By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The Pride of San Pedro de Macoris
It’s known for its warm climate and its undeniable passion for the sport of baseball. The island has produced such major league stars as Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano, and New York Met Luis Castillo to name a few.
Back in the 1940′s, one of greatest players to ever come from this town was arguably one of the slickest fielders in Negro Leagues during that same era. Horacio “Rabbit” Martinez was one of the first players to come to the States and show his wares.
A shortstop who also played third base, Martinez played 13 seasons in the Negro Leagues with the New York Cubans (1935-36, 1939-47) and the Cuban All-Stars (1937-38). Along the way, he established himself as one of the best shortstops in his era.
Between 1940 and 1945, Martinez was selected to the East-West All-Star Classic every year except 1942. Despite having a pedestrian .240 regular season average during that time, the light-hitting Martinez hit a whopping .545 in All-Star Game competition.
Martinez was a good bunter with speed. But it was his glove that made Martinez standout. According to his peers, he was regarded as a “perfect shortstop”. Martinez possessed a strong and accurate arm with outstanding range and exception fielding talent.
He broke in with the New York Cubans in 1935, a team that included future Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo and Luis Tiant Sr., the father of the Boston Red Sox star. Martinez hit .244 that season as the Cubans battled the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the playoffs.
The Crawfords had some Hall of Famers themselves. Like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Judy Johnson just to name a few. However, New York gave Pittsburgh all it could handle before bowing out at home in the seventh game.
Martinez also spent his winters playing ball in Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. He would continue to play winter ball several years after his playing days in the Negro Leagues ended.
During the last two years of his playing years, Martinez served as a player-manager for Caracas. In 1945 and 1946, he led his teams to back-to-back Venezuelan League Championships.
In his latter years, Martinez would become a scout for the San Francisco Giants. He was instrumental in San Francisco’s signing of a future Hall of Famer and fellow Dominican — pitcher Juan Marichal.
Ironically when Marichal’s playing career ended, he was offered a job to scout in the Dominican Republic by the Giants. However, the club wanted him to replace Martinez, the man who had signed him.
“He (Martinez) was like a father figure to me”, said Marichal. “I didn’t permit that, there was no way I was going to let that happen.”
In his latter years, Martinez was inducted into the Dominican Republic Sports Hall of Fame. It was a fitting tribute to one of the lesser known pioneers of baseball. Much like the men he played with and against in the Negro Leagues, Martinez helped open the door for his fellow countryman.
Horacio “Rabbit” Martinez died of Parkinson’s disease in 1992.
NOTE: The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues; The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, and The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball contributed to this story.