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Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A's

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In the early 1970s, the Oakland Athletics was one of the most successful franchises in professional sports, with three consecutive World Series Championships to its credit. But as the decade came to a close, the team was in free fall, having lost 108 games in 1979 while drawing just 307,000 fans. Free agency had decimated the A's, and the team's colorful owner, Charlie Fin In the early 1970s, the Oakland Athletics was one of the most successful franchises in professional sports, with three consecutive World Series Championships to its credit. But as the decade came to a close, the team was in free fall, having lost 108 games in 1979 while drawing just 307,000 fans. Free agency had decimated the A's, and the team's colorful owner, Charlie Finley, was looking for a buyer. First, though, he had to bring fans back to the Oakland Coliseum. Enter Billy Martin, the hometown boy from West Berkeley. In Billy Ball, sportswriter Dale Tafoya describes what, at the time, seemed like a match made in baseball heaven. The A's needed a fiery leader to re-ignite interest in the team. Martin needed a job after his second stint as manager of the New York Yankees came to an abrupt end. Based largely on interviews with former players, team executives, and journalists, Billy Ball captures Martin's homecoming to the Bay area in 1980, his immediate embrace by Oakland fans, and the A's return to playoff baseball. Tafoya describes the reputation that had preceded Martin--one that he fully lived up to--as the brawling, hard-drinking baseball savant with a knack for turning bad teams around. In Oakland, his aggressive style of play came to be known as Billy Ball. A's fans and the media loved it. But, in life and in baseball, all good things must come to an end. Tafoya chronicles Martin's clash with the new A's management and the siren song of the Yankees that lured the manager back to New York in 1983. Still, as the book makes clear, the magical turnaround of the A's has never been forgotten in Oakland. Neither have Billy Martin and Billy Ball. During a time of economic uncertainty and waning baseball interest in Oakland, Billy Ball filled the stands, rejuvenated fans, and saved professional baseball in the city.


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In the early 1970s, the Oakland Athletics was one of the most successful franchises in professional sports, with three consecutive World Series Championships to its credit. But as the decade came to a close, the team was in free fall, having lost 108 games in 1979 while drawing just 307,000 fans. Free agency had decimated the A's, and the team's colorful owner, Charlie Fin In the early 1970s, the Oakland Athletics was one of the most successful franchises in professional sports, with three consecutive World Series Championships to its credit. But as the decade came to a close, the team was in free fall, having lost 108 games in 1979 while drawing just 307,000 fans. Free agency had decimated the A's, and the team's colorful owner, Charlie Finley, was looking for a buyer. First, though, he had to bring fans back to the Oakland Coliseum. Enter Billy Martin, the hometown boy from West Berkeley. In Billy Ball, sportswriter Dale Tafoya describes what, at the time, seemed like a match made in baseball heaven. The A's needed a fiery leader to re-ignite interest in the team. Martin needed a job after his second stint as manager of the New York Yankees came to an abrupt end. Based largely on interviews with former players, team executives, and journalists, Billy Ball captures Martin's homecoming to the Bay area in 1980, his immediate embrace by Oakland fans, and the A's return to playoff baseball. Tafoya describes the reputation that had preceded Martin--one that he fully lived up to--as the brawling, hard-drinking baseball savant with a knack for turning bad teams around. In Oakland, his aggressive style of play came to be known as Billy Ball. A's fans and the media loved it. But, in life and in baseball, all good things must come to an end. Tafoya chronicles Martin's clash with the new A's management and the siren song of the Yankees that lured the manager back to New York in 1983. Still, as the book makes clear, the magical turnaround of the A's has never been forgotten in Oakland. Neither have Billy Martin and Billy Ball. During a time of economic uncertainty and waning baseball interest in Oakland, Billy Ball filled the stands, rejuvenated fans, and saved professional baseball in the city.

30 review for Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A's

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lance

    Billy Martin's managing career in major league baseball is remembered primarily for three reasons – his success with the New York Yankees, the numerous times he was fired and rehired by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and whenever he wasn't managing the Yankees, the team he WAS leading would usually make a substantial leap in the standings and performance. One of those teams was the Oakland Athletics (or A's for short) and for three years, 1980-82, Martin's team was one of the most improved and Billy Martin's managing career in major league baseball is remembered primarily for three reasons – his success with the New York Yankees, the numerous times he was fired and rehired by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and whenever he wasn't managing the Yankees, the team he WAS leading would usually make a substantial leap in the standings and performance. One of those teams was the Oakland Athletics (or A's for short) and for three years, 1980-82, Martin's team was one of the most improved and exciting teams in baseball. Those years are captured in this excellent book by Dale Tafoya. The book starts out with a description of the depths to which the A's had fallen. In the mid 1970's, the team won three consecutive World Series championships. But by 1979, with the loss of free agents and owner Charlie Finley unable to afford to pay the higher salaries of the new baseball landscape, the A's sank to the worst record (54-108) and attendance (306,763) in baseball. That latter figure is one that a reader won't forget as it is mentioned several times throughout the book, the only quibble this reviewer has with the book as it felt like this point was made too often. However, after this season when Finley and Martin shocked the world when it was announced Martin would become the A's manager for the 1980 season, the book takes off nicely in describing the rise of the A's under Martin, both in wins and attendance. What makes this part especially good is the writing about the starting pitchers for that 1980 season, when the A's pitchers were throwing many complete games. The criticism that Martin heard long after that season, that so many complete games took their toll on those pitchers and ended their careers prematurely, is also addressed by talking to each of those pitchers and writers covering the team. It presents a fair picture of that issue, allowing the reader to make his or her own conclusion. The 1981 season is the one in which the A's reached their highest peak under Martin, reaching the American League championship series where they were swept by the New York Yankees. Despite this and the fact that the season was shortened by a mid-season player's strike, it is considered to be one of the most exciting in the franchise's history in Oakland. The writing about that season is very good as well. The next year, 1982, was only successful at the turnstiles as while attendance was setting records, the team slumped badly. Many players had off years (with the notable exception of Rickey Henderson and his setting a new record for stolen bases). However, the book's documentation of that season is mostly on Martin, who was not only getting more upset with his team's performance, but was also considering a return to the Yankees. In the end, that eventually happened. The book is an excellent source of information for not only Martin, but for the background and insight into the A's for that short time frame and it is a good reflection of the time Martin spent managing the team – very good reading from the start, gets better and even though the ending may not be what one wants, the overall takeaway is a very positive one. (Note: Rating is 4 and a half stars, rounded up to 5 for Goodreads and Amazon) https://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/20...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bigcountry77

    Good book. The story was rich in A’s and baseball history. Being an A’s fan, I had heard about “Billy Ball” in the early 1980s, but this book brings everything together with excellent context. “Billy Ball,” under the colorful Billy Martin, exploded on the scene when the A’s were a dying franchise in Oakland. “Billy Ball” brought life to the Oakland stadium, the city, and the A’s were suddenly a national story. Billy Martin, warts and all, was an expert at bringing life to every club he managed. Good book. The story was rich in A’s and baseball history. Being an A’s fan, I had heard about “Billy Ball” in the early 1980s, but this book brings everything together with excellent context. “Billy Ball,” under the colorful Billy Martin, exploded on the scene when the A’s were a dying franchise in Oakland. “Billy Ball” brought life to the Oakland stadium, the city, and the A’s were suddenly a national story. Billy Martin, warts and all, was an expert at bringing life to every club he managed. He did the same with that A’s club after Steinbrenner fired him. The fact that Billy grew up in the Oakland area makes the story even more meaningful. By 1982, the Oakland franchise was named best in baseball. The renaissance began when Martin got there. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. I never knew the A’s were that close to moving to Denver.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Olson

    What a great book, it takes you back in time when we A`s fans had to start all over again with a bunch of some really good rookies: hitters Ricky Henderson, Tony Armas, Dwayne Murphy, along with pitchers Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, and Brain Kingman...and don`t forget new owner Walter Haas. Heck they didn`t even have a radio station to listen to the games on!, but all was forgiven when we went on to the playoffs in 81. So pick yourself up a copy and take a trip back i What a great book, it takes you back in time when we A`s fans had to start all over again with a bunch of some really good rookies: hitters Ricky Henderson, Tony Armas, Dwayne Murphy, along with pitchers Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, and Brain Kingman...and don`t forget new owner Walter Haas. Heck they didn`t even have a radio station to listen to the games on!, but all was forgiven when we went on to the playoffs in 81. So pick yourself up a copy and take a trip back in time...enjoy!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Coffee Lover

    This story intrigued me. It was so awkward to see Billy Martin on the front cover of a book wearing green and gold. But after reading the book completely, it all made sense. Billy’s impact in Oakland was historic. Not only managing the A’s, but playing for the Oakland Oaks in the 1940s as well. Impressive research. Billy Martin clearly battled his share of demons, but he was a baseball doctor who healed sick teams.

  5. 5 out of 5

    W

    This book is a timeless, Oakland baseball classic that masterfully captures the most entertaining era of Oakland A’s baseball. The A’s lost 108 games and drew just under 307,000 fans in 1979. The A’s were a dying company until Billy got there and gave Oakland and the club a bolt of electricity. This book brought back so many great memories for me. I remember watching an A’s game at the Coliseum and seeing “Urban Cowboy” at a Drive-in right after.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    This is a good overview of the brief Billy Martin era in Oakland. It focuses heavily on the first two years, with the 1982 collapse treated mostly as an afterthought. It's very enjoyable while it focuses on telling its story. It never tries to get too deep into it, but Tafoya tells the tale well. This is a good overview of the brief Billy Martin era in Oakland. It focuses heavily on the first two years, with the 1982 collapse treated mostly as an afterthought. It's very enjoyable while it focuses on telling its story. It never tries to get too deep into it, but Tafoya tells the tale well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dave Cottenie

    An interesting look at one of the most popular and influential managers in baseball history. Focusing on the homecoming the Berkeley, California native enjoyed in the early eighties, Billy Ball peels the layers back of a unique figure who was the most popular on the team. Crossing the eras of Charlie Finley and the Haas family, the story is an easy listen and moves quickly.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I’ve read several books on Billy martin over the years as I find him one of the most interesting personalities in baseball history. This is the first book that specifically covers Martin’s three years managing Oakland. The author did a great job conveying how low the franchise had fallen and how Martin was key in revitalizing it and saving baseball in Oakland.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jay Hinman

    Even after living through Billy Martin’s time managing the A’s and seeing them in person, I’d forgotten just what an amazing story they were and how they captivated the Bay Area in 1980-81. I just wish Tafoya had mentioned the “Billy Ball” commercial set to the music of The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown” that’s been going through my head for nearly forty years.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tammy J Taylor

    Good read if you are a baseball fan! Always enjoy reading baseball books and can remember being a Billy Martin fan. Mostly because he told George off. It was a great read setting the inside workings of how Billy managed those the years.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cookreader

    My top book of 2020 so far. Incredible history. Billy Martin was a magician. Can't help but pull for the Oakland A's after reading. How the crowds kept growing in Oakland after Billy got there was miraculous. My top book of 2020 so far. Incredible history. Billy Martin was a magician. Can't help but pull for the Oakland A's after reading. How the crowds kept growing in Oakland after Billy got there was miraculous.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gerard

    Great book! Another great book to add to my baseball library about Billy Martin!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Josh Finley

    Good book. Billy Ball revived baseball in Oakland.

  14. 4 out of 5

    mitchell p. kanefsky

    A good-hearted read of one chapter in his tumultuous career.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Mustread

    Listened to an interview with the author on Baseball by the Book podcast 4/2/20.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Scott H

  17. 4 out of 5

    Billy Touw

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adam Rosen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Greg Gajus

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gregg Hopps

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jake Elman

  23. 5 out of 5

    TiedGame

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kibby Kleiman

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bryant

  26. 5 out of 5

    Greg Coyne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul Mashack

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ed Raue

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

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