Billy Martins season-sparking trick may be worth try for Mets, Yankees

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The Mets found their winning formula

Maybe the Yankees have solved their offensive woes, if Friday’s explosion is any indication. But the Mets sure seem like they’ve kept their bats in mothballs a month into the season. They say that hitting streaks can be contagious; we now see that slumps can be epidemic, too.

So maybe Luis Rojas can borrow an old Yankees trick now that Aaron Boone doesn’t seem to need it anymore (though Boone might keep it up his sleeve, too).

Some background:

Every now and again there will rise an element of baseball fan (usually Yankees fan) who wonders why Billy Martin isn’t in the Hall of Fame as a manager — why, indeed, he’s never gotten all that close to the halls of Cooperstown. Sadly, much of Martin’s legacy as a skipper is obscured by what he did — and didn’t do — as manager of the Yankees.

He did manage them on five separate occasions, and almost surely would’ve gotten to at least six if not for his untimely death on Christmas Day 1989. After a while that became a cartoon: the George-and-Billy dog-and-pony show.

He didn’t win as much as Yankees manager as maybe he could have, or should have — certainly not as often as Miller Huggins or Joe McCarthy or Casey Stengel or Joe Torre, not even as much as Ralph Houk. He only won one World Series, 1977. He was also a noted off-field handful his entire public life.

Sadly, this obscures the simple fact that wherever Martin managed — Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, Oakland — he immediately turned sad-sack teams into winners. His first go-round with the Yankees was a similar ascent — the Yankees had an 11-year playoff drought when he was hired on Old-Timers’ Day 1975, and he ended it the very next year, his first full year on the job.

And the fact is, he did some mostly masterful work with the ’77 Yankees, who ended the franchise’s 15-year title drought despite dealing with the daily Bronx Zoo dramas (and, in fairness, contributing to some; his dugout dustup with Reggie Jackson in Boston in June was bad; his benching Jackson in decisive Game 5 of the ALCS in Kansas City in October was worse). But go back and read the day-to-day of that year — find a copy of the great Steve Jacobson’s “The Best Team Money Could Buy” if you can — and you see just how expertly he skippered that combustible crew.

One master stroke early in the season stands out.

On the morning of April 20, the Yankees woke up 2-8. They were already being fitted for sashes indicating they were the worst bust in baseball history, this at a time before talk radio and social media. They couldn’t hit, mostly, despite having a lineup anchored by Reggie and Thurman Munson and Mickey Rivers and others.

So Martin had an idea.

Five years earlier, in Detroit, his Tigers were in a similar funk, and he had Ed Brinkman, his shortstop, pick names out of a hat to determine the batting order. It wound up a one-day experiment, the Tigers relaxed and started hitting, wound up winning the AL East.

In the clubhouse before a midweek day game with Toronto at Yankee Stadium, Martin put nine slips of paper into his cap — a cross prominently placed in the middle of the “Y” of the interlocking “NY” on the front — and summoned Reggie. One by one Jackson plucked names from the hat. That day’s lineup.

Some were very pleased — Willie Randolph’s name came out first and he’d always fancied himself a leadoff hitter. Chris Chambliss, normally cleanup hitter, was dropped to 8. Munson was second, Jackson third, Rivers fifth. Bucky Dent, forever in the No. 9 hole, was the last name picked, of course. There were some laughs over that.

And also this: The Yankees banged out 14 hits, beat the Jays 7-5. The lineup lasted one more game; the effect lasted longer. The Yanks won eight straight and 14 out of 16 and were on their way.

“We were too tight,” Martin explained after what he called “our hat-trick game.” “You can’t hit if you’re feeling tight.”

Maybe it won’t matter for the Mets or for the Yankees if their offense goes missing again. Maybe it was a fluke, an accident, a quirk.

Still, as everyone’s grandmother has advised them at one time or another:

“It couldn’t hurt.”

Vac’s Whacks

At long last, George Young made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week, which means the Hall of Fame is finally playing at full strength again.

I can’t say enough good things about “Nobody,” which is just a fun, terrific movie. With “Better Call Saul” on hiatus for a while longer, we need more Bob Odenkirk in our lives, not less.

There are few things more enjoyable than reading my man Larry Brooks any time, but especially on mornings like Friday after the Rangers have slipped on banana peels the night before.

How did Pete Rozelle survive as long as he did without the easy chair?

Whack Back at Vac

George Corchia: Does it bother anyone else that under the new MLB extra-inning rules a hitter can strike out at every single time at-bat — never reach base safely — and yet be credited statistically with scoring the winning run as the arbitrary Ghost Runner?

Vac: I think it’s fair to say everything about the extra-inning Ghost Runner is stupid, and the only one who feels differently is the commissioner of baseball.

David Sharkey: I was doing some math the other day and figured out something concerning for Rangers fans: 1940-1994 = 54 years; 1994-2021 = 27 years; 54-27 = 27 years. The drought is starting to creep up there again!

Vac: Proof that time flies even when you’re NOT having fun …

@drschnip: The last Jets draft pick to make it to the Hall of Fame was John Riggins — drafted 50 years ago.

@MikeVacc: Well I’d sure say the gang in green are due, wouldn’t you?

Paul Clolery: I have been a Mets plan holder for 34 seasons. I survived the Harazin years. I still have my ticket stubs from opening day 1969 and Bud Harrelson vs. Pete Rose in 1973. I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening to Jacob deGrom.

Vac: The worst part is it feels like every start he makes right now is some kind of inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy that always has a chance of being real. It really shouldn’t be like that.

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