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.