Marty Griffin made a name for himself pitching in the Pacific Coast League, but fell short in his one chance in the major leagues. He was a native of San Francisco, and his first five seasons in professional baseball were spent with his hometown San Francisco Seals, though most of 1927 was in Nebraska with the Lincoln Links of the Western League. Play in the Coast League was comparable to major-league standards, with the actual majors of the day not having a team west of St. Louis. His time in the big leagues was with the Boston Red Sox, where he was 0-3 with a 5.02 earned run average for the last-place (57-96) team.
He was born to Bartholomew and Delia Griffin. Delia was a native of Ireland who had arrived in the United States in 1882. At the time of the 1910 census, she had borne five children (and survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Martin was the fourth-born. Bartholomew was a Californian by birth, employed as a foreman in a cordage works. Ten years later, in 1920, he was a tool clerk in a shipyard, but Martin’s two older brothers, William and Maurice, were both working as rope makers.
All sources agree that Marty was born on September 2. The year is the only question. Most baseball sources today give the year as 1901, and that is the date indicated on the State of California Certificate of Death. His wife gave his birth year as 1902 in the questionnaire she completed for the Hall of Fame. Some baseball records of the days in which he played gave the year as 1906.
Griffin’s first year in professional baseball was 1923. He pitched in one game for the San Francisco Seals, and won it. He’d won 16 games the year before, despite a sore arm, apparently pitching in semipro ball.1 The San Francisco Chronicle noted him with the Seals in early May: “A well set-up youth named Martin Griffin warmed up with Sam Agnew before the game. He was signed on the say-so of Truck Egan, the old slugger. He has been pitching for the Bass-Heuter Company’s team, and will be sent to Samoa, Cal., where he will get a chance to practice.”2 The paper likened his pitching style to Joe Corbett. He had a “natural side arm delivery and he pitched what the players call a ‘sinker.’”3
He not only led the Samoa team in pitching, but also in hitting. He got a chance to start for the Seals on October 10. He pitched a complete game, beating Oakland 5-3, allowing 10 hits and two walks.4 Over the winter, he pitched locally for the Berrios Auto Painters ballclub.
In the 1924 regular season, Griffin appeared in 50 games for Bert Ellison’s San Francisco team, posting a 16-14 record with a 3.19 ERA over 251 innings pitched. As early as late August, he was being noticed by scouts, notably Bob Connery of the New York Yankees.5 He was large for the day, standing 6-feet-2 and weighing 200 pounds, as high as 220 early on.6
Despite his earned run average increasing to 4.26 in the 1925 season and missing a fair amount of time in the summer due to a sore arm, he duplicated the 16 wins, while only losing four games. The Seals, who had fallen a game and a half short in 1924, won the PCL pennant in 1925 with room to spare, 12 ½ games over second-place Salt Lake City. Griffin’s teammate Doug McWeeney (20-5) and he shared the league-best winning percentage. McWeeney was named to the league’s all-star team, but Griffin was not. Griffin’s best day was likely the May 8 road game against the Vernon Tigers, which he won 17-2, while hitting a home run, a double, and two singles in his four times at bat—one of the singles only missing becoming another homer by about a foot.7 He hit .274 for the team, and in the June 14 game helped his cause immensely with five RBIs in a 12-6 win over the Angels.
It was first to worst in 1926; the Seals finished in eighth place, 36 games out of first place. They’d lost McWeeney but also Hal Rhyne and future Hall of Famer Paul Waner. The Los Angeles Angels dominated. Griffin’s record reflected the collapse, at 7-17 (his ERA bumped up to 4.56). Griffin had hurt his arm sufficiently that he was no longer able to effectively throw his trademark sinker.8
In December 1926, the Seals sold his contract, on option, to the Western League’s Lincoln (Nebraska) Links. It was actually a step down, to Single-A from the Double-A Pacific Coast League. On the first day of 1927, Griffin married Emma Marie Wickes of San Francisco. The Seals got good pitching in the early going in 1927, and he was unconditionally released to Lincoln on May 9. He was 14-12 with an uncertain ERA for the last-place Links. After the Western League season was over, he got into a pair of games for the Seals, but was charged with a loss in both games. In December, the Seals sold his contract to the Fort Worth Panthers.
He began 1928 with Fort Worth, until his contract was sold on July 21 to the Boston Red Sox. With the Texas League’s Panthers, he had been 8-9 (3.53). It was a straight cash deal; Griffin had been recommended by scout Pat Monahan.9
Griffin joined the Red Sox in Cleveland on the 25th and that very day had his big-league debut, pitching one inning of hitless ball, the bottom of the seventh, with a roller to the first baseman, a foul popup to the third baseman, and his first major-league strikeout. He was the only one of four Boston pitchers—one of them right-fielder Doug Taitt, brought in to pitch—who didn’t let in a run in the 15-5 loss to the Indians.
Three days later he was given a start in the first game of a doubleheader at Detroit. He got his first decision, a 7-1 loss thanks to surrendering five runs in 5 1/3 innings. In Chicago on August 1, he started again, this time lasting five innings but giving up six runs (five earned).
After a couple of long relief stints, Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan gave Griffin a third start. This one was at Fenway Park against visiting Cleveland. Griffin went 3 2/3, allowing five runs (three earned) before being replaced. Three starts, 0-3. That remains his lifetime mark in the majors.
He appeared five more times in relief, finishing the season with 11 appearances and a 5.02 earned run average. He hit better—four hits in 13 at-bats for a .308 average. He struck out three times. He drove in one run, on September 7 against the Athletics, but it was in another loss for the team. In 1928, the Red Sox only won 57 games; they lost 96 and finished in last place. The team ERA was 4.29. Griffin had nine changes in the field, and handled them all without an error.
The Red Sox didn’t even wait until the season was over, perhaps exercising a clause in the contract, and returned him to Fort Worth.10 By February 1929, he had been sold to the Mobile Bears (Class-A Southern Association), for whom he was 10-19 (4.89 ERA) in 42 games as the Bears finished in seventh place.
In 1930, Griffin worked in the International League, pitching for the Montreal Royals. He won 14 and lost 12 with a 3.83 ERA.
His final season was 1931, starting with Montreal but also pitching for Reading and Indianapolis as of May 27. He was 8-9 in the IL and 2-6 for Indianapolis in the American Association. Indianapolis sent him to Reading on July 24.
It was back to semipro baseball after the season and he is seen pitching with the Los Angeles White Kings in late October
At the time of the 1940 census, Marty and Emma were living together in Los Angeles and he was working in a battery plant. He suffered from coronary sclerosis and died of same on November 19, 1951. At the time of his death, he was employed as a supervisor at the Firestone Tire Rubber Company in Los Angeles.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Griffin’s player file and player questionnaire (completed by his widow) from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 The Associated Press article is unclear for whom he pitched in 1922. See San Diego Union, March 12, 1923.
2 San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 1923.
3 San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1928.
4 Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1923.
5 San Francisco Chronicle, August 30, 1924.
6 San Francisco Chronicle, February 26, 1925. The Boston Herald called him a “man mountain.” See the August 13, 1928 edition.
7 Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1925.
8 San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1928.
9 Boston Herald, July 21, 1928.
10 Omaha World Herald, September 21, 1928.