Blue Jays Flashback: Russell Martin

Regular readers of our Blue Jays Flashback series will know by now that Kevin Glew likes to press rewind on the baseball years. This time, he’s keeping things in the 21st century with a look back at the career of Russell Martin.

Blue Jays Flashback: Russell Martin

It took the second largest contract in franchise history at the time to lure Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays, but most of the team’s fans will tell you he was worth every penny of the five-year, $82-million deal.


Belting a career-high 23 home runs and masterfully leading the Blue Jays pitching staff from behind the plate, the gritty Canadian helped the team end a 22-season playoff drought in 2015.

“Incredible, incredible season,” said Martin of being with the Blue Jays in 2015. “We had a great run. I thought it was a fun team to root for in Toronto. There were all kinds of different personalities on the team. We had some offensive pop on the team as well, a lot of home runs were hit. There were a lot of big innings and some crazy moments happened in the playoffs, too. But it was just about as much fun as I’ve had in a season with that crew in 2015.”

In that first season in Toronto, Martin was named an All-Star for the fourth time in his career, and he helped propel the team to within two wins of an American League pennant.

That was just one of the many accomplishments in his unlikely 14-season major league career that earned him election to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on February 6.

Though he was born in East York, Ont., in 1983, Martin grew up in Montreal as an Expos fan. His father used to take him to a handful of games at Olympic Stadium each year.

“My dad was a great storyteller, and he would make up these stories like, ‘Here comes Russell Martin at the plate. There’s a shot deep to right field.’ He would make up stories about me hitting homers in the games,” recalled Martin in the recent Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call, of going to those Expos games with his dad. “He kind of helped me create this visual that I could get there someday.”

From the stands, a young Martin would dream of playing alongside his Expos heroes like Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Delino DeShields.

His dream to play for the Expos never came to fruition, but he did have the opportunity to play an exhibition game at Olympic Stadium with the Blue Jays on April 3, 2015. And making it even more special was that his father, Russell Sr., played the national anthem on his saxophone.

“I definitely had to hold the tears in there,” said Martin.

That game was one of the most memorable of Martin’s career that saw him evolve into the greatest Canadian catcher in major league history.

That’s a title that would’ve been hard for Martin to fathom when he was growing up playing his minor ball in Montreal and then with Canada’s Junior National Team, before heading to Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.

After struggling in his first college season, he saw more action as a catcher in his sophomore campaign and impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers who selected him in the 17th round of the 2002 MLB draft.

On May 5, 2006, Martin made his big-league debut with the Dodgers. He proceeded to bat .282 with 10 home runs in 121 games that season and be named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team.

Martin was even better in his second season, hitting .293 with 19 home runs and a career-best 87 RBIs and was selected to his first All-Star Game. He was also honoured with a Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove Award.

After three more seasons with the Dodgers, he signed with the New York Yankees and belted 18 and 21 home runs in the 2011 and 2012 seasons respectively.

On November 30, 2012, he signed a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and would earn two consecutive Wilson Defensive Player of the Year honours.

As noted earlier, following the 2014 campaign, Martin signed a lucrative five-year contract with the Blue Jays. After his All-Star first season in Toronto, Martin clubbed 20 more homers in 2016 to propel the club to the playoffs for a second consecutive year. In total, in parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays, he hit 66 home runs in 447 games.

During his tenure in Toronto, Martin came to realize just how many Blue Jays fans there were across Canada.

“It just extends all the way from coast to coast,” he said. “We would play games in Seattle. We would play games in Cleveland, in Minnesota. And we felt like the home team, so it says a lot about the Blue Jays and the fans that they have. But the opportunity to put on that Canadian Blue Jays uniform was super special.”

Martin played his final major league season with the Dodgers in 2019. That year, he reached the postseason for the 10th time in 14 major league campaigns.

Martin ranks in the top 10 among Canadians in most major league statistical categories, including first in defensive WAR (dWAR )(16.5), third in WAR (38.8), fourth in games (1,693), sixth in hits (1,416) and seventh in home runs (191). He also holds Canadian major league postseason records in games (58) and hits (38).

But it was clear during the recent Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call that Martin’s time with the Blue Jays provided some of the most cherished memories of his career.

“The stars aligned for me,” said Martin about his tenure in Toronto. “The Blue Jays were looking for a catcher and I was available as a free agent. I feel grateful and just lucky that the situation was there and getting a chance to play at home on Canadian soil in front of Canadian fans for a team that I saw [as a kid] in ‘92 and ‘93.”



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