Tag Archives: Speed Johnson

Oyster Joe Martina

26 May

Joseph John “Oyster Joe” Martina made a name for himself in New Orleans before he threw his first professional pitch. Martina’s father Anthony was at one time the city’s largest oyster dealer, a business he passed on to his sons.

Martina was playing semi-pro ball for the Sam Bonarts—a team sponsored by the owner of a local clothing store, and for a club called the Beavers  when he decided in addition to pitching, he had a talent for distance throwing.

He won $25 in a contest at Pelican Park in July of 1909, The New Orleans Times-Democrat said Martina “threw the sphere from home plate over the back fence.”

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Martina, circa 1909

The throw was said to be 394 feet; just 11 feet short of what was considered the world record—there was some dispute in contemporaneous accounts about who actually held the record, some credited it to Larry Twitchell, said to have accomplished the feat in 1888 and others to Same Crane, whose was made in 1884.

Martina made his next attempt on July 31.

The New Orleans Picayune said:

“Joe Martina met with success this afternoon in his effort to break the world’s record for throwing a baseball, his best throw being 416 feet and 2 inches.”

The paper said he “threw a standard league baseball, which was inspected by several representatives of the southern division of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).”

The event was of interest to local gamblers and when Martina made the record-setting throw it created a stir:

“Disputes also arose over Martina being allowed five throws. Those placing wagers against his breaking the record claimed that only three throws should be allowed. It was on the fifth throw that Martina made the record.”

There was also initially some doubt that the record would be accepted by the AAU because of the five throws. The Times-Democrat said:

“Usually only three throws are allowed. But as there are no definite rules governing contests of that kind, Martina’s record will likely stand. Whether it was his fifth of fiftieth it was a great heave and one which should go as a record.”

The Picayune said there might be another problem with the record:

“One regret remains, that the throw was not measured with a steel tape. It was measured with a linen tape, and may not be accepted by the AAU officials, although the throw was so much over the record the is no question of it being farther than Crane’s”

The record, and Marina’s performance in New Orleans’ semi-pro league earned him a tryout the following spring with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association—pitching three innings in the first game of Atlanta’s exhibition series with the Philadelphia Athletics. Marina gave up one run and struck out three.

The Atlanta Georgian and News said:

“Martina is nothing if not confident.

“After his try-out against Philadelphia he said: ‘Why, it’s just as easy to pitch against those big leaguers as it is against the New Orleans semi-pros. I don’t see anything very hard. I think I can make good in the Southern league all right I certainly had the steam against the Athletics. How many his did they make, anyhow’”

The Crackers did not agree, and sold the 20-year-old to the Savannah Indians in the Sally League

Martina bounced from Georgia, to Louisiana, to Mississippi and then Texas over the next four years.

In the spring of 1914, entering his third season with the Beaumont Oilers in the Texas League, Martina faced the New York Giants.  The Giants beat him 5 to 2, but The New York Sun said:

“The Giants had practice hitting speed the other day. Joe Martina, who prescribed the medicine for the National League champions, had it in caloric quantities…I yearned for a chance in the majors, felt I had more stuff than many pitchers sent up from the South but the big opportunity always passed me by.”

Red Murray of the Giants, barely avoided getting hit in the head with a Martina fastball, and told the paper:

“’That fellow’s got as much speed as I ever saw.’ Said John after the game, and the other Giants corroborated him. He’s as fast as (Chief) Bender.”

The Sun took notice of more than the pitcher’s speed:

“This Martina is something of a character. In the course of the game the umpire announced that Mathewson would pitch today. ‘Mathewson?’ queried Martina, who appears to be n iconoclast. ‘What busher’s that?’

“’Say,’ exclaimed the skeptical Martina to Chief Meyers when the latter made a base hit after several fruitless tries in that direction, ‘you’re lucky to get a hit off of me,’ and then, by the way of an afterthought: ‘All the hits you ever get are lucky.’

“Evidently, Mr. Martina is no hero worshiper.”

When he struck out Fred Snodgrass, he asked, “How do you like that, busher?”

Throughout his 20s, Martina was considered an “iron man,” pitching from 261 to 330 innings every year from 1910 through 1915; he also, according to The Picayune regularly pitched Sunday games in New Orleans throughout each off season.
In 1916, he injured his arm—or as The Arkansas Democrat said, his “arm cracked after hard usage.”

Speed Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald compared Martina to White Sox ace Ed Walsh, “The spitball king of other days now is a bench-warmer.”

Johnson said Chattanooga Lookouts manager Kid Elberfeld was the culprit:

“Performing under orders from (Elberfeld) Martina pitched seven games in the first sixteen games of the season. From May 1 to May 13 he officiated in five engagements, toiling with a sore arm.”

Elberfeld claimed that Martina injured his arm throwing too many spitballs, Johnson said, “it behooves young pitchers bent on winning fame as iron men to work only in their turn.”

Despite the reported injury, and a release from Chattanooga, Martina pitched 278 innings in 1916 with three teams.

Martina went back to the Texas League for four more seasons—including a 28-win season for Beaumont in 1919.

In 1921 he came back to the Southern Association, with his hometown Pelicans. From 1921-1923 he won 56 games, including a 22-6 mark in 1922. He told The Times-Picayune:

“It’s the old story, “You don’t learn how to pitch until your arm is gone.”

His three-year run with the Pelicans finally earned him a major league contract in 1924.  Umpire Billy Evans said in his nationally syndicated column:

“Speaking of miracle workers, supermen, and rookie phenoms of baseball, don’t overlook pitcher Joe Martina of the Washington Nationals.

“At the age of 34, when most big leaguers are wondering how much longer they will be able to stand the pace, Joe Martina is making his debut.”

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Martina, 1924

Martina told Evans:

“I had as much stuff fifteen years ago as I have today, and with-it youth, but somehow the major leagues scouts would annually pass me up.”

He was 6-8 for the World Series Champion Senators, he pitched one perfect inning in game three of the World Series. In the off season, Washington Manager Bucky Harris told The Washington Post that Martina “will win at least 15 games this year and may reach the 20 mark.”

He was due to join the Senators in Tampa, Florida on February 19, 1925, but failed to show up. The Post said Martina wired President Clark Griffith and asked to report later because he was having a new home built. Griffith refused and he was “notified by telegraph” that he was suspended. The Washington Evening Star said he would be fined and forced “to labor at a smaller salary,” for the season.  The paper suggested that the pay cut would not impact him greatly because:

“The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, with the resulting big crowds in attendance and the consequent increase in the oyster business conducted by Martina probably mean that the pitcher can suffer these financial setbacks and still be ahead of the game.”

He arrived in Tampa on March 1; The Star said Griffith withdrew the fine because Martina claimed he had received a letter from the Washington owner that he could report late:

“Griff admitted that in the stress of arranging for the annual pilgrimage South of his club he might have forgotten the original letter to Joe.”

On April 9, Martina, along with left-handers–Jim Brillheart and Jim McNamara—were released by Griffith. The Star said

 “(Martini’s) work this spring indicated he has passed the peak of his form which is not quite good enough for fast company.”

He returned to New Orleans for four more seasons—winning 77 games and leading the Pelicans to Southern Association championships in 1926 and 1927. The 39-year-old went back to the Texas League for one more season in 1929; after a disappointing 10-13 campaign for the Dallas Steers, Martina purchased—or bartered for—his release. The Times-Picayune said:

“Martina has been given his unconditional release at the price of two barrels of oysters. This was the price demanded by Fred McJunkin, president of the Dallas club.”

He played two more seasons in the Cotton States League and took a crack at managing with the Baton Rouge Standards in 1931—he was released mid-season at age 41.

With both the Pelicans and the Knoxville Smokies hopelessly out of the 1931 Southern Association pennant race, Knoxville signed Martina to pitch against New Orleans on the final day of the season. He started the first game of a double header, gave up six runs over eight innings and lost his final game as a professional.

Zipp Newman, sports editor of The Birmingham News and official scorer for the Birmingham Barons for 44 years said Martina’s strong arm was with him to the very end::

“After pitching a full game for Knoxville against New Orleans Sunday, Joe went to the outfield and made the longest throw-in. Joe threw the ball right up to the grandstand. There wasn’t a youngster on the field who could come close to him. Joe Martina arms are few and far between in baseball.”

Martina, who died of a heart attack in 1962, said in an interview with Newman in 1941:

“I am convinced I had more human endurance than any man who ever lived. In all my life I was never tired, even when it was 110 out there on the mound. The answer is simple: I was a good boy. I behaved myself and every at 8 o’clock I was in bed…When my arm was live the ball would sail slightly upward, and nobody could hit me. When it was dead, although the pitch was just as fast, the ball went straight, like on a string, and I was a goner.”

“When I first tried the sunfield I looked like a big boob”

12 Sep

Harold “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Herald asked:

“Does playing the sun field effect a ballplayer’s batting eye?

“’Yes,’ comes the answer in chorus!

Speed Johnson

Speed Johnson

“Diamond greats who have played the sunfield year after year…say the fellows who must go and get ‘em while looking Old Sol squarely in the face are bound to be handicapped in batting.

“The players who stand in the sun pasture then have to go to the plate immediately are especially handicapped gauging pitched balls.

“Sunfielders who hit .265 would clout 25 points higher each year if assigned to other fields, veterans declare…“The American League’s most difficult sunfields are in the parks at Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia.  How Sam Crawford, playing the garden in Detroit for ages, has managed to keep above the .300 mark is one of the wonders of the national pastime.”

Harry Hooper of the Red Sox agreed, and told Johnson:

“’When I first tried the sunfield in 1909 I looked like a big boob.  I missed the first fly ball batted my way by 20 feet.  Fred Lake, our manager, decided I wouldn’t do and put me in left field.’

“’Later, I mastered the sunfield job, but about four years ago my eyes troubled me.  An oculist said I had strained both eyes by looking into the sun…I wore glasses for a year…My eyes haven’t troubled me, however, since I adopted the sunglasses invented by Fred Clarke.  Before I donned them I had to ‘take’ the first ball pitched whether I wanted to or not, after stepping directly from the outfield to the plate.’”

Hooper

Hooper

Hooper continued playing for the next decade for two clubs, the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, with two of the most “difficult sunfields” in the American League.  He hit .300 or better four times and ended his career with a .281 average;  by Johnson’s estimation, the Hall of Famer would have hit around .306 if he spent his career in left field.

“You can’t Rattle Him”

1 Apr

luderuscoke

A 1916 advertisement for Coca-Cola featuring Fred Luderus:

“Here’s the First Baseman and Captain of the Champion Phillies in 1915–watch him this season.

“Fred Luderus drinks Coca-Cola.”

Christy Mathewson told Harold Dekalb “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Record Herald a story about an attempt by Giants Manager John McGraw to rattle Luderus at the plate:

“‘I hear you can kid Luderus along,’ said the Little Napoleon to (catcher John) Chief Meyers.’

“‘Josh him a little when he comes to bat.’

“‘Ludie lumbered to the pan in the second round toting a heavy bludgeon and an innocent smile.  Meyers was ‘set’ for him.  He fixed his fingers in a fake signal and then addressed Ludie.’

“‘Look down into my glove,’ invited the noble redman.  ‘The best hitters steal the signs, you know.’

“‘Luderus didn’t answer.  The pitcher wound up and buzzed one over the outside corner.  Fred’s mace swung around with a crash and he meandered nonchalantly around the circuit for a homer.’

“‘I don’t need to steal the signs to hit that pitcher,’ he told Meyers as he crossed the plate.  ‘Besides, they pulled that gag on me in the bushes long ago.’

“‘I don’t want you to talk to that fellow anymore,’ ordered McGraw when the Chief finally got back to the bench.  ‘You can’t rattle him.”

Luderus

Luderus

Incidentally, in a case of plagiarism or great minds thinking alike, the lede of Johnson’s story read:

“He’s no Chase on the defense, nor a  Daubert in batting, nor a Merkle on the basepaths, but he’s the most underrated star in baseball today.”

Nearly a year earlier, John “J.C.” Kofoed of The Philadelphia Record wrote in “Baseball Magazine:”

“He is not a McInnes on the defense, nor a Daubert in batting, nor a Merkle on the basepaths…He is the most under-rated man in baseball today.”

 

Lost Pictures–The Best Eyes in Baseball

4 Dec

eyeszimmerman

eyesdaubert

eysspeaker

Above, three sets of eyes, 1916.

Harold “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Herald said:

“It’s the eye and not the wallop that counts in the national Pastime.  Some eyes are more durable than others.  Larry Lajoie possesses such a pair; so does Hans Wagner, Terry Turner, Tris Speaker, Jake Daubert, Frank Schulte, Larry Doyle, Heine Zimmerman, Tyrus Cobb, Joe Jackson and Bill Hinchman.”

Johnson informed his readers that “Most of these birds refrain from reading during the offseason, thereby sparing their eyes.”

As for the three sets pictured above, Jonson said:

“Heine Zimmerman is another notable example of the batter who possesses the keen optics.  He eccentric third sacker of the Chicago Cubs, when at peace with the world, is one the greatest natural sluggers of all time.  His eyes never have troubled him but his temperament frequently has caused him to slump, swinging frantically at any old pitch.  Right now Heinie is seeing in exceptionally good form as witness his average of .336 for 48 combats.”

[…]

“There is nothing wrong with Jake Daubert’s glims as a slant at the latest averages will indicate…His heavy cannonading has been a principal factor in the upward climb of the Robins…For a pair of eyes that have been in use as long as Jake’s in the big set they’re holding out famously.”

[…]

 “Nine seasons of big league milling haven’ dulled the lamps of Tristram Speaker who right now is going better than he did in his banner years with the Boston Red Sox.  Not only is the big Texan rattling fences  at Dunn Field, Cleveland, where for seven years he averaged .381 on visits with the Bostonese, but he is keeping up his terrific pace abroad.”

Zimmerman’s temperament caught up with him again.  He wore out his welcome in Chicago in August of 1916, was traded to the New York Giants and finished the season with a .286 average.

Daubert’s eyes held out.  He hit .316 and led Brooklyn to the National League pennant.

Speaker kept hitting at Dunn Field and everywhere else, finishing the season with a major league-leading .386 average.