Buck in the saddle
Blue Jays' Martinez slips seamlessly into skipper's spot
Updated: Saturday March 03, 2001 4:39 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buck Martinez did not come into his new gig as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in what you might call a "typical" fashion. No minor-league ladder climbing. No bus rides through the bush leagues. No learning at the elbow of the wise old bench coach.
No, Buck Martinez stepped from his playing days straight to a place behind a microphone and looked at the game of baseball that way. "Outside the ropes." he calls it.
And then, last November, he got the call. Just like that.
Now he's a big-league manager.
"You know what surprises me most?" he asks, leaning comfortably against the bat rack in the visitors dugout at Tampa's Legends Field on Friday, an hour before his Jays played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game. "How comfortable I am.
Martinez is the latest of a lot of ballplayers-turned-broadcasters-turned-skippers. Lou Boudreau was talked into it for the Chicago Cubs back in 1960. Jerry Coleman jumped for the San Diego Padres in 1980. Lou Piniella did some broadcasting before taking over the Cincinnati Reds, Joe Torre did it before becoming the acknowledged best manager in the business with the New York Yankees.
There are others -- Larry Dierker for the Houston Astros, Bob Brenly, who takes over this season with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- but it would be hard to find one as cozy back in the stirrups as Martinez.
A catcher for 17 big-league seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers and Jays (1981-86), Martinez has seen the game from just about every angle, inside and outside of the ropes. He hasn't seen it all, but he's seen most of it.
The challenge now for Martinez, 52, is to take all that accumulated knowledge and find a way to get it across to a breed of players that is completely different than when he played. To do that, he has to break through what he calls the "Whatever" attitude.
"This is a social thing," says Martinez, who debuted Thursday with a 6-4 win over the Yanks up the road in Dunedin. "[That attitude] that ... 'Whatever. Things will take care of themselves,'... well, they don't. You have to make things happen."
Martinez's easy-going, friendly style may be his most useful managerial tool. Yet it is his enthusiasm for the game -- just to be back "inside the ropes" -- that he wants most to instill in his players.
Not that they don't have it, he insists. He just wants to fuel it a little more.
"When [Yankees outfielder] Paul O'Neill smashes a water cooler ... I love that," says Martinez. "I wish I had 10 Al Leiters on this team, with that kind of enthusiasm.
"And when things are going well, I want somebody to show me that they're having fun playing the game. Champions have a tendency to wear their emotions on their sleeves."
Martinez says he has learned a lot from his broadcasting days, when he regularly picked the brains of some of the best managers in the game. He's surrounded himself with a veteran coaching staff, too, and has a power-laden team headed by slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado
The Jays are up against it in the American League East, though, as they have been ever since Joe Carter's bottom-of-the-ninth home run propelled them to a World Series title in 1993. The Yankees seemingly have no spending limit and the Boston Red Sox look strong again.
Still, if Martinez's enthusiasm and style rubs off on his players at all, the Jays just might be able to pull off a surprise this season.