Ray Martin; Norwood star pitched to Ruth, played for Boston Braves
By Marvin Pave
In 1943, Norwood High School senior Ray Martin pitched his team to the state baseball championship and signed a professional contract with the Boston Braves, with whom he made his Major League debut.
Later that summer, the tall, 18-year-old righthander faced retired slugger Babe Ruth in an exhibition game at Braves Field to benefit the war effort. Ruth, who finished his Hall of Fame career with the Braves in 1935, watched as Mr. Martin threw his first pitch into the dirt.
The catcher went out to the mound to say that “Ruth told him to remind me that nobody came to see me and to just throw one where he could get a good swing,” Mr. Martin recalled in an online biography written by Jim Gormley for the Society for American Baseball Research.
“I threw one belt high, and Ruth hit a long fly to the warning track for an out,” said Mr. Martin, who walked by Ruth in the clubhouse after the game. “I saw Ruth changing and heard him yell out, ‘Hey Kid, nice pitch!’ as he raised a beer bottle in salute.”
Mr. Martin, a three-sport star at Norwood High and an inductee to its Athletic Hall of Fame, died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease March 7 in Charlwell House in Norwood. He was 87 and lived in Norwood.
At 18, Mr. Martin struck out 23 Boston Trade High School batters in a single game, and the Braves signed him shortly after he struck out 12 to lead Norwood’s defeat of Dalton High at Fenway Park, 3-2, for the state title.
Mr. Martin pitched a four-hitter and cracked a two-run double in a 4-1 victory over Arlington High in the Eastern Massachusetts final at Braves Field, now Boston University’s Nickerson Field.
Globe columnist Jerry Nason reported that Mr. Martin was pursued by seven big league teams, including the Red Sox, which even sent a scout to his prom at Norwood High.
“The Braves offered a bonus of $4,000 and promised he would go right to the majors,” said Gormley, who noted that since Mr. Martin was going to enter the service that year, he wanted his family, including his grandfather, to have the oppor-tunity to see him pitch in Boston.
“His grandfather never missed a Norwood High or Norwood Legion game,” said Gormley. Mr. Martin’s final pitch as a pro was like a scene right out of Bernard Malamud’s novel “The Natural.”
Called in from the bullpen for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern League, Mr. Martin faced a bases loaded, nobody out situation with his team ahead, 4-2, in the ninth inning. He threw one pitch that was lined to the second baseman, which began a triple play that ended the game.
Gormley was a senior at Boston College High School in 1961 when he tried out for Norwood’s American Legion team.
“Charlie Parker, Ray’s teammate on the 1943 state champions, was the coach, and he asked him to throw batting practice,” Gormley recalled. “Ray retired from professional baseball in 1951, but when your bat struck the ball, it was like trying to hit a shot put. He still had that that heavy pitch.”
Parker, a retired guidance counselor at Norwood High School, said everyone “looked up to Ray, who was also a great football player and who helped start the varsity hockey program at Norwood High. Ray and a group of seniors talked to the principal and we had our first hockey team that winter.
“I’ll never forget his kindness when I went out for baseball,” Parker said. “Ray was two years ahead of me in school and a big star, and after practice he said, ‘Keep up the good work and you’ll get a uniform.’ ”
Mr. Martin’s enthusiasm for encouraging others was still evident two months ago when his late wife’s cousin Barbara Kearney of Brewster visited him at Charlwell House.
“Ray was watching a physical therapist helping another resident adapt to a walker,” Kearney said, “and Ray was cheering him on, saying, ‘Come on, you can do it.’ That was Ray.”
Raymond Joseph Martin, who had no siblings, grew up across the street from White Mike’s field, named for its white-haired property owner, Mike Curran, according to Gormley biographical material. There, his uncle built a backstop and his father made a home plate so Mr. Martin and his friends could play baseball.
When he made his Braves debut on July 2, 1943, Mr. Martin retired three Chicago Cubs in order. He also pitched a 2-1 complete game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers late in the 1947 season. He was with the National League champion Braves the following season, but was sent to the minors and did not pitch against Cleveland in the World Series.
In all, Mr. Martin appeared in five Major League games, pitching 14.2 innings with a 1-0 record and 2.45 earned run average.
He remained close to the Braves after the team moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and later to Atlanta, and enjoyed team reunions and autograph sessions held by the Boston Braves Historical Association.
“Ray was a great friend of the association,” said Bob Brady, the organization’s president. “He was the last survivor of the 1943 and 1947 Braves teams, and we mourn his loss.”
After several seasons in the minor leagues, Mr. Martin took a job with General Electric. He then worked for Picker Corp, as a salesman for medical diagnostic equipment. He also was a driver and pallbearer for the Gillooly Funeral Home in Norwood until 2006.
An Army veteran of World War II, he fought at Remagen Bridge in Germany, the subject of the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”
On Nov. 6,1948, Mr. Martin married Claire Canniff, a medical secretary he had met a few years earlier while stationed in New Hampshire for military training. Mrs. Martin died in 2008, and their daughter, Susan France of Quincy, died in January.
Mr. Martin enjoyed golfing at Walpole Country Club and hiking in New Hampshire and coached in Norwood’s youth hockey program for many years.
A funeral Mass was said this week, and burial was at Highland Cemetery in Norwood.
“I’m fortunate that I got to know Ray better later in his life and was impressed that he wasn’t full of himself,” said Gormley, who frequently visited Mr. Martin at Charlwell House, as did Parker. “He thoroughly enjoyed his life experiences and was always grateful to the Braves for his opportunity. His favorite memorabilia included his own pencil sketch of Babe Ruth and a 1943 Braves yearbook.”