Tippy Martinez

November 9, 2007


During my American League East childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Yankees rose to the top and fell, the Red Sox rose almost to the top and then fell, the Brewers rose from the middle up toward the top, the Tigers drifted around the middle while showing a few hints near the end that they might be preparing to rise, and the Blue Jays fell or rose, depending on your metaphysical bent, from nonexistence to the bottom, where they kept the Indians company. Only the Orioles escaped those years unscathed by ineptitude. They were always dignified contenders, somehow above both the mediocrity gripping the also-rans padding the lower ranks of the division and the ugly angst and anger surrounding the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I always kind of liked them. How could you not like a team that would often handle a late-inning crisis by turning to a guy named Tippy? 

The Orioles lacked the star power of the Yankees and Red Sox, and even when those teams began to crumble the bearded, swashbuckling Brewers swooped in to take their place as the contender with the charisma. But the Orioles almost always had the most complete team, with strong defense, good starting pitching, some speed, good power hitters in the middle of the lineup, a skilled, versatile bench, and, perhaps most important of all, an excellent bullpen. They contended nearly every year, but during the years when I was paying the closest attention they never made it all the way to a World Series championship. 

They did finally win it all in 1983, a couple years after I’d stopped collecting cards and caring so much. I don’t know when they started to believe it was their year, but a good guess might be after a game on August 24. Going into the 9th inning that day, the Orioles trailed the Blue Jays by two runs, seeming to be on the brink of falling further behind the division-leading Brewers. But the Orioles scored two runs with a scrambling, bench-depleting rally that left them out of catchers: They had to send utility infielder Lenn Sakata behind the plate. Meanwhile, outfielders John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke were forced into service in the infield, at second base and third base, respectively. I’ll conclude my appreciation of Tippy Martinez with the rest of the game (courtesy of baseball reference.com), which started the Orioles on an 8-game winning streak that catapulted them into a division lead they would not relinquish. Please pay special attention to how Tippy Martinez recorded what would turn out to be the Blue Jays’ final three outs, and how in the bottom of the inning Tippy’s overmatched catcher showed his gratitude: 

Top of the 10th, Blue Jays Batting, Tied 3-3, Tim Stoddard facing 4-5-6
                  Tim Stoddard replaces Scott McGregor pitching; Lenn Sakata moves to C; John Lowenstein moves to 2B; Gary Roenicke moves to 3B; Benny Ayala moves to LF
   R           C Johnson       Home Run (CF)
               B Bonnell       Single to CF
                  Tippy Martinez replaces Tim Stoddard pitching; Dave Collins pinch hits for Jesse Barfield batting 6th
   O      1–     D Collins       Bonnell Caught Stealing (PO) 2B (P-1B)
               ” ”             Walk
   O      1–     W Upshaw        Collins Picked off 1B (P-1B)
               ” ”             Single to 2B
   O      1–     B Martinez      Upshaw Picked off 1B (P-1B)
                  1 run, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3.

Bottom of the 10th, Orioles Batting, Behind 3-4, Joey McLaughlin facing 3-4-5
                  Dave Collins moves to LF; Barry Bonnell moves to RF
   R           C Ripken        Home Run
               E Murray        Walk
   O      1–     J Lowenstein    Groundout: 1B unassisted; Murray to 2B
          -2-     J Shelby        Intentional Walk
                  Randy Moffitt replaces Joey McLaughlin pitching
   O      12-     G Roenicke      Strikeout
   RRR    12-     L Sakata        Home Run; Murray Scores; Shelby Scores
        4 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 7.


  1. 1.  I remember seeing highlights of the pick-offs on This Week in Baseball, with Mel Allen narrating. I didn’t remember that it was in the 10th inning.

  2. 2.  How about that?

  3. 3.  Hey, about time you posted another Oriole! I’ve been doing a lot of research for an Orioles-themed website I’m putting together, and being immersed in the rich history of my hometown team depresses me even more about how far they’ve fallen. It’s gotten to the point that I’m grateful to hear that they’re essentially rebuilding, just because they have in Andy MacPhail a competent baseball mind who’s not going to sugarcoat and obfuscate the message for the fans. Do what you have to do, just do it well.

    I didn’t play Little League until I was in sixth grade, and by then I was clearly overmatched. I was the stereotypical cover-your-eyes right fielder, but as one of the kids who’d had his growth spurt (nearly 6′ tall) I took a lot of walks and I could run. I reached base safely on a batted ball exactly six times in two years – five bunts and one full swing that managed to deaden the ball in the dirt in front of the plate.

    There weren’t many highlights in my career, but one of them was the Opening Day Parade during that first season. The guest of honor was Tippy Martinez himself, who at the age of 54 still looked like he could play. Not only did I get his autograph on a 1991 Crown/Coca Cola All-Time Orioles card, later that day I got my picture taken with him. I was walking with my mom and sister to our car, and we saw him heading off on his own. He was very gracious, even though I was wearing my Yankees uniform. Then again, Tippy started out his career in pinstripes.

    On a funny note, the car that Tippy was riding in along the parade route apparently ran over the foot of Dave, one of our pitchers. He was not seriously injured.

  4. 4.  3 Much thanks for that great story, Brotz13. Now that I’m done harping incessantly about the Red Sox I can start getting to the teams that haven’t gotten their fair share of love on this site.

    A little more about the defense behind (and in front of) Tippy Martinez in that 10th inning:

    It was the only time in the 547-game career of Lenn Sakata that he ever played catcher.

    It was the first time Gary Roenicke ever played third base in a big-league game. Of his 952 career games, he would appear in a game as a third baseman five times.

    Though John Lowenstein had played second base 70 times in his career prior to the 1983 game, he hadn’t played the position in 8 years–and would never play it again.

    I love baseball.

  5. 5.  “They did finally win it all in 1983, a couple years after I’d stopped collecting cards and caring so much.”

    This happened to me too, at about the same time. This seems to be the pattern for many baseball fans. Each era, baseball experiences significant changes. Fans seem to go from fanatics, to ho-hum casual observers as time presses onward.

    Fans continue to long for their special introductory period as a young fan. The heroes could be no larger, than those Gods who were at their apex of might and power, when the fan was just a lad. That little guy falls in love with that game with the white sphere, and the Gods that graced the green grass of heaven.

    I recall reading everything baseball, as a kid. I read an article in the 1970s where the author was lamenting about the game and the stars of the 1970s, claiming they didn’t have the same allure as the game and stars did during the 1950s. The writer longed for the basbeall of his youth, the 1950s, when guys like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Ernie Banks were the Gods. I recall thinking, “what does this ass know, I love the guys like Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, and Willi Stargell.” (I swore a lot even as a kid. I learned early on the power of a strategically placed curse bomb.)

    I grew up in the 1970s, and I idolized that period of time in baseball history, and the guys on these very cards you post, Josh. I still do!

    Just as the 1980s brought in more drab uniforms, less facial hair, monster contracts, another baseball strike, greater player movement from team to team, it just became less interesting to me. I was still a fan, but just not the fanatic any longer. The 1990s brought us another strike, again burgeoning salaries, and more ho-hum. The steriod era worsened things even more, making everything seem like a joke . . . the records I treasured didn’t mean anything any longer.

    I now know what that author was talking about, when he just missed baseball from the 1950s, and his Gods from that day. I feel the same way today, but for the 1970s.

    Keep posting Josh . . . I simply love it!

  6. 6.  5 : Nicely said, Catfish.

    Another Orioles note: If anybody has XM radio, Earl Weaver’s going to be featured Thursday at 6 p.m. ET an XM 175 in a “Baseball Confidential” interview. I think I’ll enjoy that one more than the Derek Jeter Baseball Confidential they’ve been running this week.

  7. 7.  Josh, I hope Earl’s interview goes something like this one:

  8. 8.  7 : Lordy.

    Here’s a link to a site with more of Earl working “blue”:


  9. 9.  Josh, I hope you ahve a card of Mario Mendoza . . . would love to see you do a piece on him.

  10. 10.  Lenn Sakata is a Hawai’i boy, so he makes it into our local paper once in a while.

    He just left the SF Giants after nine years to become “the farm team manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball,” thus reuniting with Bobby Valentine.


  11. 11.  6 Since I’m too young to remember Casey Stengel’s heyday, I can confidently say: Earl Weaver was the best damn manager I ever saw. I’d take him over Herzog or Johnson or for god’s sake LaRussa any day of the week.

    OK, Billy Martin was also the best, but only for one year. Any longer than that, it’s Weaver hands down.

    Your memory is on target, Josh. The Orioles were a model franchise, with strong, balanced teams that were in contention year after year. As a Yankee fan, I was tormented by them, but I always respected them.

    I think the Steinbrenner tradition of throwing prospects away in trades may have started with this one: Tippy Martinez, Scotty McGregor and Rick Dempsey in exchange for Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson.

    Finally, a story I love to tell whenever John Lowenstein’s name comes up. A reporter once asked him his feelings about being a Jewish ballplayer. Lowenstein, a bright and articulate guy, gave a thoughtful response in which he talked about Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, the importance of being a role model for Jewish kids, the responsibility he felt and so on.

    The kicker, of course, being that Lowenstein isn’t Jewish.

  12. 12.  5 A great insight, and terribly true.

    I think it is the same for me with things like music and movies from the 80s. The 70s for baseball, and the 80s for music and movies.

    And it is for the reason you said: that’s when I first fell in love with those things…

  13. 13.  Brotz13, you were in Little League when Tippy Martinez was 54? In 2004 or 2005?

  14. 14.  The highpoint of my baseball fandom was from 1975 to 1986. I may’ve lost interest earlier if it wasn’t for the works of Bill James. I still love the sport, but I don’t spend my summer mornings memorizing the entire sportspage anymore. Nor can I tell you who everyone is on a major league roster. I blame the influx of middle relievers.

  15. 15.  Peanut, that’s what I get for posting comments at work while I’m brain dead. That should have been 44.

  16. 16.  Lowenstein was a funny SOB, if memory serves – something of a free spirit.

    One thing for trivia buffs to like about the old O’s was that Earl Weaver tended to play the hell out of his regulars.
    So Orioles history is littered with these obscure guys who sat on the bench getting into 30 games a year.
    Clay Dalrymple … Curt Motton … Royle Stillman … Rich Coggins (who ended up becoming a starter) … Tim Nordbrook … Dave Skaggs …

    A visit to Retrosheet also tells me Enos Cabell started his big-league journey as an Oriole.
    I have abs. no memory of Enos in the black and orange.

  17. as a lifelong blue jays fan, i can recall this game to the minute… there i was, swearing loudly enough to wake up my brother and bashing my 12-year-old head against my pillow as each one of those guys got picked off… didn’t they realize that martinez wasn’t going to throw it to the plate, what with sakata (and his noodle arm) behind it? c’MON! what were they thinking?!
    and you KNEW, you just knew that when sakata came to bat, geez, you just knew…
    i can see him to this day, with those glasses… ah those glasses. all the better to watch tippy martinez save your bacon.

  18. My favorite Tippy Martinez story is from 1977 when he threw a pitch over the head of George “Boomer” Scott of the Red Sox. Now, for those of you who remember Boomer (and his “taters”), he was a physically intimidating man. George got pissed by having Tippy’s pitch buzz by his noggin and took off towards the mound. Tippy took a look at the oncoming mass of humanity and hightailed it to left field before he got pummeled. Classic.

  19. I was in attendance for the three-pickoff inning — a weird and happy memory in the summer before my senior year in high school in suburban Baltimore. Roger Angell mentions it in SEASON TICKET (p. 61).

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