As a veteran catcher, J.C. Martin knew the ins and outs of bunting from a defensive standpoint and understood how a good one can change a game.
As a batter, though, he just wanted to take his cuts.
“Good God, who wants to bunt?’’ Martin said recently.
Before he came to the Mets in 1968, Martin was known as the guy with the oversized butterfly mitt taking stabs at White Sox reliever Hoyt Wilhelm’s dancing knuckleball. He also caught Joel Horlen’s no-hitter in 1967.
His identity was forever changed on Oct. 15, 1969, when Martin laid down one of the most famous bunts in World Series history.
As far as the Mets are concerned, that effort entitled him to share the field with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider when the Mets honored World Series heroes in the 1970s.
Joseph Clifton Martin, now 82, always will be remembered in baseball lore for his controversial 10th-inning bunt that won World Series Game 4 against the Orioles at Shea Stadium, his only plate appearance in the Mets’ miraculous championship run.
The game started as a pitching duel between Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar and Tom Seaver, whose Mets held a two-games-to-one edge in the Series. It ended with Rod Gaspar scoring the winning run after the throw to first hit Martin on the left wrist.
Donn Clendenon’s leadoff homer in the second inning held up as the only run of the game until the ninth, when Frank Robinson tagged up and scored on Ron Swoboda’s circus catch of Brooks Robinson’s liner to right-center.
Seaver got into a bit of a jam in the top of the 10th but struck out Paul Blair with runners at first and third to end the inning.
Jerry Grote led off the Mets’ 10th with a pop double to left and Gaspar was inserted as a pinch runner. Al Weis was walked intentionally ahead of Seaver.
Mets manager Gil Hodges sent up the lefthanded-hitting Martin to pinch hit against righty Dick Hall and the Orioles countered with lefthander Pete Richert. Hodges didn’t like the matchup.
Martin, used mainly against righties, barely hit more than .200 against lefthanders in his 14-season career.
“Gil came out of the dugout and said, ‘Hey, let’s change our strategy. Let’s bunt,’ ’’ Martin said in May from his home in Matthews, North Carolina.
Martin was not thrilled. He didn’t want to bunt, but he said he told Hodges,“You’re the manager. I’ll do what you say.’ ”
Hodges told Martin to avoid bunting toward Brooks Robinson, Baltimore’s Gold Glove third baseman. On a 1-and-1 pitch, Martin squared and dumped the ball a few feet beyond the home plate circle onto the turf toward first.
Richert and catcher Elrod Hendricks converged on the ball while second baseman Davey Johnson, who would go on to manage the Mets’ 1986 world champions, covered first.
“Pete Richert got there about the same time as the catcher,’’ Martin recalled. “They may have had a little bit of a thing of who was going to take the ball.”
Richert, 79, who grew up in Floral Park, confirmed that there had been “some indecision.’’
Martin continued: “Pete picked the ball up, but he’s lefthanded and he’s got to turn all the way around to throw to first base. When he threw the ball, the ball tailed and it hit me in the wrist. It went between first and second. Davey Johnson was covering first and the ball ricocheted and Rod scored the winning run.”
Gaspar, 73, said, “I hesitated a little bit till I turned and saw where the ball was, then I took off. I probably could have walked home.’’
Martin was credited with a sacrifice and Richert was charged with a throwing error. But the Orioles argued that Martin was too far inside the baseline and interfered with Johnson’s ability to catch the throw.
There was no instant replay in those days, though. Neither plate umpire Shag Crawford nor first-base ump Lou DiMuro ruled interference; Martin was safe. (Even if replay had existed, the play would not have been reviewable.)
Oh, good gosh,” Martin said. “It was Utopia!''
Fifty years later, many of those Orioles are still seething.
“Where he ran made it awfully tight to get the ball to Davey Johnson,’’ said Richert, a 1958 graduate of Sewanhaka High School. “You know by instinct where the base is. I had a very small area to make that play and Davey was leaning inside the baseline toward the field.’’
Johnson, 76, said, “Martin definitely was inside that line. That’s why I couldn’t catch it. He definitely impeded the throw to me. To me, that’s the home plate umpire and the first base umpire’s call. They should know that.’’
Richert: “Davey would have caught the ball for the out if I hadn’t hit on the wrist, which means he was inside. The answer to the thing is, they blew the call. Without a doubt.’’
First baseman Boog Powell, 77, who was rushing in on the bunt and not involved in the play, said from Key West, Florida: “How could they not get that right? If it was a question of judgment, the umpires’ judgment was screwed up.’’
The Mets see it as sour grapes by the Orioles. “Boog’s probably right,’’ Gaspar said from Mission Viejo, California. “But it wouldn’t have made any difference. We were going to win anyway.’’
Crawford died in 2007, but his son, Jerry, who also was a longtime MLB umpire, said he and his father had discussed that play and agreed that Martin likely should have been called out for interference, meaning that Gaspar would have returned to second and Weis to first.
“It was my dad’s opinion that the call should have been made,’’ Jerry Crawford, 71, said from St. Petersburg, Florida. “In all honesty, he said as far as he was concerned, ran on the inside.’’
Jerry Crawford said that in that era, umpires generally felt responsible only for their assigned base and that DiMuro also could have made the interference call. ‘’Our discussion was he felt it was DiMuro’s call and he wasn’t going to step on DiMuro for calling it the way he called it.’’
DiMuro died in 1982.
Martin believes he did not cause interference. “Every runner that runs down to first base runs right on the line or inside the line,’’ he said. “It was no obstruction whatsoever.’’
Crawford was spared what would have been the inevitable tirade by Earl Weaver because he had tossed the fiery Orioles manager in the third inning for arguing a strike call on shortstop Mark Belanger. Billy Hunter took over for Weaver. After the winning run was scored, Richert said the Shea fans “went nuts and started to come on the field,’’ so the Orioles’ complaints on the possible interference were voiced the next day.
In Game 5, controversy again arose as DiMuro ruled that Cleon Jones had been hit in the shoe by Dave McNally’s pitch after Hodges pointed to shoe polish on the ball. The Mets rallied from three runs behind after that and won the Series in five games. Said Johnson, “The whole Series was fate.’’
Martin said Richert made a comment after Game 4 that still upsets him.
“Somebody told him I’d gone to the training room to get treatment and he said I hope the dang thing’s broken.’’
Richert didn’t deny it, either. “In the heat of battle, I wouldn’t have intentionally tried to do that,’’ he said, “but having done it, yeah, I hope he broke his wrist. He earned it.’’
Martin was not injured.
Martin still has Utopian feelings about that day at Shea. “To be on a Met team that never won anything,’’ he said, “it was jubilation. It turned me into a real happy and contented person. That was the gem you always look for. That changed the whole atmosphere, made you a little more valuable.’’
Martin relishes that day at Shea when he joined a who’s who of Hall of Fame players.
“I was with Mantle, Mays, DiMaggio, Snider,’’ he said proudly.
All from a sacrifice bunt.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Joseph Clifton Martin, a 14-year veteran who spent his first nine seasons with the White Sox, was traded by the Mets to the Cubs for Randy Bobb on March 29, 1970, and appeared in 112 games before being released in spring training, 1973. He coached for the Cubs in 1974 and then went across town in 1975 to partner with Harry Caray on White Sox TV. Now, 82, he is retired in Matthews, North Carolina.
The 1958 graduate of Floral Park’s Sewanhaka High School pitched for the Dodgers, Washington Senators, Orioles, Cardinals and Phillies over 13 seasons, going 80-73 with a 3.19 ERA. Now 79, he lives in Rancho Mirage, California, after spending 1989-2001 as pitching coach and executive for several teams in the California and Pacific Coast leagues.
The 12-year veteran spent 37 years in an Orioles uniform as a player or coach, athough he had brief stops playing for the Cubs and 1976-77 Yankees. Hendricks died of a heart attack in 2005, one day shy of his 65th birthday.
Henry Charles Crawford worked as a National League umpire for 20 years, exiting after a dispute over 1975 World Series assignments. He died at 90 in 2007.
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