The manager's office for the Twins has been occupied by two men over the past 23 seasons: Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire. This stability has been a considerable contrast from the franchise's first 26 seasons, when there were 10 managers.

The person in that group with the longest-lasting impact was Billy Martin, the wacked-out character who had the job for one season.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Billy, when the Twins surged back from a losing season to win the first-ever American League West title with a 97-65 record and a nine-game margin.

Attendance had fallen to 1,143,257 in 1968 -- its lowest Minnesota level -- and then surged back to 1,349,327 with Martin as the manager of an outstanding lineup.

The Twins had a top four that was unmatched in the big leagues:

1. Cesar Tovar, with 99 runs scored and 45 stolen bases; 2. Rod Carew, a batting champion for the first time at .332, with a record-tying seven steals of home; 3. Tony Oliva, .309, 97 runs, 24 home runs and 101 RBI; and 4. Harmon Killebrew, the major league leader with 49 home runs and 140 RBI.

Martin was willing to take full credit for that fabulous four and all positive things that happened with this ballclub. The Twin Cities sporting press was more than willing to give it to him.

Back in 1961, the first edition of the Twins had a hole at second base. On June 1, they traded Billy Consolo to Milwaukee for Martin. He didn't add much -- batting .246 in 108 games -- but did ingratiate himself to members of the organization.

There were influential employees with enthusiasm for hunting, fishing and drinking. Martin participated in all three and was particularly strong at the last activity.

Owner Calvin Griffith and his brother Sherry Robertson kept Billy on the payroll as a scout after the 1961 season. In 1965, he replaced Floyd Baker as third base coach. He managed two months at Class AAA Denver to prove his readiness for the task, and replaced Cal Ermer as Twins manager for the 1969 season.

During his time as a coach, Martin was drunk one night and punched Howard Fox, the team's traveling secretary, for not giving him a room key with proper haste.

Billy had made an enemy -- and Fox worked harder than anyone in Calvin's inner circle to get Martin fired after the 1969 season.

"There was much more to it than that," said Clark Griffith, Calvin's son, last week. "That summer, we were getting calls regularly: Billy's drunk and we can't get him out of here, out of there.

"Billy and Sherry might have been buddies earlier, but eventually, Sherry saw Martin as an immature person with no control over himself. He didn't push Calvin to keep Martin."

The No. 1 indication of Martin's drunken lack of control came on Aug. 7 in the Lindell AC, Detroit's postgame hangout. Pitcher Dave Boswell and outfielder Bob Allison had a fight, and then Martin punched out Boswell.

This event actually was covered up by Twin Cities sportswriters for a few days. When it became public, Griffith announced he was "backing Martin 100 percent" and handed Boswell a $600 fine.

Somehow, the fact he had punched out a 20-game winner made Martin even more of a hero to Twins fans. To Minnesotans, it was more evidence that the feisty Billy wouldn't take anything from anybody.

"Get 'em, Billy. Yahoo!"

No matter his public reaction, Calvin now had doubts. And then came the playoffs, and two losses in Baltimore in the first ALCS, and then Martin's defiance in the third and last game of the series at Met Stadium.

Griffith told the manager to start Jim Kaat. Martin started Bob Miller, a reliever for most of the season. Miller was knocked out in the second inning and Baltimore won 11-2.

Calvin was fuming. The Minneapolis Tribune's Sid Hartman, a Billy buddy, wrote an open letter to Calvin in the Oct. 8 edition -- urging the owner to bring back Martin.

Five days later, Sid had the scoop that Martin wouldn't be back.

You couldn't go anywhere in the Twin Cities without hearing the vow, "I'm never buying another ticket to a Twins game."

The Martin effect was more than a myth. The Twins won 98 games and another division with Bill Rigney as manager in 1970, as attendance fell 88,000. And then the total plunged to 940,858 with a losing team in 1971.

And this is a fact:

A decade later, you still could run into a 40-year-old sipping a beer in a local bar, waving in disinterest at the Twins game on the corner TV and saying, "I haven't been to a game since they fired Billy."

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP.