Elliott: Martinez wants credit for boom in Canadian ball -- due to his WBC work

Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez had the sold-out crowd at the 10th annual Okotoks Dawgs banquet in the palm of his hands. Martinez spoke one day after being inducted into the Sacremento Hall of Fame. Photos: Amanda Fewer.  

Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez had the sold-out crowd at the 10th annual Okotoks Dawgs banquet in the palm of his hands. Martinez spoke one day after being inducted into the Sacremento Hall of Fame. Photos: Amanda Fewer.  

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

OKOTOKS, Alta. _ Enough is enough.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been credited with fanning the fires of Blue Jays fans from coast-to-coast.

The additions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price by then general manager Alex Anthopoulos led to Toronto’s first post-season appearance in 22 years were a reason downtown Toronto became a sea of blue caps, hoodies and jerseys.

Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off homer to win the 2016 wild-card game against the Baltimore Orioles -- like Jose Bautista’s bat flip seventh-inning drama in the seventh inning of Game 5 against the Texas Rangers -- was a reason Jays fan were whooping it up from Terrace, BC to Fort McMurray, to Lloydminster to Brandon to Thunder Bay to even Montreal, Moncton, Charlottetown, Glace Bay and Corner Brook.

As the Blue Jays lead TV broadcaster, Buck Martinez has watched it all, has heard the stories of increased enrollment on sandlot ball, has been at Safeco and Comerica to see Jays fans basically take over a stadium, he has seen the Canadians selected in the first few rounds and as he walked back and forth across the stage on little sleep, he stopped.

Martinez had had enough.

Looking out into the crowd, he was ready to come clean to the sold-out 10th annual Okotoks Dawgs banquet at the Foothills Centennial Centre. 

“I had more to do with elevating the level of interest in baseball than anyone in Canada ... I managed Team USA in 2006 when Canada beat us, when am I going to get  some credit?” Martinez asked jokingly. 

Canada rolled against lefties Dontrelle Willis and Al Leiter moving ahead 7-0 in the fourth. And now it is almost time for Canada to look for another miracle as they face the defending champion Dominican Republic with Jose Bautista, Colombia and Team USA. Some compared the Canucks with its minor league pitching staff slaying the Americans to Paul Henderson scoring for Canada in 1972. 

“Peter Orr, Ryan Dempster, oh man, they teased me after that game, Matt Stairs, especially Matt Stairs,” said Martinez. “Adam Stern had a great game and made a big catch off Chase Utley.”

The night before he had been inducted into the Sacramento Hall of Fame, driven to San Francisco and arrived at Calgary International at 7:45 pm and was rushed to the banquet. He did not get his eight warm-up pitches.

Despite going on short rest, Martinez had the perfect timing to deliver the key line of the night. 

That day in Phoenix, Justin Morneau doubled twice, Stubby Clapp and Aaron Guiel each tripled, while Stern hit an inside-the-park homer and tripled. Adam Loewen pitched 3 2/3 scoreless, Chris Begg was tagged for five runs, while Eric Cyr allowed one run, Scott Mathieson and Steve Green finished with a scoreless frame each. Manager Ernie Whitt’s minor-league staff had knocked off Team USA with who knows maybe five Hall of Famers on the roster.

Martinez told of bench coach John McLaren coming into his office before the game and asking “Hey Buck, do think Ernie knows we are starting a left-hander?” Canada had eight left-handed hitters with Jason Bay the only outlier in a left-handed lineup of Orr, Clapp, Bay, Morneau, Stairs, Corey Koskie, Pete Laforest, Guiel and Stern. 

“Little did we know all Canadian left-handed hitters could hit lefties,” said Martinez.

Logan Cameron, from left to right, Brett platts, Buck Martinez, Will Wndershute and Nate Doleman.

Logan Cameron, from left to right, Brett platts, Buck Martinez, Will Wndershute and Nate Doleman.


* * *
After starting out at Cal State Sacramento he transferred to Sacramento City College after being told “no one gets drafted sitting on the USC bench.” Martinez was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 1967 January draft. A year later he was drafted by the Houston Astros from the Phillies in the 1968 rule 5 draft and soon was dealt to the Kansas City Royals.

He spent eight years with the Royals and roomed with Hall of Famer George Brett. The Royals dealt him with Mark Littell to the St. Louis Cardinals for Al Hrabosky on Dec. 8, 1977 and the same day Cards sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers for George Frazier, the only honest man to lose three games in the World Series.

It was going OK until 1981 when Martinez found himself the fourth-string catcher behind Ted Simmons, Ned Yost and Charlie Moore. The Jays gave up the redoubtable Gil Kubski for Martinez.

“I got off the plane, looked around and asked ‘where are the igloos?’” he said jokingly. “Now, you can’t get rid of me.” Martinez caught until 1986 before retiring after 17 seasons.

“I came to learn that the fans at Exhibition Stadium were passionate ball fans ... and they became more passionate once they started selling beer in the grandstand,” Martinez said. 

Pat Gillick told Martinez would help Ernie Whitt with the catching and teach the young arms -- Dave Stieb, Luis Leal, Jerry Garvin, Jim Clancy, Jim Gott and Jim Acker.

His final game as a Jay came Oct. 3, 1986, the final Friday of the season. He was asked to come into the office the next day at Exhibition Stadium. Not a good sign. There sat manager Jimy Williams wringing his hands, general manager Pat Gillick nervously raising his eye brows and president Paul Beeston sitting with his feet up, drinking a Blue.

Williams and Gillick thanked him for his service and told him he would not be offered a contract for 1987. Then Beeston said “Albert, how would you like to do TV?” Martinez declined. He would try to catch on with another team. 

Martinez headed home and gave his wife Arlene the news. “Did you take the TV job,” Arlene asked. Nope. Buck said he was going to play again. 

“Well, call Beeston back ... you can’t play any more,” Martinez recalled, which led to a beautiful friendship with Fergie Olver, Jim Hughson, Dan Shulman and Pat Tabler.

His final day may have been in October of 1986, but the end really came July 9, 1985 inside Seattle’s Kingdome.

Tom Filer was on the mound and Jesse Barfield was in right with Jim Presley on third base with one out. Harold Reynolds flied to right and Barfield came up throwing nailing Presley at the plate. “Jesse needed to get the ball up the third base line just a little.”

The next inning there was one out, Phil Bradley was on second, Barfield was in right and Filer was on the mound in a scoreless game. Gorman Thomas, Martinez’s former teammate with the Brewers lined a single and around second came former Missouri Tigers quarterback Bradley. 

Bradley cracked Martinez, who made the tag and held onto the ball as Thomas took second. Martinez was obviously seriously injured but looked up to see Thomas heading for third. He made an off-balance throw and the ball wound up in left field.

“Wonder of wonders George Bell not only fielded the ball but made a perfect throw home, it was the only 9-2-7-2 double play in the history of baseball,” said Martinez, who was carried off with a dislocated ankle and a broken leg,

The Jays won with five runs in the 13th on a grand slam by Bell and a Willie Upshaw triple and then players headed to the hospital to visit Martinez, who did not know if he was in Seattle, Sacramento or Okotoks.

Graham Brunner gets an autograph

Graham Brunner gets an autograph

* * *
Martinez left the broadcasting booth to manage the Jays in 2001-02. Hired by Gord Ash after the 2000 season, Ash was fired in 2001 and J.P. Ricciardi took over. Martinez moved on to broadcast Baltimore Orioles games as well as ESPN broadcasts.

He was in the booth with ESPN’s Chris Berman on Sept. 6 as Cal Ripken broke one of the game’s most enduring records for durability by playing his 2,131st consecutive game. During the fifth inning with the game against the California Angels official the on-field celebrations began.

Berman and Martinez stayed mute for 18:03, before Berman emerged from dormancy to say: “A moment that will live for 2,131 years.” 

I was at the game but later saw highlights of the emotional night: Ripken running around Camden Yards warning track waving to his father, also named Cal, the former O’s manager who has been fired in 1988 and was let go as third base coach in 1992, his children. I congratulated Martinez at the SkyDome on what a wonderful job he had done ... allowing the crowd to carry the moment by not speaking. Said Martinez: “There is a reason I didn’t speak ... I couldn’t.”

Martinez won an Emmy for his work.

“I won an Emmy for not talking and my career is known for me breaking my leg,” joked Martinez.