Were it not for a four-year string of futility during the heart of his career, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez would probably be in the Hall of Fame. An innings-eating star with the Orioles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dennis’ career hit the skids in the mid 1980s and it took a trade to Montreal in ’86 to get him back on track. The Nicaraguan-born Martinez currently rests as the winningest Latino pitcher in Major League history.
The Orioles gave the 21-year-old Martinez a four-game cup of coffee in 1976 before handing him a full-time job in ’77. As a rookie in ’77, Dennis went 14-7 as a long arm/spot starter. Inserted into the rotation in 1978, Martinez responded under Earl ‘Wear my pitcher’s arms out” Weaver with 276 innings. But that was small potatoes. Dennis led the American League with 292 innings pitched, 39 starts and 18 complete games in 1979. As one can imagine, he missed a significant portion of the 1980 season to arm woes.
Back on track in 1981, Dennis tied for the American League lead in wins with 14 during the strike shortened ’81 campaign. Martinez finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting with a tidy 3.32 ERA. Weaver played pack mule with Dennis again in 1982 when he asked him to pitch 252 innings. Martinez was second in the AL in games started with 39. Dennis tallied 16 wins for Weaver’s Birds in ’82 and appeared to be the reliable workhorse that Baltimore needed. Then the train left the tracks.
After going 16-12 in ’82, Dennis languished through a poor 7-16 season in 1983 with an unflattering 5.53 ERA. Things weren’t much better for Dennis in 1984 and ’85 and during the 1986 season, the Orioles cut their losses and traded Dennis to Montreal with backstop John Stefaro for utility infielder Rene Gonzales. The Orioles made the trade simply to rid themselves of Martinez’s perceived dead weight, but he resurrected his career in Canada, becoming an All-Star caliber pitcher, while Gonzales served as a backup to folks like the Ripken Brothers.
In his bounce back ’87 season, Dennis posted a brilliant .733 winning percentage for the Expos. Near the top of his game in ’88, Martinez fashioned a 2.72 ERA for the lowly Expos–he was the only Montreal hurler with more than a dozen victories. In 1989, Dennis went 16-7 for the Expos then had three straight years when he was named to the NL All-Star team in his mid to upper thirties.
Martinez logged 226 innings for the Expos in 1990 with pinpoint control. He issued an average of just 0.217 walks per inning–superior to star hurlers Doc Gooden (0.300) and John Smoltz (0.390). Although the Expos were a last place team in 1991, Dennis was at the top of his game. That year he tossed a perfect game against the Dodgers, went to the All-Star Game, and led the NL in complete games, shutouts and ERA. Dennis was just as good in ’92–albeit the perfect game–when he went 16-11 with a 2.47 ERA.
In 1993, the 38-year-old Martinez posted his sixth consecutive year with 220+ innings of work for the Expos. But the Expos were a team that just played out the schedule and the aging Martinez was eager to get back to the postseason. He signed a free agent deal with the contending Cleveland Indians in 1994. Dennis was 24 years old when he made his first postseason appearance in ’79 and 40 years old when he made his way back with the Indians in 1995. He won the deciding game in the ’95 ALCS which propelled Cleveland to the World Series where they lost to the Atlanta Braves. It was with Atlanta where Dennis saw his last action as a 43-year-old. He appeared in four NLCS games for Bobby Cox’s Braves with a 0.00 ERA; his last Major League action.
W 245/L 193/PCT .559/ERA 3.70/G 692/CG 122/IP 4,000/H 3897/BB 1165/SO 2149/SHO 30