JC Martin Interview
ML: How did you get the nickname J.C.?
JCM: "My actual name is Joseph Clifton Martin, but I had two grandfathers who were also named Joseph. So to avoid any confusion my family took to calling me J.C. When you live in the South (Authorís Note: Martin is from Virginia), you find that using initials is pretty common."
ML: Do you remember who scouted you and how it came about that you signed with the White Sox?
JCM: "I was scouted by a guy named Harry Postove. He scouted me for three years when I was in high school. The day after my high school graduation, I went up to Chicago and worked out for three days at Old Comiskey Park. I remember seeing guys like Nellie Fox, Early Wynn, Luis Aparicio, Sherm Lollar... they were all there watching us. I signed for 4,000 dollars... that was the limit on salary in those days. If you signed for any more, you were considered a "bonus baby" and had to stay with the major league club for two years. I started my minor league career in Holdridge, Nebraska with Gary Peters."
ML: You came up for a few games late in 1959. What was it like to finally be in the big leagues and in a pennant race to boot?
JCM: "It was pretty exciting. I think six guys came up from Indianapolis, which was the Sox Triple A affiliate. I came up along with oh, Johnny Callison, Joe Hicks and Ron Jackson. Iím sure there were a few others."
ML: Speaking of pennant races, were you in Cleveland the night the Sox clinched the title? If so, what was that like?
JCM: "I was... talk about exciting. That stadium was completely full. Cleveland had a massive stadium. It was a real thrill. I still remember Gerry Staley coming in to pitch to Vic Power. Staley threw one pitch, Power hit into a double play and that was it. It was pandemonium in the locker room. Then we flew right back to Chicago to Midway Airport. I donít know how many people were there but it was a lot (Authorís Note: The Chicago Sun Times the next day estimated the crowd at 125,000). I know we had to get on a bus and drive out to where our cars were parked. A bunch of us players lived in the Piccadilly Hotel during the season and thatís where I eventually got back to."
ML: How did you go from being a first baseman to a catcher?
JCM: "Ron Jackson was a big 6-8 guy, the Sox expected a lot out of him. He was the first baseman at Indianapolis. I also played first, so my manager told me that I had a choice. I could learn to play third base and stay at Indianapolis, or keep playing first, but they would have to send me down to a lower minor league level. I wanted to stay in Triple A so I made the switch. The next year the Sox traded Earl Battey and John Romano and didnít have any catchers in the farm system. Al Lopez told me that if Iíd go down to the minor leagues and try to learn how to catch, heíd get me a little more money. Lopez also said that if it didnít work out, he still would bring me up to the big club, only as a third baseman. I went to Savannah, Georgia for three months and worked with Les Moss on catching. I was able to pick it up and thatís where I wound up playing."
ML: In the early 60's, the Sox never won less then 85 games and in 1963 they won 94, but never came close to the Yankees. How frustrating was that for you and the guys?
JCM: "It was really tough. The Yankees just had so much that nobody could compete. Iíll give you an example, the three Yankee catchers in the early 60's were Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard. Those three guys could have played on any team in the world! They had guys like Bob Cerv and Hector Lopez coming off the bench. They had pitchers like Luis Arroyo and Ryne Duren to close out games. They were tremendous. Weíd battle them and stay with them for a bit but could never catch them."
ML: In 1964 came the first of the great pennant races. The Sox won 98 games including the last nine in a row and still finished one game behind the Yankees. As you headed into the final few games was the club optimistic that they were going to catch them and take the title?
JCM: "The end of the year was a strange thing. The Yankees closed out with Cleveland who was a strong club. We all knew the schedule and we all felt that Cleveland was going to split with them. We thought we had a great shot. All we could do is our part, win games, and we did that. We did everything that we could."
ML: During those last few days did Al Lopez ever say anything to the players about who would be on the World Series roster or what the pitching rotation would be?
JCM: " No. Al never said one word. No plans were made. Now he probably knew in his own mind what he would be doing. But he didnít say anything about it. Al never said much anyway."
ML: What was it like playing for "The Senor"?
JCM: "He was great. Al was the kind of manager who let you play. He wouldnít run you down by playing you day after day after day. He knew the game. He got me into the big leagues and I have nothing but respect for him. We all did."
ML: The Sox won 95 games in 1965 but all everyone seems to remember was the "frozen ball" controversy. As an honest Southern gentleman, Iíve got to ask you, did the Sox freeze the balls?
JCM: (laughing) "I have no information that actually happened. But I will tell you this, the balls that year were the heaviest and had the highest seams Iíve ever seen. When a ball is moist the seams pop up and that went on all year. Iíll tell you a story, we were playing the Twins and Harmon Killebrew hit a shot to right center and he stood there and watched it. Well the ball hit the wall and Harmon had to suddenly start running. So the next time he comes up, he tells me, ĎĎJ.C. thereís something going on with those balls.íí He knew when he hit a ball good and when it should have been a home run! Remember that we had other advantages at Comiskey Park. Gene Bossard our head groundskeeper, drilled two holes in the dirt in front of home plate. Heíd stick a hose in those and floor the whole area, turning it into mud. You couldnít have driven a ball past our infield with a cannon. The ball would hit that mud on its way out to the infield and just die.
Hereís another story, I swear itís true. Right before a game one time against Minnesota, I saw the whole Twins team come out of the dugout and start stomping the ground in front of home plate. Everybody! They were trying to pack that loose dirt back down."
ML: Eddie Stanky arrived as manager for the 1966 season. He was a lot different from Lopez. What was he like to play for?
JCM: "He was tough. He was so different from Al. He intimidated. Heíd fine guys for anything. He knew baseball... no question, but he couldnít manage people. After a little while the players would lose interest and loyalty. He actually pumped up the other team more because he was always getting on them. Iíll never forget, it was in 1967 we got into Boston and went to bed. The next morning I pick up a Boston paper and see this big headline..ĒYaz an All Star from the neck down...íí Stanky ripped him to the press. Man, Yaz wound up hitting everything we threw at him but the rosin bag! "
ML: You brought up 1967. Sox fans remember that great pennant race. Four teams within a game of each other going into the last week. How did the Sox stay with Minnesota, Boston and Detroit for so long without big hitters like Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Carl Yazstrzemski, and Killebrew in the lineup?
JCM: "We had pitching and defense. If you have that, youíll be in every game and we knew how to manufacture runs. Guys knew how to bunt, hit and run, steal bases. We knew what we had to do to win."
ML: Itís been 35 years but do you still remember the locker room after dropping that double header to the last place Kansas City Aís the last week of the season?
JCM: "Absolutely. We were in shock. We were supposed to play a pair of single games but the first one got rained out. We played a double header the next night. They beat Gary Peters and Joe Horlen. That again was Stankyís fault. Al Lopez had a saying ĎĎlet sleeping dogs lie.íí Stanky didnít believe in that. Those Kansas City guys like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, they hated us, they wanted to beat us so bad because Stanky threw at them all year. Rick Monday and Danny Cater, a lot of bad blood between us. I remember that afterwards absolutely nobody spoke in the locker room, nobody said a word. I remember that vividly like it was yesterday. That year still sticks in my craw."
ML: You finally did reach the World Series in 1969 with the Mets. Joining you were fellow Sox players Tommie Agee and Al Weis. You were involved in that controversial bunt play, tell me were you in the baseline or not?
JCM: "Remember first base is actually in fair territory. If you are a left handed hitter and you run inside that double line just to the right of the base, youíll never even touch the bag if you run straight at it. I ran straight towards the bag. The funny thing is that nobody really made a big deal about it until the papers came out the next day. They had a picture that showed Pete Richertís throw hitting my on the left wrist."
ML: J.C. you were involved in some of the best pitched games of the 60's. Iííd like to go back over some of them and tell me what you remember. Weíll start with July 29, 1963. The Sox were leading the Senators in Washington 1-0. Joe Horlen had a no hitter going into the 9th inning, not only did Horlen lose the no hitter but he lost the game when Don Lock belted a two run homer. What happened?
JCM: "Chuck Hinton got on base with a hit. Bobo Osborne was coming up, he was a left handed hitter and a straight fastball pull hitter. On a 2-2 pitch I called a curve that just missed. Now the countís 3-2. I call a fastball because I donít want to get beat by having Horlen not throw his best pitch in this situation. Hinton takes off running because itís 3-2 and King grounds a ball to the left of second base. Because Hintonís running we canít turn a double play. Lock comes up. Horlenís punched him out three times already in the game. Remember itís still only 1-0 and weíre trying to win the game. Joe hung a curve and Lock hit it out for a 2-1 win. Afterwards nobodyís saying anything in the clubhouse, nobodyís even taking off their uniform. Al Lopez comes up to me and yells 'You idiot! You should have called for a fastball on Osborne with a 2-2 count.' I didnít say anything. Iíve thought about this a lot over the years and donít feel what Lopez said was justified. Bobo was a fastball hitter and he was looking for that pitch from Joe. We almost had him struck out on the curve."
ML: How about May 30, 1966? Sox pitcher Jack Lamabe throws a one hitter beating Jose Santiago 11-0. The Sox took a pair that night and shut out the Bosox in both games.
JCM: "Jack had real good stuff that night. It was late in the game, Iím sorry I donít remember the exact inning or the hitter but Jack shook me off on what I wanted him to throw. We went with what Jack wanted to throw and the guy hit it into center field for their only hit. (Authorís Note: It was Joe Foy who led off the 8th inning with a single) Iíve got an autographed picture of me and Jack and he signed it ĎĎto J.C., I should have thrown what you wanted. It was my mistake!"
ML: And now the big one, September 10, 1967. In the middle of a pennant race Horlen no hits the Tigers 6-0 at Comiskey Park.
JCM: "Joe was great that day. In the 9th inning we got the first two guys out. I called time and went out to the mound. I asked Joe what he wanted to throw to the next hitter, Dick McAuliffe. Joe payed me a great compliment because he said ĎĎyouíve called the first 8 2/3rd innings, you finish it up.íí I knew that McAuliffe was both a good pull hitter and a good inside-out opposite field hitter. I wanted to take something away from him, so I decided we were going to pitch him away. Dick hit one to our shortstop Ron Hansen, who threw him out. When we got him everyone was out on the mound. It was exciting. We couldnít dwell on it for to long though because we had to play a second game. Anyway about a week later, weíre in the locker room. My locker was right next to Joeís. He looks over and asks me if the club did anything for me for catching the no hitter. I told him they didnít. Right there Joe goes into his locker and writes me out a check. He gives it to me and says ĎĎI wish it could be for more.íí Thatís the kind of guy he is."
ML: Former Sox coach Charlie Metro has just come out with a book called "Safe By A Mile." In it he talks about you and the fact that you had to catch knuckleballers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Fisher and Wilbur Wood. Metro says you were the only guy who could catch Wilhelm. What was that like?.
JCM: "It was exciting because you never knew where the ball was going. Seriously, it could do a ninety degree break and then double back! If you didnít wait, you just couldnít see it. Youíd have to snatch it when it was right on top of you. Itís the best pitch Iííve ever seen a relief guy throw."
ML: Did those guys throw the knuckleball the same way?
JCM: "No. Hoyt had the most consistent pitch. The other guys had good ones but every so often theyíd throw one that would spin and then theyíd get hit. Hoytís always worked."
ML: You regularly caught some of the best pitchers of the 60's and many of them were with the Sox. Iíd like to give you some names and have you tell me about them. What kind of pitchers were they, what did they throw and what were they like to catch? Letís start with a guy many Sox fans donít remember, Ray Herbert (1961-1964. Winning pitcher in the 1962 All Star Game at Wrigley Field, 20 game winner 1963, Sox record 48-32) (Authorís Note: Keep in mind that the won-lost records of some of these great pitchers is skewed because in 1968 through 1970 the Sox lost a total of 295 games!)
JCM: "Ray was a good pitcher. He had a good curve ball, good cutter. He wasnít overpowering. He made you hit the ball, usually on the ground."
ML: Joe Horlen (1961-1971. Won 19 games in 1967, member of the 1967 All Star team, 1967 ERA leader at 2.06, threw no hitter against Detroit on September 10, 1967. Sox record 115-104)
JCM: "Joe was a competitor. Regardless of the score, regardless if he was ahead or behind, he pitched well and gave you everything he had. He should have won a lot more games with us but we never could score him a lot of runs. He was a hard luck pitcher. He threw about 90 - 91 miles an hour but he was a control guy. He never threw a straight ball, everything moved. He had a curve, and a slider. Very underrated pitcher. When I see Greg Maddux pitch, I think of him and he never walked anybody, he just didnít."
ML: Johnny Buzhardt (1962-1967. Won 13 games in 1965, consistently beat the Yankees. Sox record 49-52)
JCM: "I havenít heard his name in years, heís from South Carolina. Sinkerballer. He was perfectly suited to Comiskey Park with its high grass. A ground ball pitcher."
ML: Gary Peters (1959-1969. Won 19 games in 1963, Co-Rookie of the Year 1963. Led the league in ERA in 1963 at 2.33. Won 20 games in 1964. Member of the 1964 All Star team. Led the league in ERA in 1966 at 1.97. Won 16 games in 1967 and was a member of the 1967 All Star team. Threw a pair of one hitters in his career versus Baltimore in 1963 and versus California in 1967. Sox record 91-78)
JCM: "Gary started out with me in the Rookie League in Nebraska and he should have been in the big leagues two years earlier then he was. For some reason the Sox made him stop throwing his slider. In spring training 1961, Al Lopez called me over and asked if Gary threw a slider. I told him Gary threw a great slider, that it was his out pitch. Lopez went over to talk to Gary and told him to start throwing it. Gary did and you saw the results. He had terrific control and his wind up was so smooth that before you knew it the pitch was on you. He broke a lot of bats, I can tell you that. He also had a fine curve. He was also smart. One year we were in Yankee Stadium. Gary wound up shutting them out and afterwards the Yankees told the newspaper guys that they were sitting on his slider, they were waiting for it, but guess what, Gary never threw it!"
ML: Juan Pizarro (1961-1966. Won 16 games in 1963, member of the 1963 All Star team. Won 19 games in 1964 and was a member of that All Star team. Threw a one hitter against Washington in 1965. Sox record 75-47.)
JCM: "Juan was pitching with Milwaukee and wasnít doing very well. He was pretty wild but somehow Al Lopez and pitching coach Ray Berres saw something in him and we got him in a trade. Those guys knew more about pitching then anybody Iíve ever seen. They straightened him out. He was tough. He threw a wicked curve, a hard fastball and a good change."
ML: Tommy John (1965-1971. Won 14 games both in 1965 and 1966. Member of the 1968 All Star team. Sox record 82-80 but overall in his career won 288 games.)
JCM: "He was a fun guy. He was a pleasure to catch because he only had one pitch, an 82 mile an hour sinker. Guys on the other team would see him and be yelling ĎĎgo warm upíí because they couldnít believe he was throwing that softly. Heíd throw 20 ground ball outs a game. He threw more "worm killers" (Authorís Note: ground balls) then anybody Iíd ever seen.
ML: After you retired you worked in the Sox TV booth with Harry Carey and Bill Mercer. Did you enjoy that experience?
JCM: "Not really. I didnít really fit in with Harry. He didnít want to work with me. We didnít hit it off at all. I wasnít used to working with a guy that had that kind of authority and Harry used that against me. I was only there for one year. Now Bill Mercer was a great guy, he helped me out a lot. If I had Bill when I started out, I think Iíd have been a lot better and things would have worked out. Harry just left me out to dry. Iíll give you an example, we were in Milwaukee doing a game and the Brewers had a pre game activity which saw the Milwaukee wives playing a game before the regularly scheduled one. That game caused the regular game to start late. Harry opened the telecast and then just left the booth. He left me there by myself for it must have been fifteen, twenty minutes."
ML: You and Joe Horlen were invited back by the Sox this year to throw out the first pitch at the home opener against Baltimore. Did you enjoy that?
JCM: "Oh my yes! We were treated like royalty by the Sox. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and they sent a limo to pick us up and take us to the game. It was exciting to go back out on the field and see the crowd. It was a real thrill."
ML: How would you sum up your baseball career?
JCM: "I wouldnít trade it for anything. I spent 13-14 years in the big leagues seeing the best players ever, guys like Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski. Players like that just arenít around anymore. Baseball was better back then... they didnít have the DH which has killed all the suspense in the American League, and the ballparks were fair. You didnít have this emphasis on hitting home runs all the time. It was great."