Ramón Martínez

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf

Ramon Martinez (Courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers)Pedro Martínez, the Hall of Famer with three Cy Young Awards, is the most famous pitcher in the family, but older brother Ramón Martínez was outstanding in his own right. “What I know of baseball, and life off the field, I owe to Ramón,” said Pedro. “Everything I am I learned from Ramón.”1 Three years after debuting with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramón won 20 games and tied a franchise game-record with 18 strikeouts in 1990. In the course of his injury-plagued career, he also hurled a no-hitter en route to a 135-88 record in parts of 14 seasons.

Ramón Jaime Martinez was born on March 22, 1968, in Manoguayabo, an impoverished town about nine miles west of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. He was the first of six children born to Paolino, a janitor at a local school, and Leopoldina Martinez, who took in laundry and found piecemeal work. They raised their family in a humble abode with a corrugated tin roof and without an indoor bathroom. For generations on the small island nation, baseball had served as escape, albeit temporary, from the realities of poverty and hunger, and that was no different for the Martinez family.

Paolino, a former pitcher who turned down a big-league tryout in the 1950s because he couldn’t afford a plane ticket to the United States, raised his children to love the sport as much as he did. By his early teens, Ramón seemed like a natural, the star of his local squad, Los Bravos, which played 51 weeks a year, pausing only at Christmas. The lanky right-hander modeled his pitching after his idol, Mario Soto, the star Dominican hurler for the Cincinnati Reds.

At the age of 15, the 6-foot-3, rail-thin, 130-pound Ramón caught the attention of Ralph Avila, the legendary Dodgers scout and the most influential and best-connected baseball insider on the island. Martinez quit high school after his sophomore year to move into Avila’s baseball academy, a showcase for big-league prospects.

Defying expectations, Ramón was on the international stage in the summer of 1984 as a member of the Dominican national baseball team, which Avila also directed. Baseball was an exhibition sport at the Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles. The youngest player on any of the participating teams, the 16-year-old Martinez took the mound at Dodger Stadium in front of dozens of major-league scouts and hurled three scoreless innings against Taiwan, sealing his fate. Soon thereafter Martinez tried out for the Dodgers, who signed him on September 1, 1984, on the recommendation of team scouts Avila and Eleodora Arias.

Martinez’s professional career commenced in 1985 with the Dodgers’ rookie-level club in the Gulf Coast League. The following season, he struggled on the field (4-8, 4.75 ERA) with Class-A Bakersfield in the California League, and away from the park. Almost 4,000 miles from home, he was homesick and lost weight, which affected his strength and stamina. In the offseason, the Dodgers tried to “fatten” his now 6-foot-4 frame to 160 pounds. That winter Martinez donned the uniform of the Tigres de Licey, the capital city’s famed team in the Dominican winter league, making seven relief appearances. He returned stateside in 1987 and set the Class-A Florida State League on fire (16-5, 2.17), earning all-star honors with Vero Beach. The unequivocal gem of the Dodgers farm system, Martinez was in high demand at baseball’s winter meetings in 1987, but had acquired the “untouchable” tag from VP Fred Claire.

Added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, Martinez participated in spring training in 1988, drawing rave reviews from everyone who saw him pitch. He’s “further developed than any 19-year-old I’ve ever seen, including Dwight Gooden,” cooed Karl Kuehl, the Dodgers director of player development.2 With just 51 starts in the minor leagues, Martinez began the season with Double-A San Antonio (Texas League) and progressed to Triple-A Albuquerque (Pacific Coast League). With a combined 13-6 slate (2.58 ERA), it was only a matter of time before he was returned to the city where he first made headlines.

Martinez’s boyhood dream was realized when the Dodgers summoned him to replace 43-year-old Don Sutton in August 1988. In his debut on August 13, the second youngest player in baseball (behind Roberto Alomar of the San Diego Padres) held the San Francisco Giants to four hits and a run in 7⅔ innings at Dodger Stadium, yet emerged with a no-decision. “Ramonamania” was in full throttle when he picked up his first victory, tossing seven innings and yielding one unearned run to the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium to lower his ERA to 1.73 after four starts. “This guy’s got his head in the game,” commented catcher Mike Scioscia, and isn’t afraid to make pitches.”3 Skipper Tom Lasorda praised Martinez’s maturity and mused, “[H]e doesn’t get rattled easily.”4 Martinez yielded more earned runs (10) than innings pitched (9⅔) over the last month of the season and was not on the postseason roster for the NL West champs.

In preparation for another spring training with the Dodgers, Martinez pitched once again for Licey, posting a 9-2 record with a sub-2.00 ERA in about 100 innings (including postseason).5 He was assigned to Albuquerque to start the 1989 campaign in order to work on developing a curveball to augment his overpowering mid-90s fastball and deceptive changeup.

With an 8-1 record and averaging more than a strikeout an inning for the Dukes, Martinez was called up to fill a temporary hole in the Dodgers staff. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Braves in Atlanta on June 5, Martinez dazzled everyone, tossing a six-hit shutout and fanning nine. After the game, VP Claire announced that Martinez would be returning to Albuquerque immediately. Though dejected and hurt by his demotion, Martinez blanked Vancouver on four hits in his next start, in the PCL. He was recalled after the All-Star break and finished with a 6-4 record (3.19 ERA).

The Tinseltown press had a field day with Martinez’s lanky body, describing him as “the physical antithesis to Fernando Valenzuela … even skinnier than Orel Hershiser,”6 and “built like an exclamation point”;7 however, the hurler was no china doll. He tossed 143 pitches in shutting out the Braves in Los Angeles and whiffing 12 on September 15.

“This year I’m here to stay,” promised the 22-year-old Martinez in 1990 as the Dodgers kicked off the centennial anniversary of their franchise. “My goal is to win 15 games. But I think I can be a 20-game winner in the major leagues.”8 Martinez was right – on both accounts. Bill Plaschke, sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, described the season as Martinez’s “climb toward stardom.”9

Named the club’s fourth starter, behind Valenzuela, Mike Morgan, and Tim Belcher, Martinez’s national coming-of-age party took place on June 4 in Chavez Ravine when he blanked the visiting Braves on three hits and tied the club record of 18 strikeouts held by the immortal Sandy Koufax despite developing a blister on the middle finger of his right hand. The Braves hitters, quipped Plaschke, swung like “punch-drunk boxers [who] could barely lay a bat” on Martinez’s offerings.10

That victory was the first in a remarkable stretch of five starts during which he won four times, produced a 1.10 ERA and fanned 52 in 41 innings while averaging 130 pitches per outing to earn the NL Pitcher of the Month Award.11 In his only All-Star Game appearance, he tossed one hitless inning, walking two and striking out one. The Dodgers made a late-season challenge to the Cincinnati Reds in the NL West, ultimately finishing in second place, and Martinez closed out the season on a strong note.

When the club needed him most, Martinez won all four of his decisions by complete game in the last month of the season. In his final appearance, he tossed a five-hitter against the Padres to become the second youngest Dodger to reach the 20-win plateau, following only 21-year-old Ralph Branca in 1947. Martinez led the majors in complete games (12), ranked third in the NL in innings (234⅔), tied for second in strikeouts (223 with Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets), and finished a distant second to Pittsburgh’s Doug Drabek (22-6) in the Cy Young Award.

Despite missing the first 11 days of camp in a contract dispute, Martinez picked up in 1991 where he had left off the previous season. He concluded April with consecutive five-hit shutouts, the first two of seven consecutive victories. “He’s one of the unique pitchers in baseball,” gushed Lasorda. “He don’t throw no [sic] forkballs. He doesn’t throw no cut [sic] fastball. He comes out and throws hard. He just plays old-fashioned hardball.”12 Still essentially a fastball/changeup pitcher, Martinez was “smarter,” opined Plaschke. “He no longer thinks he has to overpower every hitter to retire them.”13

Named to his second consecutive All-Star squad, Martinez won his league-leading 12th game on July 7, but the victory proved costly. His strained his left hip and missed the midsummer classic (and was replaced by teammate Mike Morgan). Seemingly headed toward another 20-win campaign, Martinez improved his record to 14-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.25 with a complete-game six-hitter against the Mets on July 30 to maintain the Dodgers’ 4½-game lead in the West.

Looking fatigued, Martinez lost his next three starts (15 earned runs in 17⅔ innings), then suffered a bruised right bicep on a line drive by the Padres Jack Howell on August 20. That injury proved to have lasting consequences on Martinez’s season, and perhaps career. An MRI revealed no structural damage and Martinez did not miss a start, but he was obviously not the same pitcher thereafter, leading Plaschke to ask, “What’s wrong with Martinez?”14

Robbed of his fastball and requiring cortisone injections to reduce the inflammation in his arm, Martinez tossed seven scoreless frames against the Braves on September 22 to keep the Dodgers in first place; however, he also strained his right hip. He lost his last two starts as the Dodgers fell out of first place in the final week of the season. Martinez’s numbers looked good on paper (17-13, 3.27 ERA in 220⅓ innings), but his injury-induced collapse over the final two months (3-8, 5.50 ERA) and his decreased strikeout total (150) had the Dodgers concerned.

Martinez’s excitement of having his brother Pedro in camp in 1992 (Pedro had been signed by the Dodgers in 1989) was tempered by chronic pain in his left hip, probably the result of overcompensating for his injured arm. The now 24-year-old hurler struggled in spring training and was shelled on Opening Day (seven hits and three runs in 2⅔ innings) and didn’t notch his first win until a month into the season.

Naïvely convinced that Martinez would tell them if he was injured, team brass blamed his poor mechanics for his lack of effectiveness and control problems and not his ailing hip, which required several examinations by team physician Frank Jobe.15 While the Dodgers plummeted to their first last-place finish in the NL West and their most losses (99) since 1908 (when the team was known as the Brooklyn Superbas), Martinez was shut down for the rest of the season after his third consecutive loss, on August 25. Diagnosed with tennis elbow, Martinez (8-11, 4.00 ERA in 150⅔ innings) began to hear the rumblings that he might be washed up after five seasons, plagued by hip and arm woes.16

A bright spot in Ramón’s offseason was his marriage to Doris Altgracia Abria Leonardo in January 1993. They welcomed two daughters into the world, Doranni and Kisha.

Martinez’s health was the Dodgers’ biggest question mark heading into the 1993 season. With graybeards Hershiser (34), Tom Candiotti (35), and Kevin Gross (32) in the rotation, the club needed its young gun to bounce back to have a chance at the division crown. Playing through nagging pain in his left hip, Martinez won two of five decisions in April, acquiring the “tough-luck moniker” as the Dodgers were shut out twice in his losses.

He kept that sobriquet the entire campaign as the offensively challenged Dodgers finished 12th of 14 teams in runs scored after ranking dead last the season before. Six days after tossing a three-hit shutout against the Rockies on May 23, Martinez fired a four-hitter to beat the Pirates and extend the Dodgers’ winning streak to 11 games, their longest since 1976.

While the Dodgers hovered around .500 all season, Martinez staked his claim as staff ace by blanking the Cardinals on four hits on August 22 to improve his record to 9-8 and lower his ERA to 2.87 But a combination of arm fatigue and hip pain played havoc with Martinez’s effectiveness and control in his last seven starts, during which he won just once and posted a 6.19 ERA. Despite his pedestrian record (10-12), Martinez joined Hershiser, Candiotti, and Gross as a member of the 200-plus-inning club and produced a sturdy ERA (3.44, well below the 4.18 league average), but also paced the circuit in walks (104).

Spring training was bittersweet for Martinez in 1994. His brother Pedro, who had emerged as a reliable reliever in his rookie season, had been traded to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields in the offseason. Ramón made a statement in his season debut, fanning 10, the first time he reached double digits in strikeouts since August 9, 1990, and surrendered just one run to the Florida Marlins on April 7, but was collared with the 1-0 loss.

By the end of the month, Martinez sported a 5.23 ERA, prompting discussion that he should be removed from the starting rotation. He found his groove in May and began June with two consecutive shutouts as part of 20 consecutive scoreless innings. In the latter of those victories, he was drilled on the wrist by a liner from the Marlins’ Jerry Browne in the sixth inning and finished with a three-hitter. “[S]ome of his pitches are unhittable,” declared pitching coach Ron Perranoski.17

Martinez had been working diligently with the former reliever to improve his mechanics and to develop a more compact delivery that exerted less pressure on his arm and hip. Though subsequent X-rays of the pitcher’s wrist were negative, the Dodgers nonetheless held their collective breath. If anything, Martinez was streaky: an ace when he could control his fastball or likely to be shelled if he couldn’t.

As talk of a players strike heated up, so did Martinez. He won his last four starts, culminating in a seven-hit shutout against the Reds in Cincinnati on August 11, four days after the birth of his first child, to keep the Dodgers (58-56) in first place. In what must have been an eerie feeling in the clubhouse prior to that game, the Dodgers representative to the players union, Brett Butler, led discussions about what the players would need to do after the game when major-league baseball’s first work stoppage since 1981 was set to begin. Martinez (12-7, 3.97 finished sixth in the NL in both wins and innings (170⅔) and re-established himself as one of the league’s premier hurlers.

Los Angeles sportswriter Jim Murray once described Martinez as perpetually “overlooked” and “never the glamour pitcher of the staff.”18 He spanned the era of Dodgers icons Valenzuela and Hershiser to Hideo Nomo, the celebrated Japanese phenom who debuted in 1995. The lack of media attention, even in Los Angeles, enabled Martinez to focus on pitching.

Free from chronic hip pain for the first time since in four years, he began the 1995 campaign by winning four of his first five starts, including Opening Day. On May 5 he became an answer to a trivia question by becoming the first visiting pitcher to beat the Colorado Rockies in their new ballpark, Coors Field. The next time he faced the Rockies, he was booed by his hometown fans when he was yanked after yielding eight earned runs in 4⅔ innings on July 2.

He atoned for his three consecutive poor starts in Dodger Stadium, long considered one of the best pitcher’s parks in the majors, by tossing a no-hitter against the Florida Marlins on July 14, fanning eight and allowing only one walk. Bob Nightengale reported that Martinez abandoned his changeup and occasional curveball after the third inning, firing only fastballs the rest of the game.19

Just 27 years old but the longest-tenured hurler on the staff, Martinez with his low-key, good-spirited personality helped deflate the pressure building in the Dodgers’ season-long pennant chase. “[E]very time the Dodgers looked as if they were in a panic,” opined Murray, “trying to look over both shoulders at once, Martinez calmed them down.”20

Martinez went 9-1 after the All-Star break, helping the Dodgers take the division crown in the last week of the season by one game over the Rockies. In what proved to be his last full injury-free season, Martinez (17-7, 3.66 ERA) finished third in the circuit in victories and innings (206⅓). Pitching on seven days’ rest, Martinez was shelled in Game One of the NL Division Series, surrendering seven runs in 4⅓ innings in the team’s disappointing three-game sweep by the Reds.

A highly-sought free agent in the offseason, Martinez became the highest-paid pitcher in Dodgers history when he signed a three-year deal for a reported $15 million. After winning on Opening Day, Martinez suffered a severely torn right groin muscle in his next start when he slipped in the batter’s box.

Sidelined for five weeks, he reasserted himself as the Dodgers’ stopper in a tense season that saw Lasorda retire due to health problems, replaced by coach Bill Russell. “As a rookie,” said Martinez of his injury-induced transformation as a pitcher, “I was just trying to blow the fastball by everybody. Now I realize to win, you don’t have to do that.”21

On August 12 he notched his 100th career victory, and wouldn’t lose again for the rest of the season as the Dodgers battled the upstart Padres for the division crown. In one of baseball’s most anticipated matchups, Ramón faced his brother Pedro on August 29 in Montreal. The game unfolded as a classic pitchers’ duel. Pedro went the distance, fanning a then career-high 12 and yielding just six hits; however, Ramón emerged victorious, holding the Expos to three hits over eight innings in a tense 2-1 win.

Martinez won four straight starts in September, including an overpowering six-hit shutout (the last of 20 in his career) with 12 punchouts over the Padres on September 19 and then held the Giants to two hits over seven innings on August 24 to give the Dodgers a 1½-game lead. Needing only one win in the final four games to claim the crown, the Dodgers lost all four to finish in second place, but secured the wild-card spot as a consolation prize. The Dodgers were swept again in the NLDS, but that was no fault of Martinez, who tossed three-hit, one-run ball over eight innings in a Game One matchup with the Braves’ Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz in an eventual 2-1 loss in 10 innings.

A fierce competitor who played through pain and never used it as an excuse for poor performances, Martinez battled through an up-and-down campaign in 1997. After a rough outing on June 14, he was diagnosed with a small tear in his left rotator cuff. Opting for rest instead of potentially career-ending surgery, Martinez returned nine weeks later and was bombed for six runs in three innings against the Mets on August 20. Fortunately for him, that game was rained out and the statistics deleted.

With the Dodgers holding a one-game lead in the divisional race, Martinez got a second chance in the first game of a doubleheader on August 25. He held the Pirates to five hits and one earned run in five innings to emerge victorious en route to winning his first three starts after his long layoff and giving the Dodgers momentum for the stretch run. But the team lost 12 of its final 19 to fall out of first and missed the wild-card berth, too.

The Dodgers were optimistic that Martinez’s late-season success would transfer into the 1998 campaign; however, the hurler’s importance was not confined to the diamond. Los Angeles sportswriter Ross Newhan described him as one of the leaders in a diverse clubhouse and a role model for not just pitchers, but all of the Latinos on the club.22

Only 30 years old, Martinez was the grizzled veteran, whose drive to compete in his 11th season despite injuries inspired his team. He was known as a tireless worker and physical-fitness nut who ran more than rookies. In his second start of the season, he flirted with a no-hitter for 7⅓ innings and departed after eight innings of one-run ball against the Reds.

In May he won all four decisions, including a two-hitter against the Diamondbacks. Through it all, his shoulder ached. On June 14, the exact date as the previous year, pain forced Martinez to retire early from a start. An MRI revealed more extensive damage to his rotator cuff, as well as cartilage damage, ending a feel-good comeback (7-3, 2.83) and placing his career in jeopardy.

Martinez underwent rotator cuff surgery in late June 1997. He played three more seasons, but was no longer the same pitcher. Granted free agency in the offseason, Martinez had few suitors. On March 11, 1999, he signed a two-year pact with the Boston Red Sox in order to have a chance to pitch alongside his brother, who had been traded to the Red Sox the previous year.

After an extensive rehab in the minors, Ramón surprised everyone as a September call-up, winning his last two decisions, yielding a combined six hits and one run in 13 innings. With the wild-card Red Sox on verge of being swept in the ALDS, Martinez tossed 5⅔ gritty innings, yielding two runs, but did not factor into the decision in the Red Sox’ eventual victory. The Red Sox took the next two games to advance to the ALCS, where they lost in five games to the New York Yankees. Martinez was collared with the loss in Game Two, surrendering three runs in 6⅔ innings. Martinez’s second season in Boston was an extended nightmare. Often the beneficiary of Boston’s potent offense, he went 10-8, but posted a 6.13 ERA and averaged less than five innings per start.

A free agent once again, Martinez inked an incentive-laden contract with the Dodgers, but was released during spring training in 2001. Subsequently signing with the Pirates, Martinez was granted his unconditional release after four starts, thus bringing his big-league career to an end after 11 seasons.

Despite his injuries, Martinez retired with the second-most wins for a pitcher from the Dominican Republic, trailing only Juan Marichal (243). Pedro passed brother Ramón’s win total in 2002 en route to 219 in his career. Ramón logged 1,895⅔ innings with a 3.67 ERA, completed 37 games, and tossed 20 shutouts. He was especially tough on Ozzie Smith (2-for-25, .080), Jay Bell (3-for-37, .081), and Ryne Sandberg (7-for-40, .175); but struggled against Roberto Alomar (13-for-29, .448), Mark Grace (20-for-46, .435), and Will Clark (19-for-46, .413).

Martinez remained close to baseball after his active playing days. Involved initially in a number of pitching academies in the Dominican Republic, he was named a special-assignment pitching instructor for the Dodgers in 2010, assigned to work with Latino pitchers. He served in that capacity for five years, also adding the title of senior adviser. In 2015 he took a similar job with the Baltimore Orioles, where he was reunited with pitching coach Dave Wallace whom he had considered one of the most influential coaches in his development as a pitcher. As of 2017, Martinez still held that position.

Last revised: October 29, 2022



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, and The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record.



1 Mike Shalin, Pedro Martinez: Throwing Strikes (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 1999), 21.

2 Stan Isle, “Giants Clark Will Not Make Comparison,” The Sporting News, April 11, 1988: 6.

3 Sam McManis, “Dodgers Rookie Martinez Gets First Win at Last, 2-1,” Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1988: III, 1.

4 Sam McManis, “Dodgers Win, but Martinez Is Still Looking for His First,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1988: III, 8.

5 Ramon Martinez page, Winter Ball Data. (winterballdata.com/).

6 Sam McManis, “A Dandy Dominican,” Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1988: III, 10.

7 Mike Downey, “Dodgers Have Their Splendid Splinter,” Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1991: III, 17.

8 Bill Plaschke, “Martinez, Dodger Fans Have Ball in 2-0 Victory,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1990: III, 10.

9 Bill Plaschke, “Game of Catch Is Won by Martinez, Dodgers, 5-2,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1990: III, 1.

10 Bill Plaschke, “Martinez Strikes It Rich,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1990: III, 1. Martinez had a chance for the record with four outs to go, but recorded those outs on a popup and three groundouts, including a leaping stop by first baseman Mickey Hatcher.

11 Martinez’s pitch totals were 127, 123, 148, 117, and 134. Baseball-Reference does not provide a pitch total for the fourth game; however, the Los Angeles Times did. Bill Plaschke, “Atlanta Tires of Martinez in 5-2 Dodgers Win,” Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1990: III, 1.

12 Alan Drooz, “Dodgers, Martinez Make Win Over Phils Look Easy,” Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1991: III, 1.

13 Bill Plaschke, “American League to See a Smarter Martinez,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1991: III, 1.

14 Bill Plaschke, “Atlanta Answer Is Grand, Leaving Dodgers Slammed,” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1991: III, 1.

15 “Baseball Daily Report,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1992: III, 4.

16 Steve Dilbeck, “Dodgers: Success Very Questionable,” San Bernardino County (California) Sun, April 4, 1993: C1.

17 Maryann Hudson, “No Bullpen – Dodgers’ Martinez Does It Alone,” Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1994: A9.

18 Jim Murray, “Just Give Him the Ball, Please,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1995: III, 1.

19 Bob Nightengale, Martinez Basks in His Glory,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1995: III, 6.

20 Murray.

21 Steve Springer, “Martinez Reflects After 100th Victory,” Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1996: III, 5.

22 Ross Newhan, “Dodgers Hoping $36 Million Buys Some Leadership,” Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1998: III, 13.

Full Name

Ramón Jaime Martínez


March 22, 1968 at Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional (D.R.)

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