Bronx, NY - Only a very small percentage of those talented and fortunate enough to play in MLB has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Yet other outstanding players and fine human beings have been honored by the clubs they were members of. On Saturday afternoon, Tino Martinez was saluted by the Yanks at Yankee Stadium.
Martinez was the first of four former Yankees who will be the recipients of plaques placed in Monument Park of Yankee Stadium this season.
The first base standout spoke with a feeling of reverence regarding the date of December 7, 1995. On that day, he celebrated his 28th birthday, the birth of his daughter and the finalization of his trade from Seattle to the Yankees.
That winter, he was told by the manager of the Mariners, Lou Piniella, that the organization couldn’t financially afford to keep three players. Lou asked, ‘Where do you want to go, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, or New York Yankees?’ I said, ‘I’d love to go to New York.’ I had to agree to a contract. I told my agent, ‘Whatever they [Yankees] give me, we’re taking it.’ I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”
Although Martinez was anxious to join the Yankees, he was booed by the fans early in the season as he was the man who replaced the recently retired and exceptionally popular “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly at first base.
One of Saturday’s guests, former Yankee manager Joe Torre, explained, “He [Martinez] struggled early because he wanted to do so well.” Former teammate David Cone told reporters, “I don’t think you know how tough it was to replace Don Mattingly.”
Martinez soon established his place on a team that was World Series champion in four of the six years (1996-2001) Martinez was a member of the team. Martinez returned to the Yanks in 2005, his final season in the majors.
The man of the hour received the praise of several of his former teammates who attended the ceremony on Saturday. Cone opined, “Martinez was the key piece, the power guy in the middle of the lineup.”
Jorge Posada commented, “He [Martinez] was a leader of the team (although) not an outspoken one.” Closer Mariano Rivera remarked, “Martinez was not only a great hitter, but a great defensive player. Playing with Tino was an honor and a privilege.” Trainer Gene Monahan, who saw the players out of the limelight, said, “He [Martinez] was a team player all the way.”
There were other important baseball days for Martinez in addition to his years with the Yanks. He was selected by the Mariners in the first round of the 1988 First Year Player Draft. In that same year, he was an Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Baseball team that included future Yankees Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura. His great play at the University of Tampa earned him election to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
The two-time All-Star was the Home Run Derby winner in 1997. In that same superlative season, he was second in the voting for the American League MVP.
After unveiling his plaque at the stadium, Martinez gave thanks to his mother, wife, three children, his manager, Torre, his trainers, all of whom were present, his teammates and Yankee fans.
The plaque was not the only honor given to Martinez recently in the Bronx. He was the commencement speaker at Fordham University in late May at the ceremony where his daughter received her degree.