Three of Hall of Fame class have been swapped

By Bob Elliott

Tis’ the season ...

The season for Hall of Fame inductees to brush up on their speeches before heading to the podium Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown.

And also the season when general managers of contenders move their best prospects to major-league talent to win ... RIGHT NOW.

We wonder how many GMs will look at the dais Sunday and scratch their heads and reconsider before pulling the trigger.

Consider that Craig Biggio was a Houston Astros lifer, while the other upstate New York inductees are traded players.

The Detroit Tigers acquired Doyle Alexander for the stretch run from the Atlanta Braves for John Smoltz on Aug. 12, 1987. Alexander went 9-0 and pitched the Tigers into the ALCS, which they lost. Smoltz won 219 games and saved 154 games for Atlanta, as well as going 15-4 in postseason.

The Montreal Expos added Mark Langston and Mike Campbell from the Seattle Mariners for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and Randy Johnson on  May 25, 1989 in an effort to win.

And the Los Angeles Dodgers picked up second baseman Delino DeShields from the Expos for Pedro Martinez on Nov. 19, 1993.

Smoltz, Johnson and Martinez will be inducted along with Biggio.

Martinez was dealt because Tommy Lasorda didn’t think the 5-foot-11, 170-pound right-hander was physically able to handle the rigors of being in the starting rotation.

It only took 15 years for Lasorda to be able to say he was right. Martinez made 18 starts every year but one, from 1994 to 2008, averaging 26 starts.

“The Dodgers are probably still kicking themselves about that one,” said former Oakland A’s manager Art Howe from Houston. “He threw so hard and was so small, they probably figured he couldn’t keep it up.”

Blue Jays broadcaster Joe Siddall caught Martinez in spring training with the Expos and for an inning plus on Sept. 28, 1995. 

“What a pleasure, he had a special arm,” recalled Siddall from Oakland. “He not only had the high velocity, but he had a phenomenal curve and change up. Plus he could locate them all, hit spots ... where ever you put your glove.” 

Siddall pinch ran for Tim Laker -- who said catchers can’t run -- with the Expos trailing the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 in the fifth that Thursday night at Olympic Stadium. Martinez struck out Reggie Sanders, allowed a single to Hal Morris, walked Ed Taubensee, fanned Bob Boone, pitched around Jeff Branson loading the bases and then struck out his counterpart Pete Schourek.

Thomas Howard singled in the sixth and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin doubled him home ending the day for Martinez as it was one of his 100 career losses in a 9-7 setback to the Reds.  

 

“I don’t think at the time, you thought he was Hall of Famer but you look back on it ... he went on to do some great things,” said Siddall. “He did not hesitate to pitch inside. He executed. He got inside on guys with that extreme fastball or cutter and jammed right-handed hitters inside.

“Al Leiter and Kevin Brown were like that when it came to pitching in, they’d get behind 2-0 or 3-1 and break bats when I was with the Marlins.”

Howe saw more of Martinez than Siddall did ... more than he wanted to as the A’s manager. Martinez was 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA (13 earned runs in 51 2/3 innings) in eight games against the A’s walking nine and striking out 78.

“Against us,” said Howe, “he was nasty. You knew you faced him you were in for a long afternoon. He had a meanness. He’d knock you on the keister or plant one on your ribs. He had that old school mental toughness.

“I don’t think any right-handed hitters were comfortable against him, there was that fear factor.” 

We recall talking to Martinez that first spring in 1994 at West Palm Beach, but don’t really remember the conversation. We do remember a couple of years later in Montreal when closer Lee Arthur Smith told us “It’s a crying shame, that the best pitcher in the whole league has only four hairs on his chest. He pulled off a few and stuck them on his chin.” 

Told of Smith’s comment, Martinez began counting and said with a laugh “Look at this long one here, Lee hasn’t seen that one.”

The last time we saw Martinez ... well we didn’t really see him was walking inside the dimly-lit Fenway Park scoreboard looking for where players signed their names five hours before a 2013 World Series game.

I recognized a voice.

“Hey! What are you doing in here hiding in the dark? You’re going to miss the game.”

It Martinez taking one of his pals on a tour.

The glare will shine brightly on Martinez as he has his day in the sun on Sundayafternoon.