A quintessential journeyman, the versatile Martinez was coveted for his ability to play all three outfield positions and first base well, and hit decently when called upon. But despite his dependability as a fourth outfielder and situational player as well as his knack for changing uniforms mid-season, Martinez never found himself with a contender. At the turn of the century, the 5’10” New Yorker led active players in the fight for futility, having gone 1,799 games without reaching the postseason. Along with bouncing between nine teams in sixteen years, Martinez tied the dubious record of playing for four teams in one year.
Martinez’s career started auspiciously, if unremarkably, when he batted .292 as a Chicago Cubs rookie and fan favorite in 1987. But the Cubs felt that he wasn’t selective enough at the plate nor aggressive enough on the basepaths, and in July 1988, he was headed for the Montreal Expos, swapped for rival centerfielder Mitch Webster.
Martinez never found himself as a concrete part of an everyday lineup, though he did play in the majority of games each year. Platooning in Montreal with light-hitting Otis Nixon and then Marquis Grissom, he did a decent job over three years’ worth of limited time, stealing 52 bases and contributing 108 RBIs for the club.
In search of a steady, durable outfielder that could back up rookie Reggie Sanders, the Cincinnati Reds shipped reliever John Wetteland over to the Expos to obtain Martinez (and infielder Willie Greene) in December 1991. Martinez played both outfield and first with the Reds, but ended up having a subpar season, batting just .254. The low batting average couldn’t have had anything to do with his equipment: Pitcher Jose Rijo, who used snake oil on his arm to keep his limb warm and loose, reported that Martinez used it that year on his bats.
After leaving the Reds, Martinez signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants at $2.2 million, but didn’t get to start full-time in San Fran either, as he platooned in center with defensive star Darren Lewis. After the Giants wanted to assign him to the minors after the 1994 campaign, Martinez refused and signed with the Chicago White Sox the following spring.
On the South Side of Chicago for three years, Martinez racked up his best totals, batting .307 and .318 in 1995 and ’96, despite platooning with the newly-acquired Darren Lewis once again. After signing with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays before their inaugural 1998 season, Martinez was slotted to be their starting centerfielder, but hard luck in the form of a strained quadriceps saw him miss over two months of play.
After another year with the cellar-dwelling D-Rays, Martinez tied a major league record in 2000 when he donned the uniforms of four teams in one year. The first player to achieve the feat since Dave Kingman in 1977, the outfielder started the season with Tampa Bay, was dealt to the Cubs in May for an 18-game stint, to the Texas Rangers in June for 38 games, and then ended up with the Toronto Blue Jays in early August for the remainder of the season. Along with frequent flier miles accumulated that year, Martinez also compiled a respectable .274 batting average in his many cities of work.
In December 2000, Martinez signed with the Atlanta Braves, where he contributed as a fourth outfielder, getting into 120 games and hitting .287 in 237 at-bats. For the first time in his career he reached the playoffs with the NL East title winners.