Jake Martin only played in seven Major League baseball games. Seven. However, there is so much more to know and learn about former major league players and Ron Paglia, writing for the Tribune Review, truly does look "beyond the stats" and we hope you enjoy the following article as much as we did:
Martin's mystique transcended time for family, friends
It was, as Major League Baseball careers go, brief – only seven games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955.
But that short-lived tenure was a major part of the mystique surrounding Dr. Paul Charles "Jake" Martin Jr., a promising pitcher from Fayette City who died October 11 at age 79 in San Diego, California, where he had lived for nearly 50 years.
"Jake had the tools for the Big Leagues, no question about it," Jack Young, a native of Fayette City now living in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, said. "My brother Bob and I have a lot of great memories about watching him play."
Young, also a standout baseball player, and his brother, who now lives in North Charleroi, are 1952 and 1949 graduates of Charleroi High School, respectively. High school age teens in Fayette City in those years had the option of attending either CHS or Marion High and the Young brother both chose Charleroi. Martin graduated from Marion in 1950.
"Jake lived in Brownstown, the neighborhood just beyond the cemetery (Mount Auburn) on Town Hill in Fayette City," Jack Young said. "He stood about 6-5 and was rather gangly in terms of physique. He had long arms and big hands and threw a baseball like a bullet. He was a righthander and had a three-quarter, almost a sidearm, style of delivery. He reminded us of Ewell 'The Whip' Blackwell, who pitched back then for the Cincinnati Reds."
Young recalled that Martin began pitching in organized baseball for the local Brownstown team and joined the Fayette City Legion team of the Fayette County Big Ten League after graduating from Marion High School in 1950. Young played for the Fayette City Merchants.
"I don't recall ever batting against Jake," Young said. "But I do remember that not many batters dug in against him when they were at the plate. His shortfall was a control problem. He could really fire the ball with blazing speed but you weren't always sure where it was going. The Pirates worked pretty hard with him to improve his control but I guess it (professional baseball career) wasn't meant to be. He injured his arm and that was the end of it.""
Young said he, like other Fayette City fans, were thrilled to go to Forbes Field to watch Martin pitch for the Pirates.
"The town had a great reputation for baseball and Jimmy Russell had played in the Majors for the Pirates, Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers, so Jake being with the Pirates was another feather in our cap," Young said.
Martin was part of the 1952 Fayette City Legion team that won the North Division pennant in the Big Ten League by sweeping the best-of-five post-season series with Perryopolis.
"Perryopolis had a great team at that time," Young said. "Don Mains was their catcher and manager, and they had a big right-handed pitcher named Johnny Clay, who had been in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system. Perry and the Legion played a lot of knockdown, drag-out baseball."
The 1952 Legionnaires, who lost the league championship series four games to two to Fairchance, comprised Martin, player-manager Carl Russell, Don Phillips, Johnny Kovalchak, Clint "Tinse" Manown, Harry "Bud" Edwards, Mario Bondi, Jack Russell, Ralph "Pooch" Bartolozzi, Harry Muckle, Egidio Charielle, Tommy Felak, Hal "Lefty" Livingstone, George Kayle, Leland "Pegetti" Haywood, Walt Plevniak, Ted "The Stopper" Schneider, Freddy Briggs, Ollie Niemela, coach and catcher Caesar Zajack, business manager Joe Alberta and treasurer Jack Stockton.
Sandlot baseball was a big draw in that era.
More than 6,000 fans watched the Fayette City-Perryopolis post-season series in 1952 including some 2,000 who jammed the Fayette City field for the first game. An estimated 10,000 followed the championship games between the Legion and Fairchance.
Martin moved to the Van Voorhis Miners of the Mon Valley League in 1954.
He threw two no-hitters that season.
The first came in a 14-1 victory over Whitsett on June 28 and was the first no-hitter of the season in the MVL. Martin struck out 16 and walked only two but lost a shutout as the result of a Van Voorhis error. Player-manager John Barkey led the Miners' 12-hit attack with a triple and two singles.
Martin also tossed a no-hitter in blanking Monessen CIO 2-0 in the first game of the post-season championship series on August 27. He struck out 10 and walked only three.
Monessen won the league championship four games to two with a 4-0 victory in the sixth game. John Syplywchak threw a four-hitter for CIO as a Monessen team won the title for the third successive year. Monessen Ozarks took home the honors in 1952 and 1953.
Martin switched teams again in 1955, opting to play for new manager Willie "Jeep" Zuraw's Charleroi Merchants in the Mon Valley League. Significantly, it was Monessen CIO that spoiled his debut with the Merchants on June 3 at Rec Park in Charleroi.
Martin limited Monessen to five hits but gave up as many walks and struck out six. But he made a lasting impression as a hitter in the fourth inning when he nailed one of southpaw Herb Mollard's pitches for one of the longest home runs ever in the history of the park. Reflecting on the roundtripper in his Sportraits column in The Charleroi Mail two days later, sports editor John Bunardzya wrote:
"Those who saw it ... are still raving about the tremendous home run Paul 'Jake' Martin walloped in his debut with the Merchants. It is generally believed to be the longest home run in the six-year history of Rec Park. The distance from home plate to the right field fence is 330 feet. A right side swinger, Martin's drive ... cleared the barrier by at least 25 feet and was still rising when it left the playing field. In all, the wallop carried more than 400 feet, a prodigious poke in any man's league."
Twenty-five days later Martin was pitching at Forbes Field.
He signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, June 27 and made his Major League debut the next night in the Bucs' 8-2 romp over the Boston Red Sox in a benefit exhibition game.
"Ron Necciai was very helpful when Jake decided to give professional baseball a shot," said Martin's cousin, Rupert Martinko of Fallowfield Township. "Several teams were interested in Jake and Ron had contacts, he knew the ropes because he had played for the Pirates. He gave Jake good advice."
Necciai, a Monongahela native, pitched for the Pirates in the latter part of the 1952 season. He wrote his name in the record books on May 13, 1952 when he struck out 27 batters while pitching a no-hitter for the Pirates Class D Appalachian League Bristol, Tennessee team in a 7-0 win over the Welsh (West Virginia) Miners. He was only 19 at the time.
Martin made his debut with the Pirates on June 28 when he pitched in relief against the Red Sox. He came in to relieve starter Ronnie Kline in the fourth inning and allowed only two bloop hits while hurling in the fourth, fifth and sixth. He faced 12 batters, striking out two and giving up no walks before giving way to Laurin Pepper, another bonus player.
In the fourth inning, Martin nicked Boston slugger Norm Zauchin on a wrist-high inside fast ball. The ball apparently hit Zauchin on the wrist, caromed off his bat and struck umpire Dusty Boggus on the left arm, causing him to wince.
Bunardzya wrote that Martin, "although nervous and a bit jittery ... displayed tremendous poise ... made an impressive showing" before the 10,731 fans at Forbes Field. Although his control was "somewhat erratic," Bunzardzya said, Martin "got off to a good start in what many believe will be a colorful pitching career in the big show."
Jack Berger, the Pirates publicity director, told Bunardzya that Martin would be with the team two full seasons (1955 and 1956). Berger said he would be signed to a Pittsburgh contract in 1957 "but he can be optioned if the club deems it necessary."
Allen Kline, sports editor of The Monessen Daily Independent, reported on June 28 that Martin had seen only limited action with the Charleroi Merchants as he tested the professional waters. Kline said Martin had spent "all of last week in St. Louis showing all of his stuff to the Cardinal bosses."
"The Cards were impressed and offered a pretty nice bonus," Kline wrote. "Meanwhile, Pittsburgh general manager Branch Rickey contacted Martin's family in Fayette City and requested that he do nothing until further talks with the Bucs. Martin obliged and huddled with Rickey yesterday. He eventually signed for a bonus believed to be in the five-figure bracket."
Kline also credited Necciai for his involvement with the deal.
"When Jake decided to take a crack at professional baseball, he contacted Ron Necciai of Monongahela to see if the Pirates would be interested," Kline said. "Necciai arranged a meeting with Rickey and the Pirates wasted little time signing Martin. They feel he's ready to make a contribution to the Pirates cause now."
Harold Roettger, assistant to Pirates president John W. Galbreath, affirmed that optimism when he told Bunardzya he was impressed by Martin's "poise as well as his speed."
"He was more relaxed than some of the kids I've looked at who have been in organized baseball much longer," Roettger said. "I was also surprised by his change-up. Of course, he still has a lot to learn. While his speed is good, his curve ball needs attention. Under the circumstance, though, I think he did very well."
Writing about speculation over Martin's contract, Bunardzya said on June 30 that it was estimated to be between $20,000 and $30,000 spread out over three years.
"A player is a bonus 'baby' when he receives more than $6,000, so it has to be at least $18,000," Bunardzya said. "Frankly, we don't think it should concern anybody but the Big Guy himself, simply because it comes under the heading of private business."
Contract terms notwithstanding, Martin made his first Major League start Tuesday, July 5 at Forbes Field against the New York Giants. It didn't last long.
Martin threw only 16 pitches in the 11-1 romp by the Giants before being taken out of the game by manager Fred Haney. His control was erratic as he walked leadoff batter Alvin Dark, hit Don Mueller with a stray pitch and then walked Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes to force in a run. Dick Littlefield came in from the bullpen and retired the side on a strikeout and a double play.
He didn't fare well in his next assignment against the Phillies, either, but Bunardzya wrote on July 11 that Rickey "is far from discouraged by Martin."
"In fact the Fox of Forbes Field claims Martin can throw harder than any pitcher on the Pirates staff but doesn't know where the ball's going once it leaves his mitt," Bunardzya said. "Adjustments are in order and if all goes well, Big Jake will develop into the pitcher everybody expects him to be."
Haney also remained hopeful.
"I think we can overcome that (Martin's wildness)," Haney told Pittsburgh sports editor Harry Keck. "We're working with him and will give him plenty of opportunity to pitch. He's a big, strong fellow whose background has been sandlot ball and he's not used to pitching off a mound and rubber. I'm going to rig up a strike zone in the batting cage for him to throw to and he'll get the range. Once he does, I'm sure he'll get the batters out."
Martin finished the 1955 season with only seven appearances. He posted an 0-1 record with seven strikeouts, 17 walks and a 14.14 earned run average.
Determined to help Martin improve, the Pirates assigned him to pitch for Santiago in the Cuban Winter League. He had undergone a strenuous physical condition program after the 1955 season ended, losing 25 pounds in the process, and the Bucs also taught him an assortment of new pitches.
"Because he lacked control, the Pirates decided to ship him to Santiago, where during the Winter months he would be given steady work (on the mound) and additional physical conditioning under the watchful eye of manager Larry Sheppard," Bunardzya wrote in The Charleroi Mail on October 15, the day after Martin flew to Cuba.
Another Mon Valley pitcher, Eddie Roebuck of Brownsville, also was playing Winter ball south of the border at that time. Roebuck, who toiled as a relief pitcher for the world champion Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, was pitching for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rico League.
Before taking off for Santiago, Martin told Bunardzya the Pirates wanted him to work on "four different pitches." He also said "the control is coming around" and that he "expects to be of much more service to the Pirates in 1956 than he was this season," Bunardzya revealed.
"I want to be in pretty good shape when next Spring rolls around," Martin said.
"They don't come any more modest or unassuming than the 23-year-old minister from Fayette City, which is probably why he can't work himself into a fighting, feverish pitch when he is on the mound," Bunardzya said. "'If he'd only get mad and fired up, he'd be a world beater,' one source close to the Buccos told this department."
On January 17, 1956, the Pirates announced that Martin was one of three bonus "babies" signed to 1956 contracts, bringing the number of Buccos in the fold to 13. The other bonus hurlers were Laurin Pepper and Art Swanson, both of whom, like Martin, had seen only limited action with the team in 1955.
Martin reported to Spring training with the Pirates at Fort Myers, Florida. So did another area player, George Zuraw of Charleroi, who offered a hint at what might be the final chapter in Martin's career.
Zuraw, an all-around athlete at Charleroi High School who spent several years in the Cleveland Indians' farm system, was invited to the Pirates camp and was working out with the "B" squad, players who weren't on the Pittsburgh roster last season.
"I'm taking turns with Bob Skinner at first base and we both take a crack at chasing flies in the outfield," Zuraw told Bunardzya in a March 3, 1956 column.
Zuraw said he "bumped into" Martin the first day he was in camp and "he was surprised to see me."
"He's complaining of a sore arm but he looks to be in good shape otherwise," Zuraw, who was assigned to the Pirates' New Orleans team, told Bunardzya.
Less than two months later, on Friday, April 27, the Pirates gave Martin his unconditional release.
He had been placed on the voluntary retired list on March 30 after developing arm trouble that didn't respond to treatment.
Bunardzya wrote on April 2 that the move didn't come as a complete surprise when "Martin and the Pirates decided to call the whole thing off ... at least temporarily but perhaps for good for all intents and purposes."
"Pittsburgh scribes following the Pirates (whether they like it or not) hinted broadly that the new regime – general manager Joe L. Brown and manager Bobby Bragan – were thoroughly disappointed with the Big Guy's attitude, or lack of it, toward the national pasttime. It's no secret he just didn't take to the game like most red-blooded American kids do, most of whom would give their eyeteeth for the chance to be a batboy let alone play for a Big League team."
On May 2 Bunardzya reminded his readers that one Pittsburgh sportswriter "thought he had something hot on" Martin vs. the Pirates "but dropped it quicker than he could say Branch Rickey Sr."
"And all because Martin, who was given his unconditional release the other day, had signed a piece of paper which, in effect, said (1) He had a sore arm, (2) He didn't want to play professional baseball, and (3) He was willing to forget the whole thing if the Pirates wanted it that way," Bunardzya wrote. "All of which sounds hotsy-totsy until you discover ... he also waived the rest of his reported $35,000 bonus, which includes about $6,000 in salary, And the man who represented the Pirates in the bizarre deal is the same one who signed Martin – Branch Rickey Sr. You take it from there."
"I don't think his heart was really into it," Rupert Martinko said of his cousin's disposition toward baseball. "Yes, he had the (arm) injury, but he didn't see sports as a priority in his life."
Jim Bricker, a 1951 Marion High graduate now living in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, agreed.
"Jake could dunk a basketball and could have been an asset to our team but he refused to play basketball or football," Bricker, a standout at Marion, said. "The coaches gave him a tough time for that reason but he was steadfast and concentrated on baseball."
Bricker recalled that Marion, which had another good pitcher in Bill Shoman, lost in the WPIAL playoffs to Perryopolis, which had an excellent lefthander named Stan Burkholder, "who could bring the heat along with a nasty hook."
"I remember one game when 'Ram' (Marion coach Raymond Barker) told me to warm up Jake," Bricker said. "After about 10 pitches I said, 'That's enough for me.' Jake said he wanted to try his knuckler but I almost got knocked over by the first couple of those and called it quits. He was really something, a gentle giant, a good guy."
Martin, according to Martinko, went to work at American Bridge Company in Ambridge, not long after his decision to leave baseball.
"We went (to Ambridge) together along with a couple of other guys from the Valley," Martinko said. "The company was producing material for the Fort Pitt Bridge, which was under construction at the time and which opened on June 19, 1959. We were there for about two years."
Martinko said he "made the mistake" of playing catch with Martin.
"We were renting a house in Ambridge and I asked Jake to go out in the yard to toss the ball around," Martinko said. "I told him he could pitch and I'd catch. It was obvious he hadn't lost his touch, even after being away from the game for a couple of years. He threw the first pitch and the speed and strength were evident. Jake was so big and the ball came at you very quickly and very fast as it left his hand. It looked like a cannon ball, so I jumped out of the way .and didn't try to catch it."
Martinko also explained that his cousin's surname would have been the same as his had Martin's father Paul not altered it.
"Jake's dad and my father Rupert were brothers," Martinko said. "There also were two other brothers, Cyril and John (Zip), and two sisters, Magdalena (Maggie) and Stephania. Jake's father dropped the 'ko' at some point and it became Martin, at least for him."
Jake Martin was born March 9, 1932 in Fayette City, a son of the late Paul and Martha Birghtwell Martin and was baptized Paul Charles Martin.
His brother, Bernard J. "Barney" Martin of Fayette City R.D. 1, died on May 28, 1998. He was 61.
A poignant note in the memorial program at a Celebration of Life remembering Martin on Saturday, October 22, 2011 in the Garden Chapel at Greenwood Memorial Park in San Diego said, "From the time he came into this world, he was doing things in a large way ... as he was born at a whopping 13-plus pounds."
The chronicle of Martin's life at the services led by pator David skates, chaplain of Help Essentials Hospice, also emphasized that Martin was a man of deep faith.
He was graduated from Nyack College of Bible and Christian Ministry in Nyack, NY and was a minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Pennsylvania for several years.
A January 28, 1955 story in The Charleroi Mail called attention to Martin's commitment to God with this headline: "Big Jake Martin Ready To Make Pitch For 'Him'"
The story also said Martin "plane to continue pitching baseball as a hobby if his ministerial duties permit."
"He was deeply devoted to God and his faith," Martin's wife of more than 40 years, Dolores Martin of San Diego, said. "Many of his friends were ministers. Paul made it his life's work to be sure he returned to his Lord."
Martin and his wife met under unique circumstances when he moved to San Diego after graduating from Palmer College of Chiropractics in Davenport, Iowa in 1966. He opened his practice there and "his real journey was about to begin," the memorial tribute said. It continued:
"Helinda Gomez (his future mother-in-law) was in need of a chiropractor and Rose Camacho (his future sister-in-law) randomly found 'Dr. Martin' in the phone book. Which is how he would eventually meet, fall in love with and marry Dolores, the woman he would cherish and care for until the end of his long and fulfilled life."
"He was a very loving man," Mrs. Martin said. "He called me 'Lola' and no woman could ask for a better husband. I had two daughters, Toni (Rodriguez) and Christina (Johnson), when we met and Paul welcomed and embraced them as though they were his own children. He loved his five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren as well and was very proud of everything they did. Toni called him 'Doc' and he got a kick out of that. He was not much for socializing outside but he enjoyed lots of company at home, especially family gatherings. That's what really made him happy."
Rupert Martinko said Dolores Martin, who is affectionately known as "Momps" to her family, is a "very nice woman."
"She came to visit my Aunt Maggie a few times and we found her to be a very caring and friendly person," he said. "The family took a real liking to her."
Martin's interest in sports during their life together was limited to "watching baseball but not football or basketball on tv," his wife said. He also played "a little golf with my youngest daughter," but he preferred to stay busy with his work and family.
"Paul was a very simple man, probably never even realizing the talents and gifts bestowed upon him," Mrs. Martin said. "In his chiropractic career he worked on everyone from babies to celebrities and the one thing that all would undoubtedly agree on is that there wasn't another chiropractor more gifted. Anywhere! He will always be remembered for his intelligence, athletic abilities, wit and dry sense of humor, but mostly for those amazing healing hands."
She and her daughters also fondly recalled that Martin enjoyed staying in his "man cave" but "loved what he loved – Lola and her cooking, Lola's paintings, his classical music and preachers, some good conservative radio commentary, fast cars, target shooting with the kids and, most of all, the latest news about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
Although he took an unassuming approach to the importance of sports in his life, Martin did retain pride in his brief fling at professional baseball.
"I only pitched in a few games, I threw hard but was wild," Martin told writer Len Fiorito of Seattle in a 1995 interview in Oldtyme Baseball. "I tore a ligament in my arm and never pitched again. But I was with the team long enough to get on a baseball card (1956 Topps) and people still send me the card to sign."
Copyright © 2012, Baseball Almanac, Updated for Baseball Almanac and reprinted with the express written permission of Ron Paglia.
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