Tino turned out to be a legend, too

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The current issue of Yankees Magazine features an article I did on Tino Martinez, who was honored Saturday at Yankee Stadium with a plaque in Monument Park. Tino still couldn’t believe it until he finally got a look at the plaque itself.

​The inscription reads:

CONSTANTINO “TINO” MARTINEZ
NEW YORK YANKEES
1996 – 2001, 2005

KNOWN FOR HIS POWERFUL BAT AND SUPERLATIVE DEFENSE AT FIRST BASE, MARTINEZ WAS A FAN FAVORITE ON FOUR YANKEES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS. HIT TWO OF THE MOST MEMORABLE HOME RUNS IN YANKEES POSTSEASON HISTORY – A GRAND SLAM IN GAME 1 OF THE 1998 WORLD SERIES AND A GAME-TYING, NINTH-INNING HOMER IN GAME 4 OF THE 2001 FALL CLASSIC. AMASSED 192 HOME RUNS AND 739 RBI IN SEVEN SEASONS WITH THE CLUB.

DEDICATED BY THE
NEW YORK YANKEES
JUNE 21, 2014

I was thinking after I finished the interview with him for the piece that I must have talked with Tino hundreds of times and thought I knew everything there was to know about him. But what I was not aware of until that interview was that Martinez wanted to succeed Don Mattingly as the Yankees’ first baseman.

It is always a tough assignment for a player to come to a new team and try to replace a legend. There is an enormous amount of pressure in that situation. This is not to say Martinez did not feel that pressure because he certainly did. He could have avoided it. There were other clubs interested, the Cubs and the Padres specifically, who coveted Martinez if the Mariners indeed were going to trade him after the 1995 season.

The Yankees were, too, of course, and Martinez told his manager, Lou Piniella, that New York was where he wanted to be. That was the part of which I was not aware beforehand. Martinez actually pushed for the trade despite knowing that a huge spotlight would be foisted on him as the man to follow Donnie Baseball.

Tino explains in the article that he had the utmost respect for Mattyingly, but that he was retiring as a player and his team needed a new first baseman. Martinez said he felt it would have been different if Mattingly had become a free agent and signed with another team. The pressure then would have beeb worse. But Mattingly’s retirement left a void, and Martinez was anxious to try and fill it.

He did all the smart things, beginning with not wearing Mattingly’s old uniform No. 23, the same numeral Martinez wore in Seattle. I think Yankees fans appreciated that sign of respect right from the get-go.

Martinez pointed out in the article and reiterated Saturday that he got off to a slow start in ’96 and that fans did not warm up to him immediately. But once he took off, so did the fans, whom he thanked Saturday.

His former manager, Joe Torre, and teammates Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill and David Cone plus former trainer Gene Monahan took part in the pregame ceremony in which Martinez continued to express surprise that he was so honored.

From now on, whenever he comes to Yankee Stadium Tino can stop by Monument Park and see that the plaque is more than a dream.

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