George Steinbrenner and the Yankees Harassed Ken Holtzman More Than Billy Martin

by on January 31st, 2011
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It was George Steinbrenner, not Billy Martin, who dictated how Ken Holtzman should be used. Reggie Jackson knows bubkis (Yiddish for “nothing).

Holtzman started the 1977 season as part of the Yankees’ rotation but was ineffective and relegated to the bullpen. He started only 11 games, had a 2-3 record and a 5.78 ERA. Billy Martin removed him from the rotation because he was not getting hitters out.

Steinbrenner has little patience with what he construes as failure. When Holtzman didn’t adjust to his new surroundings immediately, he was sent to the bullpen. Holtzman blasted the Yankees and was never an effective pitcher again.

Steinbrenner had become disenchanted with Holtzman almost immediately upon trading for him.

When Holtzman realized he wasn’t going to be used regularly he demanded a trade, and since he had been in the majors 10 years, he could veto any trade. Steinbrenner tried to get Holtzman to waive that right, which he refused to do, not making the man who ran the Yankees happy.

In early June, 1978, the New York Yankees put Holtzman on the disabled list. The left-hander vehemently protested, stating that he was not disabled. Don Gullett was coming back from a shoulder ailment and the Yankees needed a roster spot for him.

Speaking to media, Holtzman didn’t try to hide his anger.

“To juggle the roster is one thing, but when it leads to a damaged reputation and an out-and-out falsehood about a player’s condition, that’s another.”

Yankees president Al Rosen had the team orthopedist, Dr. Maurice Cowen, examine Holtzman, who said that he had severe back pain, could not bend and couldn’t get into a normal pitching position. Holtzman called the doctor a liar.

“I can’t believe a doctor would make a determination like that.”

Holtzman requested that he be traded to Milwaukee or Chicago in order to be close to his home in Lincolnshire, Illinois, but Steinbrenner ordered Billy Martin to use Holtzman as an “insurance policy” in case the Yankees needed another starter.

Billy Martin believed that Steinbrenner and Rosen were interfering with the way he wanted to run the Yankees.

At the beginning of June, 1978, the Yankees failed to tell Martin that Mike Heath was being brought up from the minors. Martin also took umbrage that Steinbrenner had signed free agent Rawly Eastwick. Martin referred to the relief pitcher as “George’s boy.”

Media reports of an interview Reggie Jackson had taped with Bob Costas that will air Nov, 1, 2011 revealed that Jackson accused Billy Martin of having moments of anti-Semitism and racism in his managing of Holtzman, Elliott Maddox, who was both Jewish and black and Billy Sample.

“I couldn t accept the racial epithets in reference to players like Elliott Maddox or Billy Sample,” Jackson said.. “I did not accept the way he managed Ken Holtzman.”

Jackson explained “The most disturbing part of it all is that the writers that covered the team never made mention of it and were completely aware of it.”

Perhaps if Reggie had read some of the newspapers that detailed Steinbrenner’s relationship with Holtzman, he would discover what really happened.


Holtzman protests ‘disabled’ status. (1978, Jun 09). New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. A19-A19. Retrieved from

Yankees’ hassles resurfacing. (1978, Jun 03). New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. 13-13. Retrieved from

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