Tippy Martinez has excellent things to say about his time spent with Triple-A Syracuse back in the 1970's. “Playing for Bobby Cox was very helpful to my career,” Martinez,67, recalls. “Mentally, he (Cox) took the heat off of you. He reminded you that you do more well on the field than bad. Bobby gave me […]
Tippy Martinez has excellent things to say about his time spent with Triple-A Syracuse back in the 1970's.
“Playing for Bobby Cox was very helpful to my career,” Martinez,67, recalls. “Mentally, he (Cox) took the heat off of you. He reminded you that you do more well on the field than bad. Bobby gave me confidence.”
For parts of the 1974 and 1975 seasons, Martinez pitched for the Chiefs over on the City's North Side. During Martinez's days in Syracuse, the Chiefs were the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The season after Martinez left the minors for a decade, the Chiefs won the International League's Governors' Cup; being recognized as IL champions. That would be Cox's fourth, and last season piloting in Syracuse.
“You never knew if the guy (Cox) was ever really upset. “If you made mental mistakes on the field, and weren't prepared – then he would be frustrated,” Martinez, who serves as an ambassador for the Baltimore Orioles, said during a recent phone conversation.
Having begun his professional career with the Yankees' Class-A Oneonta club in the New York-Penn League in 1972, the southpaw who would go on to play 14 MLB seasons with the Yankees, Orioles, and Twins. There would be no pitching on the Class-AA level. “They (Yankees) skipped me from playing on that level,” Martinez tells.
Martinez remembers fondly his first appearance for the O-Yanks. In his first game after signing with New York as a non-drafted free agent on July 22, 1972, Martinez's manager George Casey liked what he saw.
“I had a no-no going into the last inning, and throwing a shutout. I ended up giving up two hits. I was paid to pitch; to strikeout batters. At the time, I didn't think about it (no-hitter),” remembers Martinez.
During Martinez's taking to the hill at MacArthur Stadium in Syracuse, in 1974 he compiled a 7-5 win-loss record, and a 3.80 ERA, in 36 games. This attracted New York's attention, and his MLB debut would be coming shortly.
During the 1974 and 1975 seasons, with Yankee Stadium under construction, the Yankees played their home games at Flushing's Shea Stadium. Bill Virdon and Billy Martin would be Martinez's first big-league skippers. The “call” came for Martinez, from Syracuse to the Yankees, on August 9, 1974. New York was on the road playing a series in Anaheim against the California Angels. On Friday night, the start of the road trip, the Yankees would go on to lose 7-1 at Anaheim Stadium.
Martinez would be the third of fourth Yankees' pitchers to see game action that evening. Doc Medich took the loss. During Martinez's 1.1 innings in relief, he recorded three ground outs, including one from future hall of famer Frank Robinson. ” Sparky (Lyle) and Tidrow (Dick Tidrow) were helping me keep calm in the bullpen. When the phone rang, for me to warm-up, I knew that I would be nervous. Bill Virdon told me, “You're staying here, have fun,” Martinez states.
But, the foundation gained while with the Chiefs is what prepared the Coloradoan for what would be a lengthy, and successful baseball career. Bill Stearns, a teammate of Martinez's with the Chiefs, draws high praise from his former battery mate. Stearn's rah-rah attitude is what gave an extra boost for Martinez to get up for his starts. As much as Martinez, who appeared in 546 MLB games from 1974-1988, enjoyed his Syracuse assignments, in 1975, he didn't expect a return visit to Central New York.
“I was the MVP of spring training. I expected to be with the big-league club. Then I am told by McPhail (Yankees' general manager Lee McPhail) that I'm going to Triple-A,” Martinez tells. However, that spring, one week before the club would head north for the start of the season, Yankees' reliever Dick Tidrow suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his pitching hand. Although not immediately recalled to New York, Martinez stood his ground with McPahail on salary expectations.
“I told him that I wasn't going (to Syracuse) unless I had a big-league contract (1975 MLB minimum salary was $16,000.). I had an education. I had to think of my family. I bluffed McPhail. He ended up giving me the deal.I had some leverage,” explains Martinez.
After Martinez retired from baseball during the 1988 season, after just three appearances with the Minnesota Twins, he used his teaching certification, and began a second career as a physical education instructor. “First, I did some subbing. Honestly, I didn't like it,”,
Today, as an ambassador for the Orioles, Martinez can be seen at Camden Yards during home games signing autographs while making the rounds with fans in suites and other areas of Orioles Park.
“When I played, I wanted to attain what Bobby Murcer's salary ($100,000.) was. That's what everyone wanted. At that time, ($100,000.) was a big deal,” Martinez said.
So, how are two former Yankees, Martinez and Joe Pepitone, connected?
Martinez says that when he came up with the Yankees, it wasn't uncommon for players to receive “hand-me-down” uniforms. He was issued a pair of pinstripe pants far to big to wear, without alterations. ‘The first pair of pants issued to me had the name Pepitone embroidered on them. I still have them.”