Remembering the trade that brought future October hero Tino Martinez to the Yankees
For Yankees fans, just reading the name "Tino Martinez" probably brings forth strong feelings. After all, he did have his share of dramatic moments in pinstripes. There's a reason he got his very own plaque in Monument Park back in 2014 -- and threw out a ceremonial first pitch in celebration:
Today, Dec. 7, isn't just Martinez's 50th birthday -- it's also the 22nd anniversary of the trade that sent him from Seattle to the Bronx, as part of a package that included several other memorable names from the '90s (Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir went with Martinez to the Yankees, while Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock were sent to Seattle).
Martinez had a tall order in front of him once he was traded to the Big Apple -- as he was essentially replacing the recently-retired Don Mattingly, the only full-time first baseman Yankees fans had known for the past decade-plus. The trade was panned in the press and on talk radio shows, with Maritnez sometimes being portrayed as a "villain." Martinez, though, who grew up a Yankees fan in Florida, was familiar with his new situation and the lofty the shoes he'd be filling -- and he did quite well with the opportunity.
From '96 through 2001, Martinez made himself a fixture in the middle of the Yankees lineup, racking up 175 homers and 690 RBIs. He made the All-Star team in 1997, finishing second in AL MVP voting to Ken Griffey Jr. after hitting .296/.371/.577 with 44 homers and 141 RBIs.
We'll assume Martinez and Mattingly reflected on their respective Yankees careers a decade later when they were both back in pinstripes:
In addition to all the offense, Martinez's Yankees career also had its share of dramatic moments. It was Martinez who got fired up and had to be restrained by Paul O'Neill after being hit by a pitch by the Orioles' Armando Benitez in May 1998, sparking a massive melee between AL East rivals:
Who can forget this go-ahead grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series against Padres lefty Mark Langston?
And who do you suppose hit that dramatic game-tying two-run homer against D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series? You know who:
Those two dingers were among the most memorable moments of the Yankees' run of excellence in the late '90s and early 2000s, and Martinez was responsible for both.
Meanwhile, Jeff Nelson, the 6-foot-8 right-handed relief pitcher who came over with Martinez, quickly became an essential piece of the Yankees' bullpen. He befuddled many hitters with floaty offspeed nastiness like this pitch, which he used to strike out Olmedo Saenz of the A's in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS:
Martinez moved on to the Cardinals before the 2002 season, and made his return to Yankee Stadium as a visiting player a year later ... on an eventful evening at the ballpark. On June 13, Roger Clemens picked up career win No. 300 and his 4,000th strikeout, which came at the expense of Edgar Renteria. Martinez, hitting behind Renteria that night, then strode to the plate amid a raucous ovation for Clemens' achievement. He then received his own warm reception from the crowd:
Nelson, who now works for MLB.com, reflected on the day he was traded to the Yankees with a fun story:
"I was in Juneau, Alaska, on a Mariners caravan. I had one day left on the caravan when I got a call from [then Yankees GM] Bob Watson telling me the Yankees traded for Tino and I. I asked Bob if it was OK if I finished the last day of the caravan ... so, I finished the Mariners caravan as a Yankee."
As for Seattle's haul in the trade, Russ Davis had the most productive seasons of his career with the Mariners. He hit 66 homers, collected 222 RBIs and was a key offensive cog in their lineup until moving on to the Giants for his final two seasons.
The trade may have swung in the Yankees' favor thanks to the October heroism of Martinez and Nelson, but both clubs definitely benefited in one form or another.