Former Orioles Tippy Martinez and Ross Grimsley have stayed local to build lives after baseball
By Nelson Coffin
Mar 28, 2017 | 3:25 PM
Former Baltimore Orioles pitchers Ross Grimsley, left, and Tippy Martinez talk about making it to the majors at Ocean Pride Restaurant & Bar in Lutherville-Timonium on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Video by Jen Rynda/Baltimore Sun Media Group
With the first pitch of the 2017 Major League Baseball season in Baltimore about to be uncorked by Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman on April 3, two former hurlers from the team's glory days in the late 1970s and early 1980s will not be among the inevitable sellout crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards enjoying the opening day festivities.
Former pitcher Ross Grimsley, however, will be near the downtown stadium while working as a color commentator on the Orioles pregame show on 105.7 The Fan radio, while longtime Towson resident and former pitcher Tippy Martinez plans to attend a different baseball game, to watch his grandson, sophomore Tyler Martinez, patrol center field for the Gilman School varsity baseball team in a game against Archbishop Curley High School in northeast Baltimore.
In a recent game against Calvert Hall College High School, Martinez, 66, was on hand to watch Tyler double home the go-ahead run in the Greyhounds' 4-2 victory at the Cardinals' Carlo Crispino Stadium in Towson.
Both southpaws stayed in the Baltimore area after their professional baseball playing days ended three decades ago to build lives beyond baseball, which they are happy to talk about. The pair also still follow the Orioles and were willing to share their opinions on how the team might fare this season.
"People remember you here," Martinez said. "It's a pretty good feeling."
Grimsley's 11-year career ran its course in 1982, while Martinez finished his 13-year stint in the big leagues six years after Grimsley. Grimsley, 67, who is also a fill-in talk show host on the station that is just off Falls Road, coached at various levels in the minor leagues for 31 years before calling it quits three years ago.
"The radio job is something new for me," said Grimsley, who lives in Owings Mills. "It has opened up some new things. I like it a lot."
Martinez gave teaching a try — he said he was a substitute physical education teacher in Baltimore County public schools — before telling his wife, Carol, "That profession isn't for me."
He said that he also coached an independent league team for three years in York, Pa., until the long bus rides between cities made the job less appealing.
Natalie attended the G.W. Carver Center for Arts and Technology, in Towson, went on to be a dancer, and is working on a second college degree. Like her brother, she works for United Parcel Service.
"After I stopped coaching we have been living here year-round," Grimsley said about spending the baseball season in various part of the U.S. and Canada. "That had never happened before, but we always ended up back here, even after I played and coached for other teams. We set down roots and, whammo, we just stayed here. We're very comfortable here. There's just something about it that we like."
Grimsley said that he never expected to be a major-league player, although he had a career 124-99 mark in the major leagues, including a 20-11 record for the Montreal Expos of the National League in 1978.
"I wanted to play in the minors," he said. "My dad played 16 years in the minors, so that's what I wanted to do. I never dreamed I'd be able to play in the majors."
The Cincinnati Reds picked him in the first round of the 1969 amateur draft. "I struggled in my first few games in the minor leagues when I first signed, but finished strong and had pretty good stats the short time I pitched in the minors," he said.
After parts of three seasons in the minors, in which he had a 26-12 record with a sub-3.00 earned run average, Grimsley ended up going 10-7 as a rookie in 1971, which laid the groundwork for a reasonably long career and an eventual trade to the Orioles in 1974.
"When found out I was traded to Baltimore, I was in shock," said Grimsley, who fashioned a 51-45 record with a 3.78 earned run average in five years with the Orioles. "I came from Cincinnati, which had a brand-new stadium, to Memorial Stadium. I said, 'What did I do to deserve this?' But it turned out to be the best place I ever pitched."
Martinez, a renowned reliever who started only twice in 546 appearances in the majors, had a similar experience when he was an up-and-coming member of the New York Yankees' staff after the Orioles' American League East rival signed him as a free agent in 1972.
He was traded to the Orioles with Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor, Rudy May and Dave Pagan in 1976, in one of the best deals in club history, considering that Dempsey would go on to earn MVP honors in the 1983 World Series and Martinez had two saves in the 4-1 series victory.
"Rick and I didn't want to come to Baltimore," said Martinez, who was born in La Junta, Colorado. "But it's the best thing that could have happened to us because Rick wasn't going to start ahead of [Yankees catcher] Thurman [Munson] and I wasn't going to get to close ahead of [Yankees reliever] Sparky [Lyle]."
Martinez ended up putting down deep roots in Towson, raising a son, Jacen, 46, and a daughter, Courtney, 38. Jacen lives close to his parents while Courtney is the head women's lacrosse coach at Arizona State University.
While with the Orioles, Martinez became the focal point of one of the most memorable series of plays in team history, when he picked off three Toronto Blue Jays base runners in succession to get a key victory earlier in the 1983 season.
Yet his work in the 1983 American League Championship-winning game may be his most cherished memory, he said. In that 3-0 win, which sent the Orioles into the World Series, Martinez was the winning pitcher in relief of starter Storm Davis in a tense 10-inning duel decided by Tito Landrum's home run.
Martinez said he was very concerned about one of the White Sox sluggers.
"When I saw who was coming up, Carlton Fisk, I thought I might be in trouble because Carlton absolutely owned me," he said. "He hit everything I threw him. But for another guy who was coming up, Tom Paciorek, all I had to do was look at him to get him out. People always talk about the three pick-offs, but that game meant a lot to us."
His 11-year stint in with the Orioles included 52 wins, 105 saves and a 3.46 earned run average.
While Grimsley never made it to a World Series, he pitched in the 1974 postseason after he and the Orioles won 26 of their last 34 games. During the torrid closing stretch, he and Mike Cuellar both tossed 1-0 shutouts of the Boston Red Sox in a doubleheader sweep on Sept. 2, beginning a stretch in which Oriole hurlers didn't allow a run for more than 50 innings, Grimsley said.
"We had such great fielders on that team, with Brooks [Robinson] and [Mark] Belanger," he said. "Those guys always told me, 'Just stay close and something good will happen.' With those guys, a ball that would be a hit anywhere else turned into an out. They were just so good, and the unity and camaraderie was just so fantastic."
The team today
As for the current team, both former O's said that they would like to see more balance at the plate and more depth in the starting rotation.
"They hit 253 homers last season and were still seventh in runs scored," Grimsley said. "They hit a lot of solo home runs because they don't get a lot of guys on base. And they don't run and steal bases. But they have a great bullpen and they field really well."
Martinez said that he has great admiration for current Oriole closer Zach Britton, who converted all of his 47 save opportunities last season.
"How do you throw 97 [miles per hour] and sink the ball like that," he asked. "And it sinks late. It's amazing. Even he doesn't know how he does it."
Grimsley said that if the Orioles start poorly, it might be wise to trade either star third baseman Manny Machado or Britton, both of whom are under contract to the team through the 2018 season but might be looking for greater riches elsewhere.
The former stars agreed that the team is unlikely to win the American League East this season, but they said that it should still contend for the playoffs.
"It will be an interesting year," Grimsley said. "They will go as far as their starting pitching takes them."