The Cleveland Indians are known for either trading away or allowing their best players to leave via free agency. Over the years, the Indians have watched the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Bartola Colon, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia all ride into the sunset. Nothing was as painful as watching the Indians deal away VMart. The All-Aught Indians catcher is El Capitan, Victor Martinez.
There may not have been an easier choice at any other position.
Victor Martinez bled Cleveland Indians baseball, and of all the players that have left Cleveland in recent memory, Martinez was the one guy that truly didn’t want to go, crying with his son in front of his locker after the trade had been announced. I had hoped that Martinez would retire on the reservation, but it wasn’t in the cards, even though that’s what VMart wanted more than anything.
Unfortunately for the Indians and for many fans, not winning and Carlos Santana made him expendable.
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. The talent and desire was unquestioned, and he never failed to let the team town, at any level.
VMart was lights out at every level in the minors, and the only real surprise over the years was that the Indians didn’t commit to VMart as a starter full-time 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 the game. The Indians would eventually lose, but Martinez began his career of clutch hitting.
In 2003, Martinez spent 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, finally locking up the starting job in 2004.
Martinez doled out a .283 average, with 23 dingers and 108 RBI in his first full season. He made his first all-star team, and won his first silver slugger award that year. Martinez played in three all-star games for the Indians (2007 and 2009 as well), has a career average with the Tribe of .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 good 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, but he was also a switch hitter, was able to play first and DH, and became a very serviceable backstop. More importantly, he was the unquestioned leader of the 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.
(a message from the author: I love Sandy Alomar Jr., but his overall play and injury history leaves a lot to be desired. He was great, but he coulda been special. I think VMart was special)
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 wasn’t playing baseball.
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. Was it Fausto Carmona? Nope. It was Victor Martinez. Why? He was the best player on the team, and the best player this decade, making the All-Aught Catcher an easy choice.
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