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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #238, Tippy Martinez (Article 45)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)



I have written a lot about the Big Trade…

This was a trade that seems to defy reason. The trade happened before I cared about baseball, and even if I had cared, I wouldn’t have understood it enough. But, in short, the Yankees and the Orioles made a huge trade with many players involved, and the Yankees got the short end, by a long shot, in that deal.

Let me revisit it again.

THE TRADE:

(from Baseball-Reference)

June 15, 1976: Traded by the New York Yankees with Rick Dempsey, Rudy May, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan to the Baltimore Orioles for Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson.

This was not the best day in Yankees’ history…

The Yankees traded away top talent and did not receive much in return. The top talent the Yankees traded helped the Orioles become winners for quite some time – at the expense of the Yankees!

For the Orioles, Tippy Martinez became a top-notch closer, Scott McGregor became a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Rick Dempsey became their solid starting catcher. These three players formed a strong core on Orioles teams that went to the World Series in 1979 (losing to the Pirates) and 1983 (defeating the Phillies).

Let’s take a deep-dive into bWAR to see how lopsided this trade really was:

Individual Player Value for the Orioles in bWAR:

Rick Dempsey = 21.2

Tippy Martinez = 7.7

Scott McGregor = 20.2

Dave Pagan = -1.2

Rudy May = -.2 (this is as an Oriole after the trade. May was later traded to the Expos in a package that brought the Orioles Don Stanhouse and Gary Roenicke. He would, in 1980, return to the Yankees.)

Total Value For Orioles = 47.7

Individual Player Value for the Yankees:

Doyle Alexander = 1.0 (He left the Yankees as a Free Agent after the 1976 season. He would return to NY in 1983 and would go 0-2, 6.35 in 8 games)

Jimmy Freeman = 0 (He never pitched in the Major Leagues after the trade)

Elrod Hendricks = .2 (He was a Yankee for all of 36 games between 1976 and 1977. In 1978, he returned to the Orioles.

Ken Holtzman = -1.9 (He was traded to the Cubs for Ron Davis in 1978. Ron Davis was a solid relief pitcher for the Yankees, but for this exercise, there are no bonus points for the players these guys were traded for.)

Grant Jackson = 1.9

Total Value for the Yankees = 1.2

OUCH!

In judging that trade in value to the teams from the players they received, the Orioles won 47.7 to 1.2.

That has to be the worst trade in Yankees history.

***

Tippy Martinez became a star, a excellent left-handed pitcher for the Orioles.

As a Yankee, Tippy Martinez appeared in 44 games over three seasons. He won three games and lost two. He saved ten games. He was traded in his age-26 season. He would go on to pitch eleven seasons and save 105 games for the Orioles.

Tippy Martinez pitched in the 1979 and 1983 World Series for the Orioles.

he was a presence in their bullpen – the ace reliever. A case could be made that he was a difference maker for those great Orioles teams.

***

Why the Yankees gave up on him is a mystery to me. (Why that made that trade at all is a mystery, but why Tippy Martinez was in this is one of the more confounding aspects of the deal.)

As a Yankee, Tippy was very (very) good.

Check out these numbers:

77.2 innings pitched

59 hits

2.67 ERA

His future was then – and they tossed him aside in that unexplainable deal…

But when we look closer, we see these numbers:

55

44

Those two numbers may have been the reason why.

As a Yankee, Tippy didn’t throw enough strikes. In those 77.2 innings, he walked 55 batters. Yikes. He averaged 6.4 walks per nine innings (BB/9) in pinstripes.

He also didn’t strikeout enough batters. In those 77.2 innings, he whiffed only 44 batters. A 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) ratio just might not have been good enough.

***

When he went to Baltimore, Tippy figured it out.

Between 1979 and 1983, his BB/9 went down to 3.7 and his K/9 went up to 7.3.

In other words, he figured it out.

That was why he became a top pitcher in the American League for many years.

***

I am always interested in a player’s first and last wins and such. We’ve highlighted many of them in these articles.

Tippy Martinez’s first win came as a Yankee on July 19, 1975 in a game that had been suspended a few days earlier. He came in the game in the 16th inning with the Yankees trailing 7-6. He faced one batter, Steve Braun, who grounded out to first base.

In the bottom of the sixteenth inning, the Yankees put together a rally. Roy White, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Lou Piniella all hit singles that combined to drive home two runs and the win.

For his efforts in facing one batter, Tippy Martinez got the win.

The first batter, Martinez ever struck out was Bill Melton of the White Sox.

***

After leaving the Orioles in 1986, Tippy Martinez had a short-lived comeback with the Minnesota Twins in 1988. He pitched in all of three games there. He allowed 8 runs in four innings.

Martinez’ last ever game came against the Yankees, on April 18, 1988. The Yankees on that game 18-5. Martinez relieved Steve Carlton who had relived Bert Blyleven as the collection of former great pitchers continued.

Tippy pitched two innings. He allowed 5 hits. He walked two. He gave up seven runs (only six were earned). He gave up a home run to Dave Winfield.

The last batter Tippy Martinez ever struck out was Jack Clark. The last batter he ever faced was Don Slaught who flew out to deep right.

And that was that.

***

But, ultimately, when I think of Tippy Martinez, I always remember this big moment of sadness and emotion and friendship:

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