Pepper Martin – Hard Hitting, Hard Charging Teammate


Johnny Leonard Roosevelt “Pepper” Martin (February 29, 1904 – March 5, 1965) was an American professional baseball player and minor league manager. He was known as the Wild Horse of the Osage because of his daring, aggressive baserunning abilities. Martin played in Major League Baseball as a third baseman and an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1930s and early 1940s. He was best known for his heroics during the 1931 World Series, in which he was the catalyst in a Cardinals’ upset victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Martin made his major league debut with the Cardinals on April 16, 1928 at the age of 24. In 1931, Taylor Douthit went into a hitting slump, Martin replaced him and played well enough that Cardinals’ president, Branch Rickey, traded Douthit to the Cincinnati Reds in June. Martin impressed observers with his hustle in the outfield as well as on the base paths where he often slid into bases head-first. He ended the year with a .300 batting average along with seven home runs and 75 runs batted in to help the Cardinals clinch the 1931 National League pennant by 13 games over the New York Giants.


The 1931 World Series was a rematch of the previous year’s participants, pitting the Cardinals against the Philadelphia Athletics. Led by Connie Mack, the Athletics had won the previous two World Series and were heavily favored to win for a third consecutive year. They featured a lineup that included five future National Baseball Hall of Fame members in Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Waite Hoyt and Al Simmons.


In Game 1 held at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Martin had three hits, including a double, a stolen base and drove in one run in a 6-2 loss to the ace of the Athletics staff, 31-game winning pitcher Lefty Grove.


Martin proved to be the difference in Game 2 in what was otherwise a tight pitching duel between Bill Hallahan of the Cardinals and George Earnshaw for the Athletics. He scored the first run of the game in the second inning by stretching a single into a double when the ball was mishandled in the outfield, stealing third base, and then scoring on a sacrifice fly. Martin added another run in the seventh inning when he hit a single, stole second base, took third base on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on a squeeze bunt. Those would be the only runs of the game as Hallahan pitched a three-hit shutout to even the series at one win apiece.


The series then moved to Shibe Park in Philadelphia for Game 3, where Martin had two hits, including a double and scored twice in a 5-2 Cardinals’ victory over Grove.


In Game 4, he produced the only two hits by the Cardinals as they lost to Earnshaw, 3-0.


Martin almost single-handedly provided the offense for the Cardinals in Game 5, driving home four runs with two singles, a home run and a sacrifice fly, as the Cardinals triumphed 5-1.


Although he was held hitless in the final two games of the series, he made an impressive catch to extinguish an Athletics two-run rally in the ninth inning of Game 7 to end the game and clinch the world championship for the Cardinals.

He set a then record 12 hits in the series, including four doubles, a home run, five stolen bases and five runs batted in. Martin’s .500 series batting average may have made the difference in the series outcome, as without him the Cardinals batted just .205 as a team. During the series, Martin was asked how he had learned to run so fast; he replied, “I grew up in Oklahoma, and once you start runnin’ out there there ain’t nothin’ to stop you”. Longtime major league manager, John McGraw, described Martin’s performance as “the greatest individual performance in the history of the World Series.” In December, he was selected as male athlete of the year by the Associated Press.


In a 13-year major league career, Martin played in 1,189 games, accumulating 1,227 hits in 4,117 at bats for a .298 career batting average along with a .443 slugging percentage, 59 home runs, 501 runs batted in, 146 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .358. He retired with a .973 career fielding percentage in 613 games as an outfielder and a .927 fielding percentage in 429 games as a third baseman. A four-time All-Star, Martin’s World Series career batting average of .418 is still a series record, and he is tied for 10th with seven World Series stolen bases. He led the National League three times in stolen bases and once in runs scored. On May 5, 1933, Martin hit for the cycle in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Baker Bowl.