On Wednesday, a baseball fan with some significant connections to the game’s history visited Mayo Field as the Honkers faced Mankato. Billy Martin Jr., son of the late Twins (and Tigers, Yankees, Rangers and A’s) manager Billy Martin, is a sports agent and also the president of baseball operations for the Texas AirHogs, an independent team in Grand Prairie, Texas. He took a few minutes to talk with the Post Bulletin about baseball and his well-known father.
What brings you to Rochester?
Martin Jr.: I’m here to see some of the talent on the field. I was seeing one of my Major League clients with the Red Sox play against the Twins, and now I’m here to check out some of these guys. There’s a kid pitching for Mankato, Trent Baker, who I wanted to see, and a kid for the Honkers, No. 34 (Tristan Peterson). He has a big-league swing. It looks like he knows what he’s doing and has a pretty good approach.
You also were in the pressbox checking out the live-streaming technology the Honkers use. What did you think?
Martin: I didn’t realize just how good the telecasts are, the live-streaming of the games. It’s nice because yes, you can look at a guy’s stats, and that gives you a hint that they could be pretty good, but you still have to see the guy’s arm. There’s just no substitution for quality scouting.
Speaking of scouting, what would your father think of a baseball era that’s dominated by analytics?
Martin: People ask me that a lot. I know how he felt about scouting — that you can’t have enough of it. He would love all of the new information, and with his creative baseball mind, he would have found ways to interpret it and use it in what he felt was a winning recipe.
How does analytics affect your job as an agent?
Martin: There are so many different statistics out there — spin rates, launch angle, exit velocity — it’s almost a glass-is-half-empty-or-half-full situation, depending on how you want to look at a guy’s stats. You can break them down a zillion ways. As an agent, our job is to show our clients in the most favorable light statistically. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same game.
How would your father have functioned in a world where replay effectively negates the need for a manger to come onto the field and argue with umpires?
Martin: Oh, he would have found battles to fight, for one reason or another! But people should know that my father never carried a grudge against an umpire. What happened between the lines stayed between the lines. As soon as the game was over, whatever his argument was, it was over. If two hours later at the hotel bar he saw that same umpire he’d been screaming and yelling, he’d buy him a drink and sit down like nothing had happened. To this day, umpires from his day still come up to me and tell me that they loved that about my father.
Do MLB umpires seem to be more aggressive in how they react to players and managers these days?
Martin: Absolutely. I think there’s an attitude out there, and I hope the league can find a way to check it. And while I want to keep having umpires on the field, I’m also a fan of getting calls right. I think umpires need to have the same accountability that players do. A player is judged by his batting average or his ERA, and umpires should be judged by the percentage of calls they get right or wrong.
What would you think of having balls and strikes called by an electronic system of some kind, rather than an umpire?
Martin: I think it would be wonderful. It would help the pitchers more than the hitters, because they are going to get calls that they haven’t been getting.
Sure, they’re going to lose some strikes, that ball that is probably two inches off the corner. But they’re going to get that letter-high strike, and they’re going to get strikes on that ball that just barely touches the zone and is caught way outside or inside. An umpire shouldn’t have his “signature” strike zone.
Other than your family ties to the game, what makes baseball so great?
Martin: The beauty of baseball is that, 100-plus years ago if you hit a ground ball to the shortstop, and he picked it up cleanly and threw it to first, you’d have been out by a step. Today we’ve got players who are bigger, stronger, throw the ball harder and hit the ball harder, run faster — and yet, for some reason, if you hit a ground ball to the shortstop today, and he fields it cleanly and makes a good throw, he’ll still get that guy by a step. That’s the beauty of baseball. These dimensions are the right dimensions. That’s what makes it the classic, timeless game that it is.
What’s it like traveling the country as the son of one of the most famous managers in the history of baseball?
Martin: I can’t tell you how proud I am to be Billy Martin’s son. Hopefully he’ll get his shot at the Hall of Fame this year. I mean, during his era, was there a more famous manager? It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Numbers. He’s mentioned in movies like Oceans 13, he’s mentioned in television shows, he was in Miller Lite commercials. And he’s got the numbers, too. His winning percentage alone should make him a no-brainer, and only one other manager — who is in the Hall of Fame — took four teams to the postseason. And my father did it before the expanded the playoffs. He brought teams back from the dead. That’s what he did. Oh, I know he ruffled some feathers and made a few enemies along the way, but he only did that trying to win, trying to do it his way.