Rabbit Martinez

“Defensive honors had to go to the East’s infield. The combination of Howard Easterling, Rabbit Martinez, Dick Seay and Buck Leonard performed feats of magic with the ball. Anything hit on the ground was an out.”
--Pittsburgh Courier (quoted from the “Black Baseball’s National Showcase,” by Larry Lester)
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
October, 2006

Horacio “Rabbit” Martinez

Born: 1915 in Santo Domingo, D.R.

Died: 1992?
Ht:5'7", Wt: 160
Batted right and threw right
Position: shortstop, third base, second base
Years: 1935-1947
Teams: New York Cubans, Cuban Stars, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela

When discussing the Negro Leagues' greatest shortstops, Rabbit Martinez is rarely mentioned...but he should be!

From a purely defensive standpoint, Martinez may have been the best Negro League shortstop of the 1940s, and was probably the closest player the Negro Leagues produced who could challenge the modern day's Ozzie Smith for making both the routine and seemingly impossible play on a regular basis.

Martinez grew up in the Dominican Republic, and, like so many Major League shortstops after him (Rafael Belliard, Mariano Duncan, Tony Fernandez, Alfredo Griffin, Rafael Ramirez, Rafael Santana, Andres Thomas) honed his skills on rock-riddled sandlots where true hops were rare. By the time he got to the Negro Leagues, on its relatively fine infields (teams often played in Major or Minor League parks), Martinez, seemingly, could field anything hit to him! In fact, he was often described as “the perfect shortstop. Martinez played a deep shortstop, had a strong enough arm to throw out runners from the hole, and was an expert at charging and throwing on the run.

Martinez, the only East-West All-Star ever from the Dominican Republic, was voted into the classics in 1940, ’41, ’43, ’44 and ’45, batting a whopping .545, . In 1940, Martinez led all shortstops in votes with over 60,000; the only other infielder with more votes were Buck Leonard (1b) and Sammy T. Hughes (2b).

In the ’45 classic, Martinez played half the game (Frank Austin was named starter) and collected two hits, one each off Booker McDaniels and Gene Bremer, with three RBIs.

Rabbit had the highest East-West batting average among players selected for at least three games, and was the top hitting shortstop by far, over batting champs Artie Wilson and Willie Wells.

Why, again, is Rabbit not mentioned among the elite Negro League shortstops?



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