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Happy Birthday Buck Martinez

Jays vs Cardinals Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Everybody’s favourite play-by-play commentator Buck Martinez turns 74 today.

Buck had a 17-season career as a catcher in the major leagues. 6 of those seasons were with the Blue Jays. He worked as the right-handed half of a very successful platoon pairing with Ernie Whitt. Buck was a good glove/bad bat, backup catcher for most of his career, but Martinez did learn to turn on a pitch with the Jays. He hit ten home runs in two consecutive seasons for the Jays, both in less than 300 PA. Whitt similarly learned how to pull a pitch. Between them, they hit 21 home runs in 1982 and 27 in 1983. So for a bit, the Jays got good work from their catchers.

You do have to admire Cito Gaston’s ability as a hitting coach with some players. Nothing in either Whitt’s or Martinez’s history suggested they would be able to hit homers. Add in that Cito worked with Rance Mulliniks, Lloyd Moesby, George Bell, and Jesse Barfield.

Buck’s playing career pretty much ended on a collision at home plate on July 9, 1985, at Kingdome in Seattle. Phil Bradley ran over him on this play. If you look at the video, that was one fantastic throw from Barfield to get Bradley at the plate and then another good throw from Bell in left, after Buck’s overthrow, to get Gorman Thomas the second out at home on the play. A 9-2-7-2 double play. Buck broke a leg and dislocated an ankle on the play. He did try a comeback in 1986 but only hit .181/.271/.269.

Buck went into broadcasting after he retired as a player, working as a radio colour analyst, then moving to TV with TSN. He also did some ESPN games.

After 2000, Toronto GM Gord Ash decided that, since Buck could talk about baseball, he could also manage. Buck shepherded the Jays to an 80-82 record in 2001 and then started 2002 20-33 before the Jays fired him. It isn’t like he had the 1927 Yankees and messed them up. No one could have led that team to the playoffs.

Buck went back to the broadcast booth, doing colour for the Orioles. He also worked weekend games for TBS. In 2010 he took over from Jaime Campbell, doing play-by-play for the Jays games on RSN. As much as I liked him as an analyst with Jim Hughson and Dan Shulman, I’m less thrilled with his play-by-play. Maybe it is because they teamed him up with Pat Tabler. However, I do like him more teamed up with Dan.

I still await an announcement telling us if Buck will be back in the broadcast booth this season. But, with Dan dropping the World Series radio gig on ESPN to stay with the Jays down the stretch, it appears we will be getting more of Dan. But we don’t know if Buck or Pat will be his partner or if they will go with someone new.

After the tough year he’s had battling cancer, I could understand him wanting to spend more time with his family. He sounded just like the Buck of old when he returned after his time away. I missed him when he was gone. His first game back was a very much-deserved love in.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Buck. Have a good one.