Jack Martin, a slick-fielding but light-hitting shortstop, began the 1914 season with the Boston Braves but was traded away just before the last-place team began its drive for the National League pennant. He spent only two years in the major leagues but was a longtime minor-league player and manager.
John Christopher Martin was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in the central part of the state, on April 19, 1887. The son of Adeline and James B. Martin, a trolley conductor, Jack played baseball at Plainfield High School and for the town’s amateur clubs. By 1909 he had attracted considerable attention as a slick fielding shortstop for the New Brunswick Brunswicks, one of the top semipro teams in the area. Owned by the Brunswick Amusement Company, the club not only played other semipro teams but took on professional team,s including major-league teams. A brilliant fielder who owed his spot on the team to his glove work, Jack was not much of a hitter. He rarely hit a home run, but thought he had clouted one in a 1909 game. He hit a fly ball, which the outfielder misplayed so badly that Jack rounded the bases, and put in a claim for a pair of new shoes which a local merchant was offering to any Brunswick who hit a home run. The scorer refused to award him a pair of $5 shoes, saying the hit was not a legitimate home run.
The sports columns of the New Brunswick Times were filled with praise of Jack’s fielding prowess. Typical comments were: “Jack Martin fielded a phenomenal game and the fans applauded him to the echo repeatedly. … Jack Martin’s stop and put out on Hemphill’s near hit over second was about as clean an exhibition of quick fielding as we have seen. …”1
In August 1909 Martin got a trial with the Worcester Busters of the New England League, managed by future Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett. The Worcester Star reported as follows: “Manager Burkett had a young fellow practicing at short yesterday, who showed up great. He is an amateur named Martin, from Plainfield, N.J., who is visiting ex-Councilman Jeremiah W. Mara, brother-in-law of W.E. Bransfield, of the Philadelphia National League team. Mr. Mara is a close friend of Burkett’s and knowing the youngster could play ball, sent him to Burkett. The latter had Martin out with the rest of the players yesterday, and the spectators commented freely on the great work the youngster showed. Burkett will take him on the trip today.”2 (W.E. Bransfield was Kitty Bransfield, the longtime first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies.)
The Times quoted another paper as saying: “The manager and players are in great glee at prospects of another base ball find. Young Martin, the New Jersey lad, who practiced before the games at Boulevard Park last week, was signed by Burkett and accompanied the club on its trip. He didn’t get into any game, but he was out practicing regularly until yesterday when he went to New Jersey to play a couple of games. He will be back in Worcester tomorrow. Burkett and the players say he’s a wizard at picking up grounders and acts well in the practice setting. They think they see in him another base ball star.”3 Martin’s own take on the situation was that he would get good money as a bench warmer and would probably be given a chance to make good in some of the games. As it turned out, he did not get into any games in 1909. Upon his return to New Jersey, the New Brunswick newspaper reported, “Wake up and rejoice. Jack Martin, the great and only lightning short stop, will, in all probability, be with the Brunswicks again this season, as Jesse Burkett has not as yet sent him a contract for the Worcester club in the New England League.”4 Jack indeed started the 1910 season with the Brunswicks. However, Burkett had signed him to a contract at the end of the 1909 season and ordered him to report to Worcester on April 17.
Martin’s experience in Worcester was not a happy one. What happened is a matter of dispute. The New Brunswick Times said that he wanted a pay raise but Burkett would not give it to him and tried to farm him out to Newport. Martin refused to be demoted and caught the next train back to Plainfield. This report suggested that as the player had jumped his contract, he would be blacklisted by Organized Baseball.5 A few days later the newspaper said that in spite of rumors to the contrary, Martin would not be charged with breaking his contract with the Worcester club. He had not hit well enough to please Burkett and was due to be released if he had not quit.6 Burkett’s feeling about Martin’s hitting may have been justified. In 29 games for Worcester, the young man hit .208 with no home runs and only three extra-base hits.
Martin’s 1910 adventures continued. He played for the Brunswicks for a month or so. In late July local newspapers reported that he had joined the Bridgeport club of the Connecticut League, but there is no evidence that he ever played for the Orators. In August he considered joining an independent club in Paterson, New Jersey, but the National Baseball Commission issued an order forbidding players in Organized Baseball to play for or against Paterson, because that club was using the blacklisted Andy Coakley. Martin returned to New Brunswick and scored the first run for the Brunswicks on September 25 as they took an early lead over the Brooklyn Superbas in an exhibition game before succumbing to the National League club, 5-2.
During the offseason, Martin was signed by the New York Yankees (sometimes called the Highlanders) and assigned to Richmond of the Virginia League. In 1911, for the first time in his career, he played the entire season with one team, appearing in every one of the Colts’ 118 games. He also improved at the plate, hitting .318 for the season, an average he did not reach again until the 1920s. After the Virginia League season ended, Martin was ordered to report to New York. Although he expected to play in a few American League games, it did not happen. By October he was playing for his hometown Plainfield independent club, which won the championship of the Central New Jersey Baseball League. Gambling was rife at baseball games in those days, and large sums of money exchanged hands as Plainfield defeated Somerville in the decisive game by a score of 2-1. Both clubs were stocked with professional players, including at least three major leaguers (Cy Seymour, Andy Coakley, and Red Kleinow.) Martin spent the winter teaching finer points of the game to members of the Plainfield High School baseball team.
Martin started the 1912 season with the Rochester Hustlers of the International League. While there he caught the eye of the Boston Nationals, who offered $4,000 for him, but he was already the property of the Highlanders. The big-league club immediately called him up and he made his major-league debut on April 25, a few days after his 25th birthday. The right-hander stood 5-feet-9 and weighed 159 pounds during his inaugural season in “The Show.” During most of the 1912 season, Martin was the Highlanders’ regular shortstop, but he failed to hit well enough to remain with the club (.225) and in August he was traded along with Jack Quinn to Rochester for shortstop Tommy McMillan, and finished the season with Rochester. This trade turned out to be one of the most lop-sided deals in the history of baseball, as McMillan never played a game in the majors after 1912 and Quinn went on to win over 200 big-league games from 1913 to 1933. Martin remained with the Hustlers in 1913, hitting .294. In September he was drafted by the Boston Braves.
The Braves had the amazingly agile Rabbit Maranville at shortstop, so they decided to use Martin as a backup for Charlie Deal at third base. Martin and Deal competed for duties at the hot corner during the first half of the season. By midseason it was apparent that the light-hitting Martin was not going to win the competition, so he was traded to Philadelphia for outfielder Josh Devore on July 3. At that time the Braves were in last place in the National League, so Martin had no part in their drive for the pennant. Martin is not even mentioned in Tom Meany’s account of the Miracle Braves.
Martin finished the 1914 season with the Phillies, playing his final major-league game on October 6. Although he signed with the Phillies for 1915, he did not get into any games for them that season. On May 4 he was optioned to St. Paul of the American Association. In two consecutive years he had started the season with the eventual National League champion, but was long gone before World Series time.
After one year in St. Paul (where, as usual, he hit poorly but fielded brilliantly), Martin was sold to Milwaukee of the same league. A Milwaukee sportswriter welcomed him: “Martin, who was a Saint last year under a Philadelphia option, was one of the keenest players in the A.A. last season. His work … fairly sparkled. … Martin is only 22 [sic] years old and looks like one of the most promising youngsters in the game. He is a wonderfully clever fielder, has a great whip and covers an ocean of ground.”7 Jack played for the Brewers from 1916 through 1918. He managed the club from July through September in 1916.
In 1919 the San Antonio club of the Texas League purchased Martin from Milwaukee for $500. He was named captain of the Aces and thrilled San Antonio fans with his brilliant fielding. One sportswriter penned the following tribute: “Capt. Jack Martin pulled one of the most sensational one-handed spears that has ever been seen on the local lot. Robertson was at the bat. He ripped off a burner directly at second base. The ball took a high bound. Martin went after it, grabbed it with his bare mitt, touching the bag, forcing Patterson at second, and threw out Robertson at first. While we are on the subject of Jack Martin it should be said that the doughty little infielder is playing the greatest game of his career and recently he has taken almost entire control of the team. He directs the play and when a pitcher is going bad, he does the yanking. … Since Martin has taken more active control the playing of the Aces has improved materially.”8
But Martin spent only half of the season in San Antonio, then he was on the move again. He finished 1919 in St. Paul; he played for Atlanta of the Southern Association in 1920; and in 1921 and 1922 he managed the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Class C Florida State League. Late in 1922 he was back in St. Paul for his third stint with the Saints. He played a few games for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in 1923. In 1924 he was with St. Petersburg of the Florida Sate League until that circuit disbanded on August 6. He finished the season with Newark of the International League.
Martin was out of Organized Baseball as a player for four years, then returned to the playing field for the Springfield Senators of the Three-I League in 1929 and 1930. He played his last game for the Senators at the age of 43. During his 20 years in professional ball, he had played for 12 minor-league and three major-league clubs. His best years at the plate were the two seasons with Daytona, when he hit .313 in 1921 and .336 in 1922. Wherever he played, he drew praise for his fielding. He often said that he was a mediocre player, never a star, yet he was proud of what he accomplished. He was especially proud of the fact that among the past and future major leaguers he managed at Milwaukee was Jim Thorpe, hero of the 1912 Olympics and (according to the Associated Press) the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th century.
Martin married Myra Hinkle in 1912. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Norma. Throughout his lifetime he maintained his residence in New Jersey. From 1954 he resided in Brick Township and was active in civic affairs. In 1978 he was honored by the Brick Township Council for having been an inspiration to the youth of the community. He continued his interest in baseball. In his later years he spent his winters in Florida and was an annual visitor to the Yankees’ spring training games. When the Yankee Alumni Association was founded in 1977, investigation revealed that Martin was the oldest living ex-Yankee. “I never lost my enthusiasm for baseball,” he said. “It was a tremendous thrill when Mr. (George) Steinbrenner started the Yankee Alumni Association. When they sent me the alumni pen it was one of the highlights of my life.”9
Until he was in his 90s he attended old-timer games, where he enjoyed being introduced as the oldest living former New York Yankee. After having been introduced to a crowd at Yankee Stadium on June 21, 1977, he suffered a heart attack. He was taken to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and was never able to leave. While in the hospital he gave out autographed pictures of himself to the doctors and nurses. On the Fourth of July 1980, Jack Martin died at the age of 93. He was buried in Laurelton Cemetery, near his Brick Township home.
This biography is included in "The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston's Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions" (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
Jack Martin player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
1 New Brunswick Times, October 13, 1909.
2 As reported in the New Brunswick Times, August 10, 1909.
4 New Brunswick Times, March 17, 1910.
5 New Brunswick Times, June 7, 1910.
6 New Brunswick Times, June 11, 1910.
7 Lester B. March, January 8, 1916; clipping in National Baseball Hall of Fame file.
8 San Antonio Evening News, June 7, 1919.
9 1977 Yankee Scorebook in files at National Baseball Hall of Fame.