Card: 1910 Old Mill #T210 Series 1
John Joseph Martina, known as "Oyster Joe", was a right-handed pitcher and a native and lifelong resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. He spent 22 seasons in baseball, but only one year—1924—in the Major Leagues as a member of the world champion Washington Senators.
Martina played amateur and semi-professional ball around the city lots in New Orleans as a teenager. His powerful throwing arm became a local legend. He was the first person in line to pay 50 cents and enter a throwing distance contest at Pelican Park in New Orleans on July 5, 1909. Martina beat the three other contestants by throwing a ball from home plate over the center field fence. “Notwithstanding the doubts of the majority of the audience, which were offset by the affirmative assertions of his backers, he did it — and did it easily. The ball sailed over the double fence and landed out in the street, amidst the cheers of the whole assemblage.” (Vicksburg Evening Post, July 7, 1909) The winning throw turned Martina’s 50-cent entry fee into a $25 prize.
With his confidence soaring as high as his throws, Martina began training to set a throwing-distance world record. He reportedly succeeded in this goal. He lined up at a festival put on by the New Orleans Beavers baseball club on July 31, 1909, and threw a baseball 417 feet, 2 inches. The Times-Democrat newspaper in New Orleans said the previous world record was 400 feet, 7.5 inches in its article explaining Martina’s achievement, which was partially titled “Martina Breaks Baseball Throwing Record.”
He began his professional baseball career at age 20 in 1910 and by the time he hung up his spikes in 1931, he had won 20 games seven times, including a 28-win season in 1919 for the Beaumont Oilers of the Texas League. Joe is #2 all-time in career minor league wins, with 349; second to Bill Thomas, 383, who never appeared in the major leagues. He is also #2 all-time in career minor league strikeouts with 2770 (behind George Brunet).
He was 34 years old when, after consecutive 20-win campaigns for his hometown New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, he was promoted to MLB. He made the 1924 Senators' team as a pitcher, but he also played five innings at shortstop for the team. In Martina's only big-league season, he worked in 24 games, including 14 starts.
Joe’s memorable major-league debut came against the New York Yankees at Griffith Stadium on Saturday, April 19, 1924. He pitched a complete game in the Senators’ 7-2 win in front of 7,000 fans. Martina out-dueled future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock and struck out the legendary Babe Ruth looking for one of his seven Ks. Ruth was subsequently ejected for arguing the call.
Joe's experience in the World Series was limited to the seventh inning of Game Three in 1924, played at the Polo Grounds on Monday, October 6. Manager Harris had surprised everyone by starting Marberry, baseball’s first relief specialist (he was retroactively credited with 15 saves for 1924), who had saved Game Two the day before in Washington. With the Senators behind 5-2 after six innings, the game was hardly a lost cause and it was up to Martina to make sure it didn’t become one. He did his job, retiring three future Hall of Fame members in a row: High Pockets Kelly was called out on strikes, Bill Terry fouled out to the catcher, and Hack Wilson flied to left. Joe did not appear in the remaining four games of the Series. As it turned out, his one inning in Game Three was his last major league appearance.
He got his nickname from the family business — his father, Anthony Martina worked as an oyster dealer. John Martina, who used his middle name and went by “Joe,” was the fourth oldest of nine children born to Rosa Martina (née Gallo), a homemaker. Some of Joe’s siblings also worked in the Martina oyster business as delivery wagon drivers. In fact, after being scheduled to arrive by boat from New Orleans, he reported late to training camp in 1925 due to working in the family's Oyster business during Mardi Gras, initially fined $100 - which was then waived!
Martina’s long-running nickname — “Oyster Joe” — prompted another anecdote. Modern articles listing baseball’s all-time bizarre trades claim that Martina was swapped for two barrels of oysters after the 1929 season. While the story is mostly true, it appears that the transaction was a release and not a trade. Dallas team president Fred McJunkin agreed to give Martina his unconditional release in return for the two barrels of oysters. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram proclaimed, “McJunkin and Company are set for a feast — and Oyster Joe Saturday night wore no man’s collar.” (“Joe Martina Given Release; Oysters Come,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 30, 1929) Some sources incorrectly say this deal was the inception of the nickname, but it had appeared in print years before 1929.
“Oyster Joe” is part of the Great Italian American Player Nicknames Tour – Go to the Next Stop
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