Posts Tagged ‘Fred Martin’

Buff Biographies: Fred Martin

July 31, 2013

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Fred Martin, Pitcher 1951 Houston Buffs

Fred Martin, Pitcher
1951 Houston Buffs

Fred Martin (6’1″, 185 lb) (BR/TR) was a tough, talented, and wily pitcher who spent 3 years in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals (1946, 1949-50) , putting up a 12-3, 3.78 mark for his time in service at the highest level. Over the longer run of 25 years (1935-60), Martin also posted a 17-season minor league mark of  169-135, 3.38 for mostly Cardinal clubs, including  4 whole and partial seasons (1941, 1951, 1953, 1959) with the Houston Buffs.

Martin had his greatest statistical year when he went 23-6 with a 1.88 ERA for the great 1941 Buffs and then returned in a decade to contribute heavily (15-11, 2.54) to the success of the 1951 Texas League champion Buffs.

Over time, Fred Martin earned a lot of respect as a teacher of pitching mechanics, particularly as the game pertains to a pitch that many experts give him credit for either inventing – or redefining from its use in earlier eras by turn of the century greats Christy Mathewson and Rube Foster of the early Negro League. The pitch we speak of here, of course,, is the one we now know as the “split-finger fastball”.

Martin is also given credit for being the mentor who taught the pitching-life-changing weapon to Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter and to Roger Craig who then taught the split-finger to the great Mike Scott, among others.

Stories of mentorship are common and often hard to verify, but if they begin to happen in bunches about the same teacher bearing the same lesson, you begin to listen and consider giving them credibility.

Fred Martin

Fred Martin

Fred Martin was one of those guys. And he was a guy who even looked as though he was born to play baseball. Born on June 27, 1915 in Williams, Oklahoma, the 20-year old “Okie” pitched his first game, just barely out of the Dust Bowl in 1935 for Class D Siloam Springs, Arkansas – and he didn’t hang ’em up until he was 45 and pitching his last two games in relief for Class C St. Cloud, Minnesota. By then, the clock had rolled all the way to the year 1960.

Fred Turner Martin left this world on June 11, 1979 in Chicago. He was just 63 when he passed, looking near his end like a guy who could still bring it, had he been called upon to do so.

Keep your seat, Fred. You did enough. More than enough.

Fred Martin: Former Buff Fathered Split Finger.

March 27, 2010

Fred Martin: Father of Fame.

Fred Martin holds a distinctive position in baseball history. The twice-blessed as a Houston Buff right-handed pitcher (1941, 1951) was one of those lesser known guys whose innovations helped him make a decent (for the times) living at a job he loved as his ability to teach certain new  pitch skills to others led even one of is students to the Hall of Fame.

You see, Fred Turner Martin (BR/TR), born June 27, 1915 in Williams, Oklahoma, is the almost too quiet inventor of the split finger fastball, a pitch that literally saved some pitching careers as it converted others to levels of performance that echoed all the way to Cooperstown.

Hall of Fame relief pitcher Bruce Sutter learned the split-finger fastball from Martin while the latter was a pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs. Sutter went from being a struggling young pitcher to becoming a virtually unhittable reliever with the new pitch under his belt.

Somewhere along the way too, former Mets pitcher Roger Craig also learned the “splitter” from Martin. He then extended the human chain of special knowledge by teaching the deceptive killer pitch to others during his coaching and managerial career. Craig’s most notable student turned out to be Mike Scott, who went on to win the Cy Young Award as a pitcher for the 1986 Houston Astros.

The list goes on and on. This spring training time in 2010, some coach out there somewhere is trying to teach the killer pitch to some new raw rookie or tired and fading veteran. Their ability to learn the mechanics and then reproduce the pitch will make a difference in the shape of baseball’s history wall in the years to come.

What is the split-finger fastball?

The splitter is a variant of the fastball. It derives its name from the mechanics of how it is held. With the index finger positioned on one side of the ball and the middle finger on the other, this split positioning of the two controlling digits is how the split finger fastball is held through the release point. The splitter will appear to the batter as a straight on fastball that should be hittable at the plane its travelling as it appears in nanosecond sight upon approaching the plate. The batter will be tempted to swing at this appetizing approach and most often will. Reflexes and hit-hunger take over in a flash for most batters.

Here’s the problem: At the last nanosized moment, the effective  splitter will drop as though it is falling off a cliff, often challenging the catcher’s skills by landing in the dirt on a hard skirting sideways skid. To the untrained eye, the batter’s futile swing may even appear as little more than a hapless, poorly executed miss on a very bad pitch. The fact is, when these events come together as described, it was a very good pitch from the pitcher’s and catcher’s point of view. The problem for the batter, as explained, was his inability to resist swinging. It looked just like a hittable fastball, heading toward the fat part of the plate. Then it transformed into the pitch from hell.

And what if it had been a straight fastball? Somewhere in the batter’s mind is this thought: “I’m going to look pretty stupid if I just stand here and take a fat pitch down the middle without swinging at a ball I can juice!”

The similarity of the approaching track and speed as the two pitches, fastball and splitter, hurtle toward the plate is the big factor in making the unhittable splitter the slugger’s irresistible choice to swing. He doesn’t want to look bad taking a hittable fastball, if that’s what it is. What a mind game weapon that is for the pitcher in this never-ending baseball encounter.

The names of David Cone, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Carlos Zambrano come to mind as recent masters of the splitter. As long as it can be executed effectively, it will have a place in baseball as an important tool of deception. And that’s still a factor that is so much more important than pure pitch speed or power.

Warren Spahn said it best many years ago. The Hall of Fame Braves lefty put it this way: “Batting is timing. Pitching is upsetting the batter’s timing.” The split-finger fastball upsets timing a whole lot.

Fred Martin’s own career wasn’t bad either. Over a twenty-five year span (1935-60), Fred Martin compiled a 17-season career minor league record of  169 wins and 135 losses. His ERA was 3.38. In his two years with very good clubs at Houston, Martin posted a 23-6, 1.44 ERA record with the 103-win 1941 Buffs and 15-11 with a 2.54 ERA for the Buffs’ 1951 Texas League pennant winners. Martin also had lesser roles with the 1953 and 1959 Buffs.

As a major leaguer (1946, 1949-50), all with the Cardinals, Fred Martin had a record of 12 wins, 3 losses, and an ERA of 3.78. Martin “got in Dutch” with organized baseball when he elected to join several others who fled to Mexico after 1946 in revolt against low paying salaries, state-side. He was punished with the other defectors upon his return with a short ban, but that was only the formal penalty. I’ve always felt that Martin was an example of one player who was punished by having all his major league second chances taken away from him. Fred Martin simply had too many good minor league years beyond 1949 to not get another serious or even slight chance in the big leagues.

I don’t know the story of how Martin learned to throw the split finger fastball. In many other cases, the search for a beginning on new pitches always seems to go back to either or both the great Christy Mathewson or the phenomenal early Negro League pitcher Rube Foster. So, if the splitter also turns out to be traceable to these men, and not original to the mind of Fred Martin, I will not be surprised. In the meanwhile, I will happily continue to give Martin credit until his originality is contradicted with hard evidence. Like so many other things in baseball, the splitter could prove to be simply another evolutionary development that passed through several minds and hands over the past century of experience.

As for Martin, Chicago White Sox manager Don Kessinger brought Fred Martin back as his pitching coach in 1979, but the old workhorse was suffering from cancer by then. Fred Martin died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 63. If any soul ever passed through the Pearly Gates after a lifetime of perfecting and teaching deception on earth, it was Fred Taylor Martin. I saw him pitch many times at Buff Stadium in 1951. And I shall remember him well always as a steady, reliable hope for victory anytime he took the mound. Those old school boys were hard to beat.