During the late-1990s Yankees dynasty, certain players had certain off-field roles. Derek Jeter was the quiet, behind-the-scenes leader. Jorge Posada was Jeter’s enforcer. Mariano Rivera was the team’s quiet conscience. Bernie Williams was the player who receded into the back of the clubhouse but came through at crunch time. Paul O’Neill was the snarling, raging, water-cooler abusing intense competitor. And Tino Martinez…
Well, does anyone remember what part Martinez played off the field? Yes, people remember his near-MVP season in 1997 when he hit 44 home runs. During his time in pinstripes, he was a good fielder and a consistent offensive performer during the regular season. He hit the tone-setting grand slam off of Mark Langston in game 1 of the 1998 World Series. But he was never the one other clubs said they had to stop to win a game or series against the Yankees and his personality in the clubhouse was not discussed.
That lack of definition kept Martinez as a background player. During his career, he had a seething, underlying intensity that was similar to O’Neill’s, but it never manifested itself in the same overt manner. That anger could have stemmed from many issues. Given his status as a former member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and the Mariners’ reluctance to give him regular playing time, there was always a sense that he spent a year or two more than he needed in the minors. Other stars from that Olympic team, notably Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura, went almost immediately to the majors. Martinez, however, languished in the minors and didn’t get the opportunity to play regularly for the Mariners until 1992.
When given the chance to play, he evolved into a key component for the Mariners until he was traded to the Yankees after the 1995 season. Replacing Don Mattingly, he heard the boos at Yankee Stadium as punishment for a slow start. He rebounded to hit 25 homers and drive in 117 runs during the Yankees’ first championship of that era.
An underappreciated cog from the World Series winners from 1998-2000, Martinez was one of the first to depart after the 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks. It was then that the Yankees went from having a cohesive unit that knew each other, trusted each other and would fight and grind their way to win and evolved into a club that relied on star power and mercenaries. Martinez’s replacement, Jason Giambi, was an expensive PED user. He was well-liked and performed up to an MVP-level, but there was something missing with Giambi’s reluctance to step forward in Jeter’s clubhouse and the absence of Martinez’s understated fire.
Those who claim that Martinez is “mild-mannered” have seen the smiling face on Yankee-centric TV too much and don’t remember the anger he sometimes exhibited. The stories surrounding Martinez’s resignation from the Marlins as their hitting coach center around his alleged abuse of players with cursing and some physicality. He responded to those allegations here.
It’s a case of “he said/he said” and the incidents were probably due to several factors that could not be avoided unless Martinez never went into coaching at all. Having come up the way he did in baseball and, in his formative big league years, playing for a manager who yelled a lot and confronted players in Lou Piniella; then going to the Joe Torre Yankees where players were expected to behave a certain way and if they didn’t, they were gone; then going to play for Tony LaRussa, it’s no surprise that there’s been a clash of cultures with Martinez and the young players of today. When he was a young player for Piniella, had Martinez done what Derek Dietrich and other players are said to have done by refusing to behave as rookies and do what they’re told, he would’ve been screamed at, possibly grabbed and shipped to the minors. In today’s game, you can’t get away with that type of methodology when overseeing players.
The problem with the former MVP-caliber player is that he generally has to alter his expectations and demands when dealing with players who aren’t going to be as good as he was. When performing as the hitting coach for a young team like the Marlins, the attitude that Martinez shows is probably not going to go over well with the players because they don’t want to hear it and will react rather than fall into line to keep their jobs. It wasn’t that long ago that players had to conform. Now, with the money they’re making and the power they have over the people who are ostensibly their bosses, they don’t have to listen. And they don’t. The attitude is, “I’ll be here longer than he will.” Most of the time, they’re right. The results of the clash of civilizations are evident with what happened to Tino Martinez, who might not be cut out to be a coach in today’s major leagues.