Sacramento River Cats

Area baseball beat: One memorable play proved how tough Buck Martinez was

Buck Martinez (Elk Grove High School, Sacramento City College, Sacramento State) always has been considered one of baseball’s toughest players.

He certainly proved it July 9, 1985.

Martinez was catching for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome when he was the centerpiece of one of the most gruesome and greatest double plays in a major-league game.

Gorman Thomas, a friend of Martinez’s from their stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, was at the plate and Phil Bradley was on second base. Thomas singled to right field, and Blue Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield fielded the ball and fired it home. It was a bang-bang play, with Bradley out at the plate. But Bradley slid so hard into Martinez that the collision broke Martinez’s leg and dislocated his ankle.

With Martinez helplessly on the ground, Thomas tried to advance to third base. Martinez, still on the ground, attempted to throw Thomas out at third, but his throw sailed over third baseman Garth Iorg and into left field. Blue Jays outfielder George Bell scooped up the ball and fired it back home, where Martinez, now on his backside, caught the throw. Thomas rushed home but, seeing his friend in serious trouble, eased up to avoid another collision. Martinez lunged toward Thomas and tagged him out.

In a sport where barreling over the catcher – friend or not – has been standard practice, as big as Thomas was, he could have injured Martinez even more seriously if he hadn’t done the classy thing.

The 9-2-7-2 double play is the only one in major-league history and one of six times a catcher had both putouts in a double play.

“It was not an unusual play, at least for me,” Martinez wrote in his book, “From Worst to First: The Toronto Blue Jays in 1985.” “I was just blocking the plate, trying to save a run in a scoreless tie. Nothing heroic.”

After the play, Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams approached his catcher and said, “I don’t know how you did it, Buck, but that was the greatest play I’ve ever seen.”

When Martinez was placed on a stretcher, Bell insisted on helping carry him into the clubhouse.

“I’ll carry him, I’ll carry him,” Bell was heard saying.

Thomas checked on Martinez as soon as he could.

“Nice going, Martinez, you got me booed,” Thomas said. “They booed me because I didn’t slide.”

Martinez, now the play-by-play TV broadcaster for the Blue Jays, never fully recovered from the injury. He attempted a comeback in 1986 but retired after hitting .181 in 81 games.

Around the bases

Related stories from Sacramento Bee