At the conclusion of the 1995 season, the New York Yankees had a void to fill at first base with the retirement of Yankees legend Don Mattingly.
For 14 seasons “Donnie Baseball” ruled the Bronx, but with his retirement, the Yankees were needing someone special to fill that hole at first. With the makings of a dynasty coming together, little did the Yankees know that they were about to fill that vacant position at first in a big way.
In the winter of ’95-’96, the Yankees made a trade that would prove huge in the club’s success moving forward. The Bombers acquired Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir in exchange for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. Any Yankees fan from the 90’s knows that Jeff Nelson would be a valuable piece in a bullpen that would be key for the Yankees moving forward into the next decade and for several years to come. But when Tino came to the Bronx before the 1996 campaign, the Yankees had found a power-hitting first baseman to fill the void left by the departure of Mattingly.
For his career that spanned some 16 seasons with various teams including Seattle, Tampa Bay and St. Louis, Martinez’s time in the Bronx will be what he is most remembered for. He hit 339 homeruns (192 of those with the Yankees) with 1,271 runs batted in for his career along with a .271 batting average. He was a two-time all-star in 1995 and 1997. He had an MVP-caliber season in ’97, hitting .296/.371/.577 with 44 homers and 141 RBIs. Tino even won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.
What Yankees fans will remember the most about Constantino Martinez is two World Series home runs that he hit. The first was in 1998 in game one against the San Diego Padres, which came off of Mark Langston with the game tied and the bases loaded. The grand slam was part of a seven-run inning, which saw the Yankees go from down 5-2 to all of a sudden being up 9-5. The Yankees would never look back in the series, as they went on to sweep San Diego in four games.
His second historic World Series home run is probably considered one of the most famous in the history of the old Stadium. It came on Halloween night, 2001 and game four of the Fall Classic against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees were one out away from falling into a devastating 3-1 series hole when they trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. With a runner on base, Martinez crushed a game-tying home run over the centerfield fence at Yankee Stadium off of closer Byung-Hyun Kim. The Yankees eventually won this game in extra-innings on a solo home run by “Mr. November”, Derek Jeter.
Tino came back with the Yankees in 2005 and carried their offense in the early part of the season, hitting 12 homers by May 15 before ultimately retiring at the end of the season. Tino ended up winning four World Series Championships with the Yankees, and was an intense leader both on the field and in the clubhouse.
As the Yankees prepare to honor the 1996 World Series Champions later this summer, we must remember that a huge part of that first championship in 18 years for the Yankees was Tino Martinez.