At the bottom of first baseman Tino Martinez's locker, as the St. Louis Cardinals opened spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., were a pair of bright red baseball cleats. Embroidered on the back of each shoe, in bold white letters two inches tall, was TINO. Now you might expect something like that from KOBE or SHAQ, but from the buttoned-down Martinez? Maybe the four World Series rings and the big dough had finally gone to his head. "Nice shoes, Mr. Big Shot," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said to Martinez during a meeting on the second day of camp. "We'll tell the clubhouse guy to put a star over your locker."
"Tony!" Martinez protested. "That's not me. I don't want my shoes that way."
The new cleats had so embarrassed Martinez that he'd worn plain red ones on his first day with the Cardinals. That afternoon he turned the shoes around in the open locker to hide the name. The next morning he found them turned back, the brilliant TINOs again visible. This time Martinez covered them with a FedEx envelope. "Awww, I don't know why Nike did that," he says, turning crimson over dinner at Shula's Steak House that night. "I just want my number on the back of my shoes. The last thing I want these guys to think is, I'm not a team guy. I'm here to work hard and to help us win."
For Martinez, us doesn't mean the Yankees anymore. While that doesn't trouble him as he prepares for his first season in the National League after 12 in the American, it was bothering hundreds of Yankees fans who turned up in Jupiter for the opening of St. Louis's camp, shouting, "We miss you, kid!" and "Thanks for the memories!" St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty shook his head at the sight of Yankees blue outnumbering Cardinals red. "The fans have really surprised me," he says. "They're all here for Tino."
As spring training started, no other player was in as strange a position as the 34-year-old Martinez. He had a surprisingly sunny disposition for someone who was coming off a 34-homer, 113-RBI season yet had been abandoned by his old club. Martinez, a free agent who had capped his sixth season in New York with a dramatic ninth-inning home run in World Series Game 4, didn't figure in the Yankees' plans once New York knew it could lure this winter's free-agent prize, first baseman Jason Giambi, from the Oakland As. The Yankees will pay the 31-year-old Giambi, who in 2001 hit four more homers and drove in seven more runs than Martinez did, $17.1 million annually for seven years. St. Louis signed Martinez for a relatively economical $7 million a season for three years, and all the Cardinals want him to do is replace Mark McGwire.
No one loved being a Yankee more than Martinez, whose leadership role grew with each season. If Bernie Williams was in a slump, Martinez would take him to lunch and tell him what a great hitter he was. So respected was Martinez that manager Joe Torre called him before making a recruiting pitch to Giambi. Derek Jeter said he wouldn't make a recruiting call. "Now that's a teammate," Martinez says. ( Roger Clemens did phone Giambi. "I was surprised," says Martinez, "but that's Roger.")
"I would have loved to have finished my career with New York," Martinez says. "I held out hope till the end that the As would re-sign Giambi. But [ George Steinbrenner] is a tough owner. If he wants Giambi, it's his team. I never got mad at the Yankees. After they signed him, I was just lucky St. Louis ended up wanting me."
When it was obvious Martinez's days in New York were numbered, he began asking the people he trusted for their opinions on where he should go. As he had with the Seattle Mariners and the Yankees, he wanted to play for a contender in a town that revered the game. Torre, who won the 1971 National League MVP with the Cardinals, told him St. Louis "treats you like royalty." Teammate Paul O'Neill, who played eight years for the Cincinnati Reds, told Martinez that St. Louis was his favorite road stop.
At the winter meetings Martinez's agent, Jim Krivacs, talked to Jocketty. A few days later Jocketty's assistant buzzed him and told him Tino Martinez was on the phone. "First time I've ever had a cold call like that from a player," says Jocketty, who is in his 23rd year in a big league front office. "I thought it was a joke, but it was Tino. He said, 'I just wanted you to hear from me how much I want to play for the Cardinals. I really admire your team and your organization.' "
The prospect of a new league was also attractive. "I can't wait to go see if the ball really does fly out of Coors Field," he says. "I can't wait to go to Wrigley and face Kerry Wood's fastball. Watching Todd Helton hit, and Jeff Bagwell and Sammy Sosa—part of the excitement of this is new parks, new cities and the challenge of seeing how I'll do in a new league."