With over 40 years as a major league player, manager and broadcaster, Buck Martinez has experienced baseball from all angles. Now in his new role as the Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play announcer, Buck is taking your questions in a weekly blog for sportsnet.ca, Behind the plate with Buck.
MIKE ASKS: Hi Buck, could you give us an update on the $10-million man, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria? Thanks!
BUCK: Mike, Hechavarria started out at Dunedin in the Florida State League and didn’t do so well. But there were a couple of things to consider; he was just getting his feet on the ground in pro ball, and he was adapting to a totally new culture. Mel Didier, the long-time scout and front office executive, went to Dunedin to check on Hechavarria’s progress and asked who the Spanish-speaking member of the staff was. He found out they didn’t have one that was totally fluent. So to his credit, Didier asked to have the the young Cuban shortstop promoted to Double-A, which was a surprise given his slow start with the bat.
But the manager at Double-A, Luis Rivera, is a long-time major league infielder and a native of Puerto Rico. It was a natural fit as Rivera played 11 years in the big leagues in the infield, where Hechavarria will play. The move has helped Adeiny relax, focus on baseball and his numbers are improving.
As of July 26 he was hitting .295 with eight doubles, a triple and 10 RBI. There has never been much doubt about his ability to play defence but the bat is coming around. Good move by the organization to send the kid to Double-A when the stats didn’t warrant the move. Old, experienced eyes are much better than any numbers.
DAVID ASKS: Mr. Martinez, could you please explain the meaning of the “Mendoza Line” and also a little bit of history about the person that this dubious honour is named after? Do players like Adam Lind and others get a good-natured ribbing when their batting averages get close to or below the line? Thank you.
BUCK: David you are asking a question many fans would love to have asked as they hear the phase, and just like you, aren’t real sure where it comes from. Many years ago, the only way players and fans alike got to look at the stats was in the Sunday edition of the sports pages. Both leagues would publish the pitching and hitting stats through the previous Friday night’s games. Well, while sitting around the clubhouse before the Sunday game many players would pour over the stats to see who was leading, and naturally, who was trailing in hitting. Often times a player named Mario Mendoza was at .200 and below. George Brett in our clubhouse would holler out across the room that Mendoza was hitting under .200 and the players that were hitting below .200, were ridden pretty hard. Naturally, Brett never had to deal with the “Mendoza Line,” but many of us mortals watched each week to make sure we didn’t cross the line.
RALPH ASKS: Buck, why are the pitcher and catcher called battery mates? I used to know (many years ago) why, but I’ve forgotten and you do not hear this expression often lately. Your response would be appreciated.
BUCK: Ralph, the pitcher and the catcher have been called the “battery” or “batterymates” since the 1860s. Henry Chadwick is given credit for coining the phrase in reference to the firepower of a team’s pitching staff, having been inspired by the Civil War artillery batteries. As the game grew, the phrase stuck.
DAN ASKS: Hi Buck, I can’t believe this hasn’t been asked before…how did you get the nickname “Buck?”
BUCK: Dan, I didn’t realize my given name was John until roll call in school. My family has a Native Indian background and “Buck” has always been a name in the family. I have a cousin Buck and a late Uncle Buck. I remember one hunting trip we had many years ago where everyone around the campfire had an “Uncle Buck.”
MURRAY GLASSFORD ASKS: Good day Buck, my question is quite simple, however I don’t know what the answer is. Here goes: once the pitcher has pitched the ball and the batter has hit it fair, is the pitch counted as a ball, strike, or just added to the pitch count?
BUCK: Murray, when the ball is put into play in fair territory, it is considered to have been a strike. That is how the pitch would be counted for the game totals.
BARRY JACKSON ASKS: Hi Buck, what does Shaun Marcum write in the dirt at the back of the mound before he throws his first pitch? I’ve been watching him do it for several years and have always wondered.
BUCK: Barry, I am not sure what he writes in the dirt, but I promise to find out and get back to you.
GARY ANDERSON ASKS: Hi Buck, with all the pitches thrown in a game, how do you tell from your broadcast booth what type of pitch was thrown? You have the fastball, slider, knuckleball, four-seamer, etc. How do you know what it was? I know you were a catcher, but I am assuming you have to know a lot of the pitchers and their traits. I am interested in that. Thanks.
BUCK: Gary, you have to know what the pitchers throw before you ever expect to identify what they are doing in the game. I talk to the pitchers and the two pitching coaches, Bruce Walton and Rick Langford, about pitchers and what they throw. Then during the game, I have a monitor next to me in the booth that you see from home. The visual of the flight of the ball with the velocity of the pitch and the knowledge of what a pitcher throws helps me call what the pitch was. Sometimes you may notice when I say, “there’s an off-speed pitch.”
That generally happens when I know it’s something other than a fastball, but can’t tell what off-speed pitch it is.