"Baseball Marty" left big impression on Mariners
Seattle Times baseball reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Like all the men who preceded him, Marty Martinez's tenure as Mariners' manager was unsuccessful, victimized by underachieving talent.
You don't remember Martinez's stint as a Seattle manager? Not a surprise. He lasted just one day — May 9, 1986, a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at the Kingdome — after Chuck Cottier was fired and before gruff Dick Williams brought his faded act to Seattle.
The operative industry term is "interim," but Martinez, who died last week at age 65 in the Dominican Republic of an apparent heart attack, was so much more than a one-day fill-in during a turbulent time in Mariners' history.
Martinez, who lived with his wife, Faye, in Tulsa, Okla., in addition to maintaining a home in the Dominican, leaves a rich legacy that resonates through all levels of the Seattle organization.
As their Latin American scout, he signed Edgar Martinez and Omar Vizquel. As a minor-league manager and instructor, he nurtured and molded a whole generation of Mariners' infielders, from Edgar and Omar to Harold Reynolds and Spike Owen.
As a major-league coach, he served on the staffs of Del Crandall, Cottier and Bill Plummer. And he will forever be listed in the Mariners' record books on their managerial roster, his 0-1 record frozen for perpetuity.
"With clubhouse politics, we felt he would be a sentimental favorite among the players," recalled Chuck Armstrong, Mariners president then and now and the one who made the decision to elevate Martinez while Dick Williams was en route.
"Marty was so well-liked, no one could resent the fact we had asked him to do that for a game."
Beyond his on-field contributions, Martinez carried himself with such dignity and charisma that he is still vividly conjured more than a decade after he left the organization.
As word began to filter through Peoria this weekend that Martinez had died, fond memories and anecdotes came pouring out.
To one and all, he was "Baseball Marty" — the nickname bestowed on him by Cottier — one of those largely anonymous baseball lifers who are the lifeblood of the sport.
"He just lived and breathed it," said Lee Pelekoudas, Mariners assistant GM.
"He loved the game so much," added Roger Hansen, the Mariners' catching instructor, who served with Martinez on Plummer's staff. "He retired, and he was still trying to help the kids out and do things in baseball.
"Marty had a great influence on everyone he was around. His passion for baseball was such a tremendous thing about him."
Announcer Dave Niehaus remembers one spring asking Martinez his opinion of a particularly weak Mariners team in the early 1980s.
"Too many rookie," he recalled Martinez replying with a sad shake of his head.
Long-time acquaintance John McLaren, now Seattle's bench coach, loved to hear about his days playing baseball in pre-Castro Cuba. Martinez, who played parts of seven major-league seasons for six different teams (at all nine positions), became a trusted advisor and sounding board for Armstrong.
"He helped my perspective on a lot of baseball things," Armstrong recalled.
To Mariners' fans, he is probably best known for conducting the 1982 workout in Puerto Rico that resulted in Edgar Martinez being signed to a $4,000 bonus. Edgar, enrolled in college and working what he felt was a good job at a pharmaceutical factory, nearly turned down the offer, thinking the money too low.
"You know," Marty Martinez told The Seattle Times in 1993, "the Mariners were trying to save a buck back then. But if Edgar had pushed me I'd have given him the other $1,000."
Edgar Martinez, reached by phone in Seattle on Sunday, said that Marty's influence on his career went far beyond that day.
"He was a big part of my development, throughout the minor leagues.
I remember his passion for helping young players.
"He was almost like a father figure to many of the Latin players, and anyone who played in the infield. They were all like his sons. He took his work very personally and very serious."
Marty Martinez had a sweet personality and a well-honed sense of humor — he would react in mock indignation when Pelekoudas did a dead-on impersonation of his Cuban accent — but he could also be a bulldog.
"He spoke his mind," Pelekoudas said. "It rubbed some people the wrong way, but he wasn't afraid to say what he felt about players. If he thought a guy was a bad player, he said, 'This guy can't play.' He didn't sugarcoat it."
But he'd also fight for players he believed in, like Edgar Martinez. When Edgar struggled his first year at Class A, hitting .183 at Bellingham, Marty Martinez had to persuade then-GM Hal Keller to send Edgar to instructional league in Arizona. Keller felt that league was just for prospects, and that Edgar wasn't one.
"I was wrong on Edgar," admitted Keller, now living in Sequim. "I never thought he'd hit in the big leagues."
Said Edgar: "Marty was fighting for me. He asked them to give me another opportunity. I'll always be grateful for that."
Footnote: Martinez hit .340 in Arizona, and his Seattle career was on its ascent.
Though Marty Martinez's final days were tinged with some sadness as he unsuccessfully tried to find his way back into a baseball job, he left a bold mark on the Mariners.
"Just a wonderful, happy guy," said Cottier, now in Arizona scouting for the Dodgers. "He was, first and foremost, a great baseball man."
One gets the feeling Martinez would have approved of that description.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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