Buck Martinez (Elk Grove, Sacramento City) has always been considered one of the toughest players ever to play the game.
On July 9, 1985 in the Kingdome, Martinez was catching for the Toronto Blue Jays in a game against the Seattle Mariners when he was the centerpiece of one of the most gruesome and greatest double plays ever turned in a major-league game.
Gorman Thomas, a friend of Martinez from their playing days with the Milwaukee Brewers, was at the plate and Phil Bradley was on second base. On Thomas’ single to right field, Jesse Barfield came up throwing and fired for home.
It was a bang-bang play at the plate. Bradley was out but slid so hard into Martinez that the violent collision broke the catcher’s leg and dislocated his ankle.
With Martinez withering in pain and lying helplessly on the ground, Thomas tried to advance to third base. Martinez, still on the ground and focused on what was going on around him, attempted to throw Thomas out at third.
His throw sailed over third baseman Garth Iorg and into left field. George Bell scooped up the ball and fired back to home where Martinez, now sitting on his backside, managed to catch the throw.
Thomas came rushing home. Seeing his friend in serious trouble, he eased up and avoided a collision rather than smashing into him. Martinez lunged toward Thomas and tagged him out.
In a sport where barreling over the catcher — friend or not — has been standard practice, as big as Thomas was, he could have killed Martinez had he gone “Pete Rose” on him. Thomas’ gesture was a class act.
The 9-2-7-2 double play is the only one ever made in major-league history, and one of the six times that a catcher had both putouts on a double play.
“It was not an unusual play, at least for me. I was just blocking the plate, trying to save a run in a scoreless game,” Martinez said a few days later to the media. “It was nothing heroic.”
After the play, Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams approached his catcher and said, “I don’t know how you did it Buck, but that was the greatest play I’ve ever seen.”
When Martinez was placed on the stretcher, Bell grabbed an end and insisted on carrying him into the clubhouse. “I’ll carry him, I’ll carry him,” he was heard saying.
Thomas checked on Martinez in the clubhouse as soon as he could. “Nice going Martinez, you got me booed,” Thomas said. “They booed me because I didn’t slide.”
Then, he asked Martinez if he was okay and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.
Sadly, Martinez never fully recovered from those injuries. He attempted a comeback in 1986, but retired after hitting .181 in 81 games.