Fayette City pitcher had shot in the big leagues
Part 1 of 2.
It was, as Major League Baseball careers go, brief -- only seven games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955.
But that short-lived tenure was a major part of the mystique surrounding Paul Charles "Jake" Martin Jr., a promising pitcher from Fayette City who died Oct. 11 at age 79 in San Diego, where he had lived for nearly 50 years.
"Jake had the tools for the big leagues, no question about it," said Jack Young, a native of Fayette City now living in Shepherdstown, W.Va.. "My brother Bob and I have a lot of great memories about watching him play."
Young, also a standout baseball player, and his brother, who now lives in North Charleroi, are 1952 and 1949 graduates of Charleroi High School, respectively.
"Jake lived in Brownstown, the neighborhood just beyond the cemetery (Mt. Auburn) on Town Hill in Fayette City," Jack Young said. "He stood about 6-5 and was rather gangly in terms of physique. He had long arms and big hands and threw a baseball like a bullet. He was a right-hander and had a three-quarter, almost a sidearm style of delivery. He reminded us of Ewell 'The Whip' Blackwell, who pitched back then for the Cincinnati Reds."
Young recalled that Martin began pitching in organized baseball for the local Brownstown team and joined the Fayette City Legion team of the Fayette County Big Ten League after graduating from Marion High School in 1950. Young played for the Fayette City Merchants.
"I don't recall ever batting against Jake," Young said. "But I do remember that not many batters dug in against him when they were at the plate. His shortfall was a control problem. He could really fire the ball with blazing speed, but you weren't always sure where it was going. The Pirates worked pretty hard with him to improve his control, but I guess it (a professional baseball career) wasn't meant to be. He injured his arm and that was the end of it."
In the beginning
Martin was part of the 1952 Fayette City Legion team that won the North Division pennant in the Big Ten League by sweeping the best-of-five post-season series with Perryopolis.
"Perryopolis had a great team at that time," Young said. "Don Mains was their catcher and manager, and they had a big right-handed pitcher named Johnny Clay, who had been in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system. Perry and the Legion played a lot of knockdown, drag-out baseball."
The 1952 Legionnaires, who lost the league championship series four games to two to Fairchance, comprised Martin, player-manager Carl Russell, Don Phillips, Johnny Kovalchak, Clint "Tinse" Manown, Harry "Bud" Edwards, Mario Bondi, Jack Russell, Ralph "Pooch" Bartolozzi, Harry Muckle, Egidio Charielle, Tommy Felak, Hal "Lefty" Livingstone, George Kayle, Leland "Pegetti" Haywood, Walt Plevniak, Ted "The Stopper" Schneider, Freddy Briggs, Ollie Niemela, coach and catcher Caesar Zajack, business manager Joe Alberta and treasurer Jack Stockton.
Martin moved to the Van Voorhis Miners of the Mon Valley League in 1954.
He threw two no-hitters that season.
Martin switched teams again in 1955, opting to play for new manager Willie "Jeep" Zuraw's Charleroi Merchants in the Mon Valley League. Significantly, it was Monessen CIO that spoiled his debut with the Merchants on June 3 at Rec Park in Charleroi.
Martin limited Monessen to five hits but gave up as many walks and struck out six. But he made a lasting impression as a hitter in the fourth inning when he nailed one of southpaw Herb Mollard's pitches for one of the longest home runs ever in the history of the park. Reflecting on the round-tripper in his Sportraits column in The Charleroi Mail two days later, sports editor John Bunardzya wrote:
"Those who saw it ... are still raving about the tremendous home run Paul 'Jake' Martin walloped in his debut with the Merchants. It is generally believed to be the longest home run in the six-year history of Rec Park. The distance from home plate to the right field fence is 330 feet. A right side swinger, Martin's drive ... cleared the barrier by at least 25 feet and was still rising when it left the playing field. In all, the wallop carried more than 400 feet, a prodigious poke in any man's league."
Jump to big leagues
Twenty-five days later Martin was pitching at Forbes Field.
He signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 27 and made his Major League debut the next night in the Bucs' 8-2 romp over the Boston Red Sox in a benefit exhibition game.
"Ron Necciai was very helpful when Jake decided to give professional baseball a shot," said Martin's cousin, Rupert Martinko of Fallowfield Township. "Several teams were interested in Jake and Ron had contacts, he knew the ropes because he had played for the Pirates. He gave Jake good advice."
Necciai, a Monongahela native, pitched for the Pirates in the latter part of the 1952 season.
Martin made his debut with the Pirates on June 28 when he pitched in relief against the Red Sox. He came in to relieve starter Ronnie Kline in the fourth inning and allowed only two bloop hits while hurling in the fourth, fifth and sixth. He faced 12 batters, striking out two and giving up no walks before giving way to Laurin Pepper, another bonus player.
Jack Berger, the Pirates publicity director, told Bunardzya that Martin would be with the team two full seasons (1955 and 1956). Berger said he would be signed to a Pittsburgh contract in 1957 "but he can be optioned if the club deems it necessary."
Writing about speculation over Martin's contract, Bunardzya said on June 30 that it was estimated to be between $20,000 and $30,000 spread out over three years.
Contract terms notwithstanding, Martin made his first major league start July 5 at Forbes Field against the New York Giants. It didn't last long.
Martin threw only 16 pitches in the 11-1 romp by the Giants before being taken out of the game by manager Fred Haney. His control was erratic as he walked leadoff batter Alvin Dark, hit Don Mueller with a stray pitch and then walked Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes to force in a run.
Dick Littlefield came in from the bullpen and retired the side on a strikeout and a double play.
Martin finished the 1955 season with only seven appearances. He posted an 0-1 record with seven strikeouts, 17 walks and a 14.14 earned run average.