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Voices of the Game, day 5: Buck Martinez to Bob Walk

Four more local broadcasters in our countdown of their playing careers.

Buck Martinez
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

We’re finishing up our first week of our offseason stroll through the playing careers of the local TV broadcasters. If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

47. Buck Martinez. Toronto Blue Jays. WAR: 4.5

Martinez had a long career as a backup catcher who couldn’t hit at all. Although he originally signed with the Phillies as an undrafted free agent, he was taken in the 1968 Rule 5 draft by the Astros. The Astros then traded Martinez two weeks later to the expansion Royals, so he was one of the original Royals, although he didn’t make his major league debut until June.

Martinez stayed with the Royals through the 1977 season. He was the Royals starting catcher in 1976 and started every game of the 1976 American League Championship Series, a 3 games to 2 loss to the Yankees. Martinez was the catcher when Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss hit the famous walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5.

Those were the only postseason games that Martinez ever played in. In December 1978, Martinez was traded the Brewers in a three-team deal and he spent three years in Milwaukee as a backup catcher, just at the Brewers were starting to get good. In 1981, the Brewers dealt Martinez to Toronto, where he spent the final six years of his career.

Martinez was the backup catcher on the 1985 Blue Jays, which was the first Blue Jays team to win the AL East. But in Seattle in June of that year, Martinez was run over by Mariners outfielder Phil Bradley in a collision at the plate, breaking Martinez’s leg. But Martinez hung onto the ball and Bradley was called out. Mariners outfielder Gorman Thomas tried to go to third as Martinez lay injured on the ground and Martinez, with a broken leg, threw the ball into left field. Then Thomas tried to score on the error but Blue Jays outfielder George Bell caught Martinez’s bad throw and thew a strike to the injured catcher. Thomas had been a teammate and friend of Martinez on the Brewers and when Bell’s throw beat him home, Thomas eased up and was tagged out, rather than see his friend run over for the second time in one play. That was the only 9-2-7-2 double play in major league history and also one of the weirdest double plays of all time.

The broken leg also essentially ended Martinez’s career. He returned to the Blue Jays in 1986, but he didn’t play well and retired at the end of the season.

Martinez posted a career line of .224/.284/.343 with 58 home runs over 1,049 games in 17 seasons. Most of his value comes from his defense and while I’m always skeptical of catcher defensive numbers from before the 21st Century, his good defensive stats match up with his reputation while he played.

Martinez joined the Blue Jays as a color commentator immediately after retiring in 1987. He stayed in that role until 2001, when the Blue Jays made Martinez their manager. When he was fired as the Blue Jays manager in 2002, Martinez joined the Orioles broadcast team as a color broadcaster. He also managed Team USA in the original World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Martinez returned to broadcasting Blue Jays games in 2010, this time as the play-by-play broadcaster. In this role, he and Duane Kuiper are the only two former major league players currently doing television play-by-play rather than color commentating. Martinez has also done extensive work calling national games for ESPN since retiring.

46. Rick Horton. St. Louis Cardinals. WAR: 5.0

Rick Horton was known as “Ricky” during his playing career, but now that he’s on the other side of 60 he just goes by Rick these days.

Horton was a left-handed swing man, mostly pitching long relief but also getting several spot starts for the Cardinals, White Sox and Dodgers from 1984 to 1990. He pitched for the Cardinals in the 1985 and 1987 World Series as they lost to the Royals and the Twins. He finally got his World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1988, although he didn’t pitch in the Series. (He did pitch in four games of the NL Championship Series in 1988. Orel Hershiser had two complete games in the five-game 1988 Series, and the A’s had a ton of tough right-handers and few left-handed hitting threats. So there wasn’t a big need for Horton in that Series.)

Horton finished his career with a record of 32-27 with 15 saves over seven seasons. He had an ERA of 3.76 over 325 games, 53 of which were starts. He’s been a regular color commentator for the Cardinals since 2003 and has filled in as a play-by-play broadcaster when regular Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin is absent.

45. Dallas Braden. Oakland Athletics. WAR: 5.1

Braden’s claim to fame to being the worst pitcher to ever throw a perfect game was ruined two years later by Philip Humber, but he is still best known for that perfect game he thew against Joe Maddon’s Rays in 2010.

The left-handed Braden made his debut with the Athletics in 2007. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 2009 and he was a pretty good pitcher in 2009 and 2010, even beyond that perfect game. He had a 3.89 ERA in 136.2 innings in 2009 and a 3.50 ERA in 192.2 innings in 2010.

Braden left his third start of 2011 after 67 pitches with shoulder discomfort. Tests revealed he had a torn capsule that required surgery. While rehabbing from that injury, Braden tore his rotator cuff and need more surgery. After 2½ years of unsuccessful rehab, Braden retired before the 2014 season.

Braden’s final line was 26-36 with a 4.16 ERA in 94 games from 2007 to 2010.

Know as both goofy and opinionated during his playing career, ESPN hired Braden immediately after his retirement to work on Baseball Tonight and to call national games. He joined the A’s in 2017 as a color commentator as longtime veteran broadcaster Ray Fosse started to cut back on his workload.

44. Bob Walk. Pittsburgh Pirates. WAR: 5.6

As a rookie with the Phillies, Walk started Game 1 of the 1980 World Series. The curveball specialist gave up six runs in 7+ innings and got the win. After that, the Phillies decided the it might make more sense to let Steve Carlton start more games. Or really, anyone but Walk.

The Phillies traded Walk to the Braves after the World Series for Gary Matthews. Walk was a starter for the 1982 Braves team that won the NL West, but his record of 11-9 with a 4.87 ERA only earned him one relief appearance in the NL Championship Series. He spent most of 1983 in the Braves minor league system and was released in Spring Training in 1984.

Walk signed with the Pirates and then spent the next 10 years in Pittsburgh. Originally a reliever, Walk worked his way back into the rotation and made his only All-Star Game in 1988 when he went 12-10 with a 2.71 ERA and a 3.2 WAR.

After a bad 1989, Walk became a mainstay of the Pirates rotation as they won three straight NL East titles from 1990 to 1992. With the Pirates trailing the Braves 3 games to 1, Walk pitched a complete game victory in Game 5 of the 1992 NLCS, allowing just one run and three hits.

Everything was pretty much downhill for both Walk and the Pirates after that. Despite Walk being ready in the bullpen in Game 7, manager Jim Leyland let struggling Pirates closer Stan Belinda pitch to Francisco Cabrera, whose walk-off single is one of the most famous moments in both Pirates and Braves history.

Walk pitched one more season in 1993 and went 13-14 with a career-worst 5.68 ERA. He was a free agent at the end of the year and while the Pirates didn’t want him back as a pitcher, they asked him if he’d be willing to stay with the team as a broadcaster. He took them up on it and has been with the Pirates broadcast team ever since, on both radio and television.

Walk’s career line was 105-81 with a 4.03 ERA in 350 games from 1981 to 1993.

Walk also raised a ruckus this year because a Cardinals player stole a base while leading by seven runs. On the other hand, he once fell backwards off of a chair on camera, and that was mildly amusing.