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Tino's Happy Landing Sent packing after six seasons as a Yankee, Tino Martinez has a new league, a new team and a momentous new challenge: replacing Mark McGwire. What's not to smile about?

March 11, 2002
March 11, 2002

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March 11, 2002

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Tino's Happy Landing Sent packing after six seasons as a Yankee, Tino Martinez has a new league, a new team and a momentous new challenge: replacing Mark McGwire. What's not to smile about?

At the bottom of first baseman Tino Martinez's locker, as the
St. Louis Cardinals opened spring training camp in Jupiter,
Fla., were a pair of bright red baseball cleats. Embroidered on
the back of each shoe, in bold white letters two inches tall,
was TINO. Now you might expect something like that from KOBE or
SHAQ, but from the buttoned-down Martinez? Maybe the four World
Series rings and the big dough had finally gone to his head.
"Nice shoes, Mr. Big Shot," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said
to Martinez during a meeting on the second day of camp. "We'll
tell the clubhouse guy to put a star over your locker."

This is an article from the March 11, 2002 issue

"Tony!" Martinez protested. "That's not me. I don't want my
shoes that way."

The new cleats had so embarrassed Martinez that he'd worn plain
red ones on his first day with the Cardinals. That afternoon he
turned the shoes around in the open locker to hide the name. The
next morning he found them turned back, the brilliant TINOs
again visible. This time Martinez covered them with a FedEx
envelope. "Awww, I don't know why Nike did that," he says,
turning crimson over dinner at Shula's Steak House that night.
"I just want my number on the back of my shoes. The last thing I
want these guys to think is, I'm not a team guy. I'm here to
work hard and to help us win."

For Martinez, us doesn't mean the Yankees anymore. While that
doesn't trouble him as he prepares for his first season in the
National League after 12 in the American, it was bothering
hundreds of Yankees fans who turned up in Jupiter for the
opening of St. Louis's camp, shouting, "We miss you, kid!" and
"Thanks for the memories!" St. Louis general manager Walt
Jocketty shook his head at the sight of Yankees blue
outnumbering Cardinals red. "The fans have really surprised me,"
he says. "They're all here for Tino."

As spring training started, no other player was in as strange a
position as the 34-year-old Martinez. He had a surprisingly
sunny disposition for someone who was coming off a 34-homer,
113-RBI season yet had been abandoned by his old club. Martinez,
a free agent who had capped his sixth season in New York with a
dramatic ninth-inning home run in World Series Game 4, didn't
figure in the Yankees' plans once New York knew it could lure
this winter's free-agent prize, first baseman Jason Giambi, from
the Oakland A's. The Yankees will pay the 31-year-old Giambi,
who in 2001 hit four more homers and drove in seven more runs
than Martinez did, $17.1 million annually for seven years. St.
Louis signed Martinez for a relatively economical $7 million a
season for three years, and all the Cardinals want him to do is
replace Mark McGwire.

No one loved being a Yankee more than Martinez, whose leadership
role grew with each season. If Bernie Williams was in a slump,
Martinez would take him to lunch and tell him what a great
hitter he was. So respected was Martinez that manager Joe Torre
called him before making a recruiting pitch to Giambi. Derek
Jeter said he wouldn't make a recruiting call. "Now that's a
teammate," Martinez says. (Roger Clemens did phone Giambi. "I
was surprised," says Martinez, "but that's Roger.")

"I would have loved to have finished my career with New York,"
Martinez says. "I held out hope till the end that the A's would
re-sign Giambi. But [George Steinbrenner] is a tough owner. If
he wants Giambi, it's his team. I never got mad at the Yankees.
After they signed him, I was just lucky St. Louis ended up
wanting me."

When it was obvious Martinez's days in New York were numbered,
he began asking the people he trusted for their opinions on
where he should go. As he had with the Seattle Mariners and the
Yankees, he wanted to play for a contender in a town that
revered the game. Torre, who won the 1971 National League MVP
with the Cardinals, told him St. Louis "treats you like
royalty." Teammate Paul O'Neill, who played eight years for the
Cincinnati Reds, told Martinez that St. Louis was his favorite
road stop.

At the winter meetings Martinez's agent, Jim Krivacs, talked to
Jocketty. A few days later Jocketty's assistant buzzed him and
told him Tino Martinez was on the phone. "First time I've ever
had a cold call like that from a player," says Jocketty, who is
in his 23rd year in a big league front office. "I thought it was
a joke, but it was Tino. He said, 'I just wanted you to hear
from me how much I want to play for the Cardinals. I really
admire your team and your organization.'"

The prospect of a new league was also attractive. "I can't wait
to go see if the ball really does fly out of Coors Field," he
says. "I can't wait to go to Wrigley and face Kerry Wood's
fastball. Watching Todd Helton hit, and Jeff Bagwell and Sammy
Sosa--part of the excitement of this is new parks, new cities
and the challenge of seeing how I'll do in a new league."

As Martinez made his way through those first few days of camp,
he mostly kept a low profile. He shook hands with new teammates,
stayed late with hitting coach Mitchell Page, chatted with
locker neighbor Jim Edmonds and worked on bunt defense. With the
more mobile Martinez on hand, La Russa expects to be aggressive
in moving in his first baseman to defend against the bunt.

Martinez isn't worried about replacing McGwire. He heard boos in
his first game in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium, in 1996, when he
replaced fan favorite Don Mattingly. He felt nervous then, which
he says contributed to a slow start. But though Martinez knows
he'll see McGwire jerseys throughout the Busch Stadium stands
come April, he says there are no such nerves this spring. "I
know what it's like to replace a legend," he says. "I realize
the fans love Mark. They should. So do players. But I don't feel
I have to come in and be him. If they were counting on 40 home
runs every year, that would be one thing. In this lineup I can
just fit in."

His new teammates welcome his attitude. "A guy like Tino brings
a different aura," says Cardinals ace Matt Morris. "He's been in
the biggest situations in baseball and won. We couldn't have
gotten a better guy to replace Mark." Adds Edmonds, "Everyone in
this locker room respects Tino for what he's done. You can tell
the kind of leader he is without having to hear him."

After three days in Jupiter the Cardinals, and their outnumbered
fans, were feeling pretty comfortable with their new first
baseman. "Hey, Tino," one rooter called to him from behind a
fence. "Welcome to St. Louis. You're going to love it here."

Said Martinez, "I already do."

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON [T of C]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER GREGOIRE Sunny outlook In the field the slick-gloved Martinez gives St. Louis an immediate upgrade at first base.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Leading men La Russa (in sunglasses) should find the savvy, respected Martinez (21) a good man to have by his side.
"I know what it's like to replace a legend," says Martinez,
"but I don't feel I have to come in here and be Mark McGwire."