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Russell Martin

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Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson-Martin

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[edit] Biographical Information

Russell Martin was born in the Toronto, ON area but grew up all over the place, including Chelsea, QC, Winnipeg, MB, Paris, France, and eventually Montreal, QC where he attended the same high school as future teammate Eric Gagné. His father was an English-speaking jazz musician (hence the name Coltrane, after jazz great John Coltrane), and his mother was French speaking (Jeanson is her last name and Martin's legal last name is Jeanson-Martin); he did his schooling in French, until moving to the US to attend junior college and play baseball.

In the 2000 World Junior Championship, Martin hit .414/?/.690 for Canada with 12 runs, possibly tying Tae-kyun Kim for the lead. His 12 RBI were possibly second to Joe Mauer. He played third base for Team Canada. Scott Wearne of Australia made the All-Tournament team instead of Martin.

After completing junior college, Russell Martin planned to go to North Carolina State University but was drafted in the 17th round of the 2002 amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was signed by scout Clarence Johns for $40,000. A second baseman until then, he was converted to third base for the 2002 GCL Dodgers and hit .286/.357/.412 with 7 steals in 8 tries. In 2003, he batted .286/.343/.439 for the South Georgia Waves and .271/.368/.436 with the Ogden Raptors while finding yet another position at catcher. He led Pioneer League catchers in both assists (63) and passed balls (27).

In 2004, Martin returned to Vero Beach, FL, where the GCL Dodgers had played in 2002. He hit .250/.366/.421 with 15 homers for the Class A Vero Beach Dodgers and joined Eliezer Alfonzo as the Florida State League All-star backstops. In 2005, Martin batted .311/.430/.423 for the AA Jacksonville Suns. Baseball America rated him the best defensive catcher in the Southern League and said he had the best strike zone judgement in the circuit, which he led in putouts (960), assists (90) and errors (12). He made the SL All-Star team at catcher and was third in the league in batting average. He was ranked the #10 prospect in the league by BA and was 0 for 1 as a backup in the Futures Game that year.

Hitting .297/.389/.419 in 23 games for the Las Vegas 51s, Martin was called up in early May to Los Angeles and had a fine rookie campaign, establishing himself as the team's starting catcher with a line of .282/.355/.436 in 121 games. He hit 10 home runs and stole 10 bases, a rare combination for a catcher. He started all three games of the NLDS against the New York Mets and went 4 for 12. In the second inning of Game 1 on October 5, he hit a single off the right field wall with Jeff Kent on second and J.D. Drew on first, but both runners were thrown out at home on the same play in what was a crucial turning point in the Series.

In 2007, Martin continued where he left off the previous season, establishing himself as the Dodgers' best all-around player and the top young catcher in the Majors. He was voted to start the All-Star Game, beating out Paul LoDuca and Brian McCann. He hit .293 for the year, with 19 homers and 89 RBI. He was awarded a Gold Glove as the National League's best defensive catcher, and the Silver Slugger Award as its best hitter at the position. In 2008, he hit .280 with 87 runs scored and 69 RBI as the Dodgers went all the way to the NLCS, only to be beaten by the eventual world champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. He was the team's top hitter in the NLDS, driving in 5 runs on 3 doubles and a homer in a sweep of the Chicago Cubs, but was only 2 for 17 in the NLCS.

Martin was the starting catcher for Team Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He went 2 for 4 with a home run and 3 runs scored in the opening game against Team USA. He wore the name J. Martin on his jersey, to reflect his full name, and has continued this practice with the Dodgers for the 2009 season. His numbers fell significantly, however, as he batted only .250 with 7 homers and 50 RBI in 143 games. The Dodgers made it back to the NLCS that year, being once again eliminated by the Phillies, but he was only 5 for 25 with 3 RBI in two rounds of postseason play.

Martin was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career on August 4, 2010, the result of tearing a hip muscle while landing awkwardly in attempting to score on a sacrifice fly the day before. The injury put an end to a very disappointing season, in which he hit only .248 in 97 games with 5 home runs and a mere 26 RBI. On December 3, the Dodgers declined to offer him arbitration, based on concern about his falling production and the risk of his not being able to recover fully from the hip injury, making the catcher a free agent. This came a few days after the Dodgers had signed veteran backstop Rod Barajas, brought over in a trade to fill in during Martin's injury, to a free agent deal based on Barajas being the starting catcher in 2011. The team said however it was willing to bring Martin back at a lower salary and as a utility player who would be a back-up at third base and in the outfield, but he declined, signing instead with the New York Yankees with a chance to compete to be Jorge Posada's successor behind the plate.

Martin earned the job as the Yankees' starting catcher in spring training of 2011, then had a great start as the team's new backstop. On Opening Day, March 31, he scored twice and stole a base in a 6-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, then in his second game on April 2, he hit a three-run homer. He completed his first series with a 3 for 4 performance, including a double, on April 3. On April 9, he had a two-homer game at Fenway Park, driving in 4 runs and propelling the Yankees to a 9-4 win over the Boston Red Sox, on his way to an outstanding month of April. He played almost every day in the first month with back-up Francisco Cervelli injured, and continued to do so into May. The strain of catching every day began to show, as his batting average fell, then in early June, he had to miss four straight games with a stiff back. Still, he was named to the All-Star team as the American League's third catcher. On August 25th, he had a career day at the plate, going 5 for 5 with a walk, two singles, a double and two homers and driving in 6 runs against the Oakland Athletics. His second home was a grand slam, the Yankees' second of the game after Robinson Cano had hit one earlier. Curtis Granderson belted a third grand slam later in the game as the Yankees became the first major league to hit three slams in one game on their way to thumping the A's, 22-9. In another date with history, he was behind the plate when Mariano Rivera broke the all-time save record on September 19th. He finished the season with a .237 average in 125 games, but with 18 homers and 65 RBI from the 8th and 9th spot of the line-up. In the ALDS however, he was completely muzzled by the Detroit Tigers, going 3 for 17.

Martin was back as the Yankees' starting catcher at the start of 2012, his position more secure as they had traded top prospect Jesus Montero in return for some pitching in the off-season. He opened the year in a deep slump however, and was only hitting .125 when he hit his first homer of the season. He picked an appropriately dramatic moment, the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park on April 20th, to hit a 6th-inning solo blast off Clay Buchholz that cleared the Green Monster. On May 30th, he got into an unusual spat with home plate umpire Laz Diaz; as Martin claims, Diaz got upset when he questioned some of his calls in a game against the Los Angeles Angels, and he punished the catcher by forbidding him from throwing new balls to his pitcher, insisting on making all the throws back himself. He claimed that Diaz told him that throwing the balls was "a privilege I had to earn." He received a convocation from MLB Vice-President Joe Torre after the incident. That season's first half was generally awful, however, as he hit only .179. The Yankees kept rolling along in first place, though, and he opened the second half on July 13th by gunning down three baserunners trying to steal, including Howie Kendrick for the game's last out, and driving in the winning run in a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He improved to .242 in the second half, for an average on the year of .211, combined with a career-high 21 homers and 53 RBI. He hit a huge home run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles on October 7th: with the score tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th, he hit a lead-off blast off Birds closer Jim Johnson, opening the floodgates for a 7-2 win. However, he did not do much else in the rest of the postseason, going 3 for 17 in both the ALDS and ALCS as the Yankees once again fell short of the ultimate prize. That season, he was the subject of a series of five articles in The New York Times written by David Waldstein during the course of the season which constituted a remarkable portrait of the difficulties of playing catcher in the major leagues and showed how much Martin contributed to the team's success in ways that may not have been immediately obvious to the casual fan.

Martin became a free agent after the 2012 season, and while the Yankees wanted to retain him, having few other options at catcher, they were outbid by - of all teams - the Pittsburgh Pirates. On November 29th, Martin signed a two-year contract with the Bucs for $17 million. He originally accepted an invitation to return to Team Canada for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but with an unusual condition: explaining that he did not know the team's pitchers and already had his hands full becoming familiar with a new group of hurlers in Pittsburgh, he wanted to play in the tournament as a shortstop, a position he had not played since junior college. However, both the Pirates and Team Canada brass balked at that suggestion, and on February 26th, Martin withdrew from the tournament, leaving Canada with a huge hole in its projected line-up. He had a very good start to his stint with the Pirates in 2013, as the team's pitching staff was excellent in April and he showed very good power, banging out 6 doubles and 5 homers while hitting .267 in 22 games. He was the hero again on May 30th, when he drove in the winning run in a 1-0 defeat of the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the 11th inning at PNC Park; he had struck out three times earlier in the game, but again showed an ability for coming through in the clutch. That win was the 16th in 20 games for the Pirates, who continued to build on their solid start. He became an extra-inning hero twice in the span of a week in late June, as the Bucs soared to the best record in baseball at the season's halfway mark. In both games, on June 23rd against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and June 30th against the Milwaukee Brewers, back-up Michael McKenry started the game, but Russell came in as a pinch-hitter, getting a key run-scoring hit both times, tying the game in the 9th the first, then staying on to be a key part of the winning rally in the 10th, and winning it in the 14th the second. He had another game-ending hit as a pinch-hitter, on August 8th against the Miami Marlins, when he singled off Steven Ames to drive in Josh Harrison with the winning run with two outs in the 10th for a 5-4 win. He finished the season hitting .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games, then was the hitting hero of the National League Wild Card Game on October 1st. He homered twice, off Johnny Cueto and Logan Ondrusek as the Pirates defeated the Reds, 6-2, in the Pirates' first postseason appearance in 21 years. He was only the second player in Pirates' history to record a multi-homer game in the postseason, after Bob Robertson who had hit three homers in a game in the 1971 NLCS. He received a lot of credit for the Pirates' turnaround because of his steady play behind the plate, even though it was teammate Andrew McCutchen who won the MVP Award.

Martin had to go on the disabled list early in the 2014 season, on April 26th, with pain in the left side of his body. Part of the issue was a pulled hamstring, but there was also concern about his hip. Young Tony Sanchez was called up from AAA to start in his absence. However, he was soon back in the line-up and ended up having an outstanding season both offensively and defensively. He played 111 games, hitting .290/.402/.430 with 11 homers and 67 RBI, his highest batting average since 2007 and the highest OBP of his career. he played his customary excellent defense and the Pirates returned to the postseason for the second straight year. This time, however, they lost the Wild Card Game against the San Francisco Giants, who would go on to win the 2014 World Series. He became a free agent after the season and was courted by a number of teams as the best catcher on the market. He decided rather quickly to head home, however, signing with the Toronto Blue Jays on November 17th on a five-year deal worth $82 million.

Sources include 2003-2006 Baseball Almanacs

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Further Reading

  • Stephanie Myles: "World citizen, Old Montreal resident", Montreal Gazette, March 30, 2009 [1]
  • Phil Rogers: "Bucs' MVP may be hidden behind home plate: Overlooked for awards after career year, Martin put team over the edge", mlb.com, March 19, 2014. [2]
  • David Waldstein: "One Hard Way to Play Ball: Russell Martin Plays Catcher, the Toughest Position in Baseball", The New York Times, June 16, 2012 [3]
  • David Waldstein: "For Catcher, Mastering Mind Games Within the Game", The New York Times, July 28, 2012 [4]
  • David Waldstein: "A Slump Can't Get in the Way", The New York Times, August 24, 2012 [5]
  • David Waldstein: "The Dirtiest part of a Catcher's Job", The New York Times, September 28, 2012 [6]
  • David Waldstein: "Banged Up, Worn Down, Heading Home", The New York Times, November 7, 2012 [7]

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