RIP Jose Martinez, baseball lifer and helluva guy

I met Jose Martinez while on a freelance assignment at the Braves Dominican Academy in San Francisco de Marcoris. We rendezvoused at the airport in Santo Domingo, with our first stop coming a few miles down the road at a convenience “shack” to get a Presidente beer, the Budweiser of the Dominican. Before long Jose was regaling me with stories of a life in baseball, from his time as a reserve infielder with the Pirates in the late 1960s to stints as a coach with the Royals and Cubs.

Before finishing that first Presidente he was telling me about a night out on the town with Dock Ellis during Spring Training in Bradenton. Jose was hazy on the details but remembered waking up on the beach, in Ellis’ car. He was exactly what I had hoped he’d be: Funny, profane and eager to share.

Jose played with Clemente and Stargell, tried to restrain George Brett during the Pine Tar game and coached under Don Zimmer. For the last 20 years he worked for the Braves as a special assistant to the GM. You probably never heard of him but his importance to the franchise shouldn’t be underestimated.

Jose had an eye for talent — he was excited for me to watch 17-year-old Neftali Feliz throw. “Look at his hands — those are Pedro (Martinez) hands,” he said.

But as Mark Bowman wrote today, “Martinez’s greatest value came via his ability to relate and communicate with the Minor League players as they adjusted to life in professional baseball.” Jose’s job was to help acclimate the team’s Latin prospects to Major League Baseball and life in the U.S., and he was perfectly suited for it. We attended a Winter League game and visited both clubhouses. Jose seemed to know every player in there, from Pedro Feliz to Edwin Encarnacion. It was obvious they all liked, and respected, Jose.

Lucky for me, as I somehow got separated from Jose at the end of the game and had no ride back to the motel, a good 10 miles away. I hitched a ride with Tony Pena Jr. and Willy Mo Pena (talk about big hands). Luis Polonia’s daughter, a knockout, by the way, was there too. They didn’t know me, of course, but I knew Jose and that was good enough for them.

You couldn’t help but like the guy. I laughed a lot that week and learned a good deal about baseball. Jose loved the sport and those who played it — with a few notable exceptions. Discussing a certain relief pitcher who came to the Braves at the trading deadline the season before, only to cough up a huge lead in the deciding game of the NLDS against Houston, Jose said, “I knew that el cono would blow it.” I’ll let you look up el cono.

Jose, a native Cuban, was 72. I was lucky to spend a few days with him.

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5 comments

  1. El Cono. I now have a new insult to hurl.

    1970 was the first year that I collected baseball cards. I must have had ten Jose Martinez cards that year. Sometime in the 2000s, I was looking in the Braves media guide and saw that very same Jose Martinez as a special assistant scout. CB, I enjoyed hearing a few of the tales you had of spending time with Martinez. May he rest in peace.

  2. I’ll echo that. Sounds like a life well lived and I hope he’s at peace.

  3. As much as anything, the Braves need to bolster their front office/coaching staff this off-season. I have thought for a while that the failings of the farm system needed to be addressed, and with director of player development Bruce Manno and chief scout Jeff Wren being sent packing along with Jeff’s brother, that looks like it will happen. But with José Peraza being the club’s only hope in the near- to medium-term as a leadoff hitter, I was thinking that hiring Vic Davalillo as a special assistant basically to function as Peraza’s personal hitting coach would be a good idea. And now we’ve lost José Martínez as well, and we need to replace him as well.

    My first thought is to devise a more substantial role for him and hire Pedro Martínez away from the Red Sox. He’ll always be highly regarded in the D.R. (probably that country’s second-best pitcher ever, but given his small stature, more Greg Maddux gritty and smart than the elegant Juan Marichal), and he’s probably tuned in to the scene there. Martínez is a special assistant to the G.M. in Boston, but he’s a smart guy, so offer him essentially the No. 2 job in the organization’s player development and put him in charge of the Caribbean. Or some such. And for God’s sake, give Javy López a job with the organization. He’s probably the best Latin player the Braves’ system has ever produced, and he probably knows the baseball scene in Puerto Rico pretty darn well. Hell, even though I know he’s a nutcase, now that Manny Ramírez seems to finally be done after spending 2014 as a player-coach with Iowa, I’d consider finding a role for him, too. Because he grew up in New York rather than the D.R., he’s probably not as useful a presence in the Caribbean as Martínez or López, but hey, the dude knows how to hit, and with his engaging personality, the youngsters would likely listen to him.

  4. Good grief. Manny Ramirez? No thanks.

    I’ve always been fond of Javy. He’s very much of an introvert, though. He wouldn’t be a good fit for a recruiting position.

  5. RIP our dear friend Jose Martinez!!!! Got to see him playing with the Royals!!!! Great times with his wife at the time & his cute daughter Mauryn!

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