The late Yankees owner and his five-time manager, who died 21 years before The Boss, are among 12 people on this year's Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot. The results will be announced Monday morning at baseball's winter meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Whether Steinbrenner or Martin or both actually will receive the 12 of 16 votes needed for induction is anyone's guess. It's easy to make a case for and against each man's candidacy. But what's hard to debate is just how fitting it is that they're on the ballot together.
"People say you must have hated George Steinbrenner because he fired your dad five times," Martin's son, Billy Jr., said in a telephone interview last week. "I laugh and point out that he also hired him five times.
"They had a true love-hate relationship."
From Martin's first day on the job in 1975 until his death at 61 on Christmas Day 1989, he and Steinbrenner either were working together or seemingly one phone call away from yet another reunion. No matter how hard either seemed to try to get away from the other, neither was very successful in that regard.
So if Steinbrenner, who died in July at 80, and Martin were ever going to be fortunate enough to be voted into the Hall of Fame, it would seem most appropriate to have them do it in the same class - like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, another pair of linked Yankees, in 1974.
"Each one of them wanted to be their own boss," Graig Nettles said recently. "It was Billy's team and he wanted to let Reggie [Jackson] know it was Billy's team. The Boss wanted to let both of them know that it was his team. It was pretty funny."
Martin Jr., speaking from his Dallas-area home last week, said he plans to be at the winter meetings, but he doesn't have any intention of attending the Hall of Fame announcement. Instead, he'll be on site for business reasons; he's a player agent with clients such as former Yankees Sean Henn and Chase Wright.
Besides, Martin Jr. admittedly isn't too optimistic about his father's chances. He's been through this before. This is his father's fourth time on the Veterans Committee ballot since the Hall of Fame began making it public in 2003.
He'll gladly make a strong case for his father, pointing out that he's the only manager who has brought four different franchises to the postseason - "and that was before the expanded playoffs" - but at the same time, he sounds as if he's intentionally trying not to get his hopes too high to avoid another disappointment.
Steinbrenner, meanwhile, is making his debut on the ballot. His candidacy has received public support from dozens of people, including several Hall of Famers and commissioner Bud Selig.
Steinbrenner's tenure as Yankees owner began in 1973 and included seven world championships, starting in 1977 with Martin as his manager. It already had become clear that the Steinbrenner-Martin working relationship was not your typical owner-manager association.
The following July, Steinbrenner replaced Martin for the first of five times, only to second-guess himself almost immediately. So in a famously nutty scene just days later, Martin was introduced on Old-Timers' Day to the Yankee Stadium crowd, which was told that he would return as manager in 1980 (he wound up coming back in 1979 instead). The announcement came as news to many people within the organization.
"My father liked to thumb his nose at authority, but George had some qualities he couldn't overlook," Martin Jr. said. "George had a huge loyalty about him that my father really admired because loyalty was a character trait that meant so much to him. And he felt like it was a dying character trait in baseball."
Hank Steinbrenner, in an interview with The Associated Press after the ballot was released last month, said it would be a "big deal" to his family if his father were to get inducted. And he is old enough to appreciate the special - and occasionally bizarre - kinship that his father had with Martin, and how fitting their place together on the ballot is.
"Whether they got along all the time or not, the bonds between the two, he always loved him," he said. "If my dad was still alive, I think that would have been very cool, to be going in the same time as Billy if both got in."
The Saga of Boss and Billy
1976: Yankees win first pennant since 1964.
OCT. 18, 1977: Reggie Jackson blasts three homers in Game 6 as Yankees beat Dodgers for first title in 15 years.
JULY 29, 1978: On Old-Timers’ Day, Yankees announce that Martin will return as manager in 1980.
OCT. 17, 1978: Yankees beat Dodgers in six games to win World Series.
JUNE 18, 1979: Boss fires Lemon and rehires Martin for second stint.
NOV. 28, 1980: Gene Michael is named manager.
SEPT 6, 1981: Michael is fired and replaced by Lemon.
OCT. 28, 1981: Yankees lose World Series to Dodgers in six games. Steinbrenner apologizes to Yankees fans.
1982: Steinbrenner uses three managers — Lemon, Michael and Clyde King — as Yankees finish fifth in AL East.
JAN. 11, 1983: Martin returns for his third stint as manager.
DEC. 16, 1983: Martin is fired, replaced by Yogi Berra.
APRIL 28, 1985: Berra is fired and Martin begins his fourth stint.
OCT. 27, 1985: Martin is fired, replaced by Lou Piniella.
OCT. 19, 1987: Martin is hired for fifth time, replacing Piniella.
JUNE 23, 1988: Martin is fired and replaced by Piniella.
DEC. 25, 1989: Martin, who is preparing to manage the Yankees for a sixth time, in 1990, dies in an automobile accident at age 61.