01/04/11 2:42 PM EST
Beloved Tino debuts on Hall of Fame ballot
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
You know you're a well-loved former Yankee when you return to the big ballpark in the Bronx and get a curtain call -- as an opposing player.
That's what happened to Tino Martinez in June 2003, when he homered twice for the St. Louis Cardinals in his first return trip to Yankee Stadium after six years and four World Series championships as a beloved Bronx Bomber.
Martinez can look back on those glorious seasons and a memorable stint with the Mariners early in his career and smile now, five years since he retired from playing the game. He can also smile knowing that he's on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time.
The slugging first baseman has a resume stacked with impressive numbers, to be sure. Over a 16-year career, Martinez batted .271 with 339 home runs and 1,271 RBIs while rapping out 1,925 hits and scoring 1,008 runs.
He was an All-Star twice, he drove in 100 or more runs six times, including every year from 1995-1999, and he finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in 1997, when he batted .296 with a career-high 44 homers and 141 RBIs.
That breakout year accounted for one of his two Silver Slugger awards, and Martinez wasn't bad with the glove, either, compiling a career .995 fielding percentage at first base.
And then there was the legendary category of Martinez's career: the big home runs under the bright lights of October.
The first came in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series against the San Diego Padres, when Martinez hit a grand slam off Mark Langston into the upper deck of the Stadium, giving the Yankees a four-run lead and setting the tone for a four-game sweep that put an exclamation point on the team's overall 125-50 season record.
The second occurred on Oct. 31, 2001, in Game 4 of a tight, emotional World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. With two out in the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees trailing by two runs, Martinez connected for a game-tying two-run shot off D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim, and the Yanks won the game an inning later on Derek Jeter's "Mr. November" solo shot over the right-field wall.
Martinez and the Yankees didn't win that Series, of course, losing in Game 7 when his best friend, Luis Gonzalez, blooped a Series-winning single off Mariano Rivera. But Martinez did receive rings for his work in 1996, '98, '99 and 2000.
"I think he had an awesome career, and he really came into his own in New York, which isn't easy to do," says former Major League outfielder Jay Buhner, who came up with Martinez in the Seattle system.
"You have to be a different type of character to succeed in New York, with the toll that it takes dealing with that day in and day out. He handled it great. And at playoff time, with some of those clutch hits, it's pretty simple. He's become a Yankee icon."
Martinez was instrumental in replacing icons, too.
After he contributed to the Mariners' defeat of the Yankees in the dramatic 1995 AL Division Series that helped save baseball in Seattle, Martinez was traded along with relievers Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir to New York for prospect Russ Davis and starter Sterling Hitchcock. That meant he was handed first base, which was vacant because of the retirement of franchise hero Don Mattingly.
And then, when he signed with St. Louis prior to the 2002 season, he replaced a first baseman named Mark McGwire.
"Mark had that very special place in history, but Tino has four rings, and more RBIs in the last six or seven years than anybody in our clubhouse," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told Baseball America during the 2002 season.
"I don't like to make comparisons [to McGwire]. I just hope that when it's over and we've gone through this season, people will say this was a good situation. We're going to try to make our own mark."
Martinez definitely made his mark on baseball as a player, instructor and special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Now he's doing it as a broadcaster.
Buhner says Martinez should be recognized for what he accomplished through talent, determination and commitment to being a good teammate.
"He was a great hitter and a great defender, and I think his fielding is a little unheralded," Buhner says. "But just an unbelievable work ethic. He didn't want to be labeled as a one-dimensional guy, and he became a heck of a first baseman.
"As for everything else, those rings and what he did to get them, well that just speaks for itself."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.