By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Lou Piniella of the New York Yankees stepped into the batter’s box during a game in the 1970s and looking down at the catcher, he said, “You’re not going to get me out today, you little Mexican.’’
The catcher looked up and replied, “Yeah, we’ll see.’’
Chris Berman in the Foreword for the catcher’s book that just came out, called him by his real first name John. Former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston would address him as Albert, his middle name.
Everyone knows the man by his nickname Buck, as in Buck Martinez, whose book Change Up: How to Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better hits you in the chest protector with blunt comments, suggestions, insights and a sense of humour that makes you sit back and smile.
My Life in Baseball could have been the title of Martinez’s quasi-autobiography published by HarperCollins but this title tells you he has some tricks up his sleeve. With nearly 50 years in the game under his belt as a player, manager and broadcaster, Martinez has the smarts to tell it all.
With help from Sportsnet writer Dan Robson, Martinez cobbles together stories from a lifetime in the game. He doesn’t hold back in his opinions.
“In my view, it’s clear that the game has lost sight of past lessons,’’ Martinez writes. “More and more, teams are collections of individual brands concerned more about building up their stats.
“The idea of the team of players working for the team’s success more than their own, has become extinct. Players get more than ever these days but their instincts have diminished.’’
How about some stories from the Redding, Calif. native, who caught for the Royals, Brewers and Jays? He chuckled when he writes about the time Baltimore executive John Schuerholz was approached about going to Kansas City to work in the Royals’ front office.
“When Schuerholz thought of Kansas City, he pictured cows walking up and down the street and people tying up their horses to go and pick up groceries at the general store,’’ Martinez writes.
In the end, Schuerholz was persuaded to go and did wonders with the Royals before going to do the same thing with the Braves.
While coming up through K.C.’s minor-league system, Martinez was on a flight to Eugene, Ore. to play there when he had a chat with another player.
“We just signed this great catcher. He’s supposed to be a really good player,’’ the guy told Martinez.
Oh, oh, Martinez was saying to himself. His perception was that the guy was referring to someone other than him. He showed up at the ballpark the next day, expecting to find the other catcher but couldn’t see him. In short order, Martinez found out the player on the plane was actually referring to him.
In his first year with K.C., Martinez learned a valuable lesson and that was to refrain from speaking up and getting too smiley-faced, especially when a team is losing. Coach George Strickland took him aside one day and said, “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.’’
Martinez had great admiration for many personalities he ran across. One was former Brewers coach and manager Buck Rodgers, who would go on to become a popular Expos’ skipper.
“We called Buck Handsome because he looked like a movie star,’’ Martinez wrote. “He’d push his sleeves up in his uniform during games (like he did with the Expos) so he looked like a baseball coach in a film.’’
There was the intense player Martinez saw in a Royals’ teammate, the same he sees nowadays in Blue Jays Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki and Mike Trout of the Angels.
“I have never seen anybody play the game with the kind of passion and intensity that Hal McRae had,’’ Martinez said. “He showed us in Kansas City how to win. He played hard. He ran his ass off.’’
Designated for assignment by the Brewers and subsequently traded to the Blue Jays during the 10-day waiting period, Martinez was skeptical about going to Toronto.
“I imagined it as a freezing, backwater city north of the border,’’ Martinez said. “Okay, I got a job but it’s Toronto. What the hell have I gotten myself into?’’
Martinez would love it in Toronto, spending six seasons there and got to enjoy the great time in 1985 when the Jays made the playoffs for the first time.
That season prompted Martinez to write his first book: From Worst to First.
Following the 1986 season, Martinez was asked by manager Jimy Williams to come in for a meeting. Martinez knew what was coming. Pat Gillick, Williams and Beeston were at the meeting.
“You know, we don’t how to tell you this,’’ Gillick started to say. Martinez stopped him.
“Fellas, listen. I came here in 1981.I thought I was going to be here for a year,’’ Martinez said. “I ended up playing six years here. It was a great time. I was very lucky to be here. I want to thank you for everything.’’
Then he was asked if he wanted to become a team broadcaster. He said yes and he’s still a broadcaster. He did take time off to venture into the dugout to become Jays’ manager.
There are too many other stories to tell. You will read about his broken leg sustained during the 1985 season and his participation in what he called the only 9-2-7-2 double play in the history of the game, emanating from the mishap.
Read about his eye mishap that took place when one-time teammate Doug Bird, spooked by a bird, hit him with a gunshot. His vision was never the same.
Buck Martinez is signing copies of his book at a Toronto Hanlan’s Point SABR meeting Saturday, May 28 at a soon-to-be-announced location near the Rogers Centre following the Jays-Red Sox game.
Publisher HarperCollins is offering a 50% discount on the book for SABR members only attending the gig. Please reserve a spot by May 18. If you would like to become a Toronto SABR member, please email firstname.lastname@example.org