Friday, May 8, 2015

May 8, 1939: The Wild Horse Runs Free; Pepper Martin Steals Home

     On May 8, 1939, the Wild Horse ran free in Brooklyn as Pepper Martin executed what many consider the most exciting play in baseball by stealing home in the sixth inning. The run was the lone run of the contest, with Bob Weiland going the distance in the contest to secure a complete game victory. The story of the day was Martin, who at 35 years of age singled to start the sixth, took second and third on infield outs, then broke for home as rookie hurler Red Evans began a long windup. According to Associated Press writer Sid Feder, Evans was "open-mouthed, too surprised to make a throw until it was too late." The savvy veteran was the hero of the day.

     The stolen base was one of one of 146 stolen bases Martin swiped as a Cardinal, with his first coming in 1928. His best days were behind him at that point, but that did not stop him from giving the club everything he had every time he stepped on the diamond.Martin played just 39 games in '28 and just six more in '30, making 1931 his rookie year. He helped the Cardinals win the pennant with a .300 season that included 16 stolen bases. His contributions in the World Series made him stand out like no other, as he swiped five bags, as he helped lead the way to the Cardinals second title.

     After a sub par performance in 1932, Pepper came back in '33 and led the league with 122 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. With 1933 included, Martin stole 20 bases or more for four consecutive years, leading the league in three of them. When he stole home in 1939, the days of the Gashouse Gang were becoming a memory. With that said, ole Pepper proved he had some gas left in his tank. Martin carried a .306 average that season and stole six bases. He may have tamed just a bit from his days where he earned the nickname Wild Horse of Osage.

     After hitting .316 in 80 games in 1940 Martin stepped off the major league diamond and managed a minor league affiliate before returning to the Cardinals in 1944. He hit .279 in 40 games for the eventual pennant winners, then stepped off the field. He not only swiped five bags in the 1931 World Series, he also hit .500, carrying the team to the championship. With a .355 in the 1934 Fall Classic, Martin's average of .418 in the World Series is a record that has yet to be broken.

    Martin never did really leave baseball. He owned a ranch and was an avid hunter, but that game on the diamond always lured him back. He managed and or coached with multiple minor league teams. The Miami News featured an article by John Crittenden in 1976 had a former player by the name of Knobby Rosa remember the days Pepper managed him with the Miami Sun Sox between 1949 and 1952. Knobby remembered the days when Pepper was close to 50 years old and would substitute himself into a ballgame as a pinch runner on second base. Moments later the Wild Horse slid into score another run, as he tried to help his club win a ballgame.

     It seems that Martin was a Wild Horse that could never be truly tamed Considered by some to be the spirit of the team that was known as the Gashouse Gang. It did not matter if he was a 27-year-old rookie, a 35-year-old man breaking for home, or 50-year-old coach the horse wanted to run. When he passed away at the age of 61 in  March of 1965, Martin had plans on coaching with the Tulsa Oilers in the upcoming season. Survived by a wife and three daughters, tears were surely shed when Martin passed away. With that said, his life was also celebrated, as many tales were told from the days when the Wild Horse ran free. One of those tales told may just have been about the time he stole home in 1939. It was just one of many his friends, family, and fans could share for the man they called Pepper.

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