals lead to 3-2. Then Paul Blair, who started in Jackson’s place, singled in the 9th inning to ignite the Yankees rally to take the lead. The Yankees would win game 5, and go on to win the World Series.
How bold are you willing to be as a head coach? How willing are you to make some uncommon decisions to give your team the best chance to win?