Dec 12, 2015

1969 Amazing Mets Back Up Catcher & His Famous World Series Game Winning Bunt: J.C. Martin (1968-1969)

Joseph Clifton Martin was born December 13, 1936 in Axton, Virginia. Both of his grandfathers were named Joseph, so the family began to call him by his initials J.C.

He was a clean cut Christian boy the son of a county deputy who use to visit his father at work & see the men in jail. Martin never drank nor smoked, lived a pure life because he all he wanted was to be a base ball player. 

Martin was a high school baseball, basketball & track star getting offered contracts in both basketball as well as baseball. Martin was signed by the Chicago White Sox as an amateur free agent in 1956, as a first baseman.

In 1958 he hit .330 at Dululth-Superior, then was promoted to AA Indianapolis in 1959 where he hit .287. Martin made his MLB debut getting his first MLB hit on the last day of the 1959 season, just as the Go Go Sox won the A.L. pennant. He did not play in the Sox World Series loss to the LA Dodgers. 

He played in the Pacific Coast League with the San Diego Padres in 1960 batting .285 with 13 HRs & 73 RBIs & then came up for good in 1961 Splitting time between first base and third base.

He batted .230 with 5 HRs 8 doubles and 32 RBIs making the Topps All Star rookie team. By 1962 long time White Sox catcher Sherm Lollar was at the end of his career, and manager Al Lopez convinced Martin to go down to the minors and learn how to be a catcher to succeed Lollar. He returned as the clubs catcher in 1963 winning over the job from Cam Carreon. He threw out 44 % of would be base stealers, which was best in the league but also allowed 12 passed balls (2nd in the league).

At the plate he hit a career high 5 HRs in 1963 but only batted .205 in 105 games played. In each of the next two seasons he would lead all catchers in passed balls with 24 in 1964 & in 33 in 1965 setting a record that stood for 22 years. In those years Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckleball added to Martins passed ball totals. In 1964 he dropped below the .200 mark (.197) and then became a back up to Johnny Romano the next two years.

In 1965 Martin raised his average 64 points, hitting a career best .261 with 2 HRs 12 doubles & 21 RBIs. In 1967 he was team mates with the 1966 AL Rookie of the Year, Tommie Agee, whom he would win a World Series with in New York.

The 1967 Sox began the year with three catchers but when Duane Josephson went down with injury Martin saw most of the playing time. On July 25th he hit a walk off HR against Sudden Sam McDowell in the first game of a double header, then hit another HR in the second game. In that game Chicago's Ken Berry hit another walk off HR & it was only the second time in history both ends of a double header ended in walk offs.

The 1967 White Sox were in a four way pennant race losing out to the Red Sox on the last day of the season. On September 10th he caught Joe Horlen's no hitter against the Detroit Tigers.

Martin hit .234, and posted his best fielding % to date at .987%, allowing 16 passed balls second in the league, as Wilbur Wood also a knuckle ball pitcher, also joined the Sox staff.

Before the 1968 season Martin was traded to the New York Mets with Billy Southworth in exchange for Ken Boyer and Sandy Alomar. New Mets manager Gil Hodges planned to use Martin as a platoon partner Jerry Grote for the 1968 season.

Martin actually got the start on Opening day, catching the first Tom Seaver Opening Day in Mets history. Seaver would go on to start the next nine opener's as well. Martin got a hit in the Mets loss to the San Francisco Giants, but worse, he fractured his finger and missed a month of action going on the DL.

Grote came into his own as one of the leagues better defensive catchers and Martin became his back up. Martin returned to play sparingly in May & at the end of the month going into June had an incredible run production for a reserve player. Martin drove in runs in six straight games he played in, with a stretch of at least one RBI in 12 of 15 games. On June 4th Jerry Koosman blanked Fergie Jenkins & the Cubs 5-0, as Martin had tw hits & drove in two of the runs.

On June 12th with the Mets down 1-0 to Don Drysdale & the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Martin doubled to score Dick Selma with the game tying run. Jerry Grote then singled home Martin in what was the game winning run. On July 21st in St. Louis he drove in the only run of another Koosman shut out, this time in St. Louis.

In mid August he showed some power hitting HRs in two of three games that week. On September 3rd he led the Mets to a 4-3 win over the Braves at Shea Stadium with a two run shot off Milt Pappas. In the 7th inning he tied the game on a force out & Ed Charles followed with another ground out scoring Art Shamsky which was the game winner.

In 1968 he batted .225 with three HRs, nine doubles, 31 RBIs & a .298 on base % in 78 games. He threw out 40% of would be base stealers behind the plate in 53 games.

In 1969 he continued his backup catching role, but fell more to the third string catcher behind Grote & up & coming rookie Duffy Dyer. Martin played for a week straight in May as Grote missed some time with injury. He swung a hot bat with six hits & five RBIs on the week. On May 11th he drove in two runs in the second game of a double header, leading the Mets past Houston 11-7. It was big since the Mets only beat the Astros twice all year.

In another stretch where he played two weeks steady in June, he got another eight hits. On June 17th, Martin drove in the only run of the game when Gary Gentry pitched a two hit shutout in Philadelphia against the Phillies.

In July in the second game after the All Star break, he hit an 8th inning HR off the Cincinnati Reds reliever Clay Carroll. The two run shot scored Al Weis & put the Mets ahead in what turned out to be the game winner.

In July he had three multi RBI games. During the final two months of the season he saw very limited action as Dyer got most of the backup time. On the season he only batted .207 with 4 HRs 5 doubles & 21 RBIs in 66 games. In 48 games at catcher he posted a .996 fielding % throwing out 21% of base stealers.

Post Season: In the NLCS vs. the Atlanta Braves Martin appeared in two Games as a pinch hitter going 1-2. In Game #1 at Atlanta, he pinch hit for Tom Seaver and drove in two runs with a pinch hit single off future Hall of Fame pitcher; Phil Neikro. The hit sparked a five run Mets rally.

In Game #4 of the 1969 World Series, Martin became a Mets hero & had one at bat that he will be remembered for forever. It’s not even what he did at the plate but more so the way he ran to first base after a sacrifice bunt. With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Mets had pinch-runner Rod Gaspar representing the winning run on second base. Gil Hodges summoned Martin to pinch-hit for Tom Seaver. The Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver had been ejected from the game earlier and future Met skipper George Bamberger brought in relief pitcher Pete Richert to face Martin.

J.C. laid down a perfect bunt in front of the pitcher’s mound. He ran to first base close to the foul line, as Richert fielded the ball, the lefty threw to first base.

Martin was hit on the wrist by Richert’s throw, and the ball ricocheted into right field as Rod Gaspar scampered all the way around to score the winning run.

The Mets now led the Series three games to one, and Tom Seaver had his only World Series victory of his career. The Orioles protested after the game that Martin had ran inside the foul line although there was no argument on the field. Home plate Umpire Shag Crawford said he didn’t make an interference call because he felt Martin didn’t intentionally interfere with the play.

Quotes: JC Martin: "Remember first base is actually in fair territory. If you are a left handed hitter and you run inside that double line, you’ll never touch the bag if you run straight at it. The funny thing is that nobody really made a big deal about it until the papers came out the next day.

They had a picture that showed Pete Richert’s throw hitting me on the left wrist. The umpire said I was safe, so I must have been safe, I get a kick seeing the ball roll away and old Gaspar scoring”.

After the World Series, the Mets decided to go with Dyer as their back up & just before the 1970 season began, Martin was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Randy Bobb. He spent three seasons in Chicago mostly backing up Randy Hundley & former Met Chris Cannizzaro. He had his best season in Chicago in 1971 hitting .264 with 2 HRs 5 doubles & 17 RBIs in 47 games.

Martin would retire after the 1972 season, finishing a 14 year career, batting only .222 with 487 hits, 32 HRs, 82 doubles 12 triples & 230 RBIs, in 908 lifetime games played. His 121 passed balls are 99th most all time, and he threw out 34% of would be base stealers in 692 games at catcher posting a .987%.

Family: Martin’s son Jay went on to have a fine college career at Wheaton College and became the head baseball coach in Canton, Ohio.

Retirement: In 1974 Martin was a bull pen coach for the Chicago Cubs under former New York Giant Whitey Lockman. He then moved into the broadcast booth with the White Sox, alongside the legendary Harry Caray the next season. He only remained as a broadcaster for one season mostly because he did not get along with Caray.

When asked if he enjoyed his White Sox broadcast experience: JC- "Not really. I didn’t really fit in with Harry. He didn’t want to work with me. We didn’t hit it off at all. I wasn’t used to working with a guy that had that kind of authority and Harry used that against me. I was only there for one year. Now Bill Mercer was a great guy, he helped me out a lot. Harry just left me out to dry.

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