Victor Martinez bled Cleveland Indians baseball, and of all the players that have left Cleveland in recent memory, Martinez was the one guy that didn't want to go. I had hoped that Martinez would retire on the reservation, but it wasn't in the cards. Not winning and Carlos Santana made him expendable. Expendable...Victor Martinez...not a chance.
In July of 1996, the Tribe signed a non-descript 16-year-old shortstop out of Venezuela. He was gifted athletically, and most assuredly, John Hart knew that this kid was going to be a player somewhere, whether at shortstop, the outfield, or catcher. He never stopped producing in the minors, and the only real surprise was that the Indians didn't commit to VMart until 2004.
Martinez debuted with the Indians in 2002 with a cup of coffee in the bigs. In his first start for the Tribe that season, Martinez' first hit was a two-run single against the Blue Jays, to tie a game. The Indians would eventually lose, but Martinez began his career of clutch hits.
In 2003, Martinez would spend June and July and the first part of August with the big league club, as well as most of September. He hit .289 in 49 games, but hit a resounding .349 in his September call-up, locking the starting job in 2004.
Martinez rolled out a .283 average, with 23 dingers and 108 RBI. He would make his first all-star team, and win his first silver slugger award that year. Martinez would play in three all-star games for the Indians (2007 and 2009 as well). His career average with the Tribe was .297, with 103 homers and 518 RBI. Victor will most be remembered for his prowess in the clutch, batting over .300 with runners in scoring position, and over .500 with the bases loaded.
Defensively, Martinez isn't going to confuse anyone with Ron Karkovice, Yogi Berra, Ivan Rodriguez and Lance Parrish behind the plate, but he worked himself into a solid catcher. He could always call a game, and in '07 and '08, threw out over 30% of the opposing basestealers.
The numbers really aren't even half the story. VMart was the player the Cleveland Indians built around, along with CC Sabathia, after they dismantled the team of the 90's. Not only was he a clutch hitter, a switch hitter, able to play first and DH, and a serviceable backstop, but he was the leader of this club, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
He played with an energy that couldn't be matched by any other player this decade. It's ironic when you think about it. He's what Sandy Alomar Jr. promised to be for a decade, but could never quite reach. VMart reached it every year, every month and every game. His most resounding quality was undoubtedly his perseverance. He was always there, always producing, and always the glue that held the team together.
If you want to know the major reason why the Indians fell apart in 2008, look no further than VMart missing most of the season with injury. Sure, there were other issues with that club, but most could be attributed to the fact that the player that many looked to as the captain of the team was gone.
In many ways, Victor Martinez WAS the All-Aught Cleveland Indians. Who was the MVP of the club that nearly went to the World Series in 2007? Was it Cy Young winner CC Sabathia? Nope, it was Victor Martinez. Why? He was the best player on the team, and the best player this decade, especially at catcher.
Good luck VMart in your future endeavors (may you bat .400 for a Boston team that tanks year after year). Cleveland will always be "your house" and "your home," as you so eloquently said while cleaning out your locker with your son. Hopefully, you'll find your way back someday soon.
Here's to Victor Martinez, the All-Aught Indians starting catcher.
The Two Thousand, Aught catchers: Sandy Alomar Jr., Einar Diaz, Eddie Taubensee, Tim Laker, Josh Bard, Eddie Perez, Victor Martinez, Sandy Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Sal Fasano, Lou Marson, Wyatt Toregas