He lives in the shadows of Yankee Stadium and enjoys it. Constantino (Tino) Martinez owns the hottest bat in New York City. But he says it’s no big deal.
After setting a major-league record for runs batted in with 34 for the month of April and hitting 15 home runs, the Yankees’ first baseman finds himself in some very exclusive company these days. Only Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth had hit as many as 15 homers in the Yankees’ first 40 games. Martinez has 17.
Martinez has been playing in the shadow of Ken Griffey, his one-time teammate. But a quick check shows Martinez is second in the American League in homers, RBIs (51) and total bases (119).
Numbers like those in New York are usually the stuff of a full-scale media blitz. But so far, Martinez is low key.
“It’s much too early,” says Martinez. “I just don’t pay a lot of attention to the numbers. I’d like to have a good solid six months and then I’ll see where I am. I don’t want to be compared. I’m only trying to be myself.
“I don’t say a whole lot. I just try to work hard, do my job and take it one day at a time. It’s true that I’ve had a good start. But I don’t put myself in Junior’s class. He’s going to take off and hit a ton of home runs. I try to have a good swing every day so that if I hit one right, it goes.”
Coming off a hot spring training and opening month of the season, Martinez remains cool, calm, and collected when he speaks of his accomplishments. Indeed, he is letting his bat do the talking.
Martinez’s fine hitting actually earned him a trade from the Mariners. After batting .291 with 31 homers in 1995, the cash-strapped Mariners couldn’t afford to give him a lucrative multi-year contract and instead dealt him to New York for third baseman Russ Davis and pitcher Sterling Hitchcock.
Last year, Martinez hit .292, just one point below his career best, and collected 117 RBIs, best for a Yankee since Mattingly drove in 145 in 1985.
This year he might do even better.
“I’ve been relaxed at the plate,” said Martinez, who is making Yankees fans forget about long-time first baseman Don Mattingly. “I see the ball well and I’m getting a lot of pitches to hit. Pitchers are making their pitches but I’m not swinging at them. I’m swinging at the one I’d like to hit.
“I don’t mind being overshadowed. In fact, I don’t even look at it that way. I just try to go out and do my job. It doesn’t matter that I’m going good, I just try to do my best.”
When the Yankees were making their run last year for the American League East title and eventually the World Series championship, there were those who felt the club had made a mistake in targeting Martinez as the replacement for Mattingly, who retired after the 1995 season.
When Cecil Fielder was acquired from Detroit at the trading deadline, there were still those who preferred Fielder’s bat. And after Fielder had 13 homers and 37 RBIs with a .308 average in the postseason, they had more ammunition for their argument.
In spring training, Martinez staked his claim to the job by hitting .483 and driving in 17 runs, and no one is wondering why Fielder isn’t the Yankees’ regular first baseman anymore.
“I loved Seattle,” said Martinez. “But it’s not something I think about anymore. They have a great club over there and I’m just happy to be where I’m at.”