His career overshadowed by that of his younger brother Pedro, Ramon Martinez was at one point a dominant twenty-game winner. A tall, gangly right-handed pitcher, Martinez made use of a scorching heater juxtaposed with slow changeups to baffle his opponents throughout his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Until he suffered through injuries and inconsistencies throughout the late ’90’s, Martinez was a workhorse whose acute knowledge of pitching was rivaled perhaps only by his brother.
The one-two sibling punch of Pedro and Ramon Martinez had always been a tempting thought, perhaps even more for the brothers than the teams they would play for. The Dodgers initially had claim to the two after signing Pedro in the early ’90’s, when Ramon was the undisputed ace of the squad. With shades of Dizzy and Paul Dean, the Martinezes recorded ten wins each for the Dodgers in 1993. But Pedro was shipped to the Expos that winter, before LA had the opportunity to call up Jesus Martinez, the third arm in the family. It wasn’t until both wound up in Boston seven years later that Pedro and Ramon got the chance to ride together again.
Ramon first pitched in Dodger Stadium as a member of the 1984 Dominican Republic Olympic baseball team. Less than a year later, he was signed by the Dodgers and hailed as one of the most important arms of the team’s future. As expected, Ramon dominated every class in the minor leagues. After a successful call-up in 1988, the Dodgers traded Tim Leary to the Cincinnati Reds in July 1989 to clear a spot on the roster for the youngster. As a 22-year-old the following season, Martinez had his first — and best — season: he posted a 20-6 record with a 2.92 ERA, 12 complete games, and 223 strikeouts, including an 18-strikeout game in June 1990.
After that auspicious beginning, Martinez declined in most pitching categories for the next two years, fueling rumors that the league was catching on to his delivery and pitches. But Martinez improved for each of the three seasons after that. By 1995 he was on top of his game once again; that year he went 17-7 with 138 strikeouts and a 3.66 ERA, tossing a 7-0 no-hitter against the Florida Marlins on July 14th.
With a slight build similar to that of his brother Pedro, Ramon was not the most physically intimidating of pitchers on the mound. But when he was in a groove, he combined his extensive baseball savvy, odd throwing mechanics, and dramatically different pitches to bewilder hitters. A high-speed fastball would be followed up by a looping curve, and batters would trudge back to the pine, amazed.
But as he piled up the innings as a young pitcher (454 1/3 innings during his first two complete years combined), he wore down his arm, and wasn’t able to put in as much over the rest of his career. From 1997 through 1999, Martinez battled a series of arm ailments, including a torn rotator cuff and cartilage in June 1998. His time off undergoing an operation and rehabilitation would severely hamper his career for the next year and a half. The Dodgers didn’t pick up the injured pitcher’s $5.6 million option following the 1998 season, and Ramon signed with the Boston Red Sox in March 1999.
After extensive rehabilitation in Boston’s minor league system, Ramon was pulled up to the Sox to make four late season starts in 1999. With a 2-1 record and 15 Ks over 20 2/3 innings pitched, it seemed that Ramon had successfully recovered, and would start the next season as the number-two starter behind his American League Cy Young Award-winning brother. But 2000 was less promising for Ramon. A 6.13 ERA and 143 hits over 127 2/3 innings was not what the BoSox were looking for, and declined to pick up Martinez’s option.
Ramon fled back to Los Angeles to resurrect his career, but with a deep pitching rotation — Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, and Andy Ashby were already pegged as starters — he only had an outside shot of being the fifth. When informed after spring training that he would have to begin the season in the minors, he asked for his release, and signed on with the pitching-depleted Pittsburgh Pirates in April 2001. But after four miserable starts, compiling an 0-2 record and 8.62 ERA, Martinez decided to retire on May 2, 2001.