Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Tippy Martinez, 1977 Topps #238

Earlier this week, there was a friendly debate on Camden Chat about which player was the best to wear #23 in Orioles history: catcher Chris Hoiles or reliever Tippy Martinez. It's a good question, and not necessarily one with any "right" answer; comparing a position player to a pitcher is an apples and oranges situation. Though Hoiles is one of my favorite Orioles, and was in his prime during my early years as a fan, I had to cast my vote for Tippy.

Many fans who were not around for the glory years may look at Tippy's modest save totals (115 for his career, single-season high of 21 in 1983) and yawn. I had a vague knowledge that the lefty had been a jack-of-all-trades out of the O's bullpen, so I pulled up the his game logs from 1979 - a very good year for both him and the Orioles. What I saw was just incredible.

Earl Weaver used Tippy every which way he could without starting him or inserting him as a pinch hitter. He was called upon in each and every inning possible, from the first through the eleventh. He was used to get one out, but would also be asked to throw an inning or two or three or four or...seven and two-thirds, as was the case in a no-hit, one-walk gem against Oakland on July 23. On that day, he bailed out a struggling Mike Flanagan in the second inning and stayed on for the rest of the game, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 7-4 win. Believe it or not, that was the second time Tippy had stifled Oakland in that manner in '79. On April 29, he replaced an ailing Jim Palmer four batters into the game and permitted only four A's baserunners in six and one-third innings. He struck out five batters before Tim Stoddard polished off a 13-1 victory with a couple shutout innings.

So did all of that shuffling around and stretching out have any negative effect on Tippy? Did his arm fall off, or did the lack of a defined role fluster him and cause him to lose his pitching mechanics? Not hardly. At year's end, Martinez had a 10-3 record with three saves, four holds and a 2.88 ERA. He allowed 59 hits and 31 walks in 78 innings, while striking out 61.

Sorry Chris, Tippy wins. He was a bullpen ace in the truest sense: he pitched when the team needed him the most.

By the way, Earl did start him once, in 1980...at designated hitter. Benny Ayala pinch-hit for him in the first inning. It was part of an ongoing strategy by Earl Weaver to create a favorable hitting matchup in the event that the opposing starter was knocked out of the game early, and it gave him a slight tactictal advantage; the other team couldn't prepare for the DH slot in the Baltimore lineup. Eventual Cy Young winner Steve Stone was "DH" in a dozen games. Tippy wasn't even with the team on the day in question, having flown to Colorado for his grandmother's funeral. Unsurprisingly, the American League soon amended the rules to require the starting DH to bat at least once before being removed. Read more about it here (scroll down to question #3).

Wow, this was more like two blog posts in one. Talk about versatility.


MattR said...

I'll take a Tippy Martinez-type pitcher over these "one inning closers" any day.

Nice info about the DH strategy--I didn't know about that.

Commish said...

Here is where I relate my most embarrassing moment in a big league park. Took my then girlfriend, now wife, up to Arlington to see the O's play the Rangers in '76. Tippy hadn't been with us long and I knew little about him. He was standing on the sidelines near the dugout and when he came over I had my wife ask him some dumb question about coming to the O's in Spanish. He looked at me and said 'I hope I do well for the city' in perfect English. I had no idea he was from Colorado. I looked like and idiot but he laughed and signed my scorecsrd.

Kent said...

Here,s my favorite Tippy Martinez story.

This is copied from Wikipedia

Martinez may be best known for picking off three Toronto Blue Jays off first base in one inning during an August 24, 1983 game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. The Orioles, having replaced both their starting catcher and his backup while rallying to tie the game in the ninth inning, entered the tenth with reserve infielder Lenn Sakata in the game at catcher. Three consecutive Blue Jays hitters reached first base and each one, thinking it would be easy to steal a base on Sakata, took a big lead. Martinez picked off all three baserunners and then became the winning pitcher when the Orioles won the game on Sakata's home run in the bottom of the tenth

Better than strikeouts!

jacobmrley said...

A few years ago, I hypothesized that you could start a SP as a DH and then pinch hit for him so the opposition wouldn't be ready for the spot in the order (or you could use a speedster or a slugger, depending on what you needed). No one I talked to had ever heard of the idea. Little did I know Earl Weaver had beaten me to the concept by about 20 years. See, SABR geeks don't know everything. Earl Weaver does.

Kevin said...

Matt - Yeah, I found the DH fact by accident. I was checking Tippy's batting log, and saw his start at DH, and followed the Google trail.

Bob - That's pretty funny! I'm glad he was a good sport about it; I'm sure you're not alone in making that assumption about him.

Kent - I never get tired of that story. Bobby Cox, on the other hand...

Max - That's why he's in the Hall of Fame. They had to make a new rule just to give other managers a fair chance at beating him.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Tippy Martinez 3 pick off game. It was amazingly exciting. met him about 2 yeras ago and complemented him regarding that game and told him that I was in attendance that night. His reply to me was " yeah a lot of people said that they were there".
Obviously he showed how classles he is. He went from being a hero in my mind to abeing a bum in the span of 3 seconds. Shows you what type of person he is.