Cheap Seats

On this date in Cardinals history: Dec. 18, 2001

Nine years ago today, the Cardinals moved to fill the sizeable hole at first base left by the retirement of Mark McGwire by signing former Yankees first sacker Tino Martinez to a three-year contract for $21 million.

Martinez was an All-Star and a veteran of World Series play. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Martinez got off to a lousy start in 2002, hitting .200 in April and .236 in May. Then he blamed the fans for his poor hitting, saying that the New York rooters' intensity motivated him more than that polite, patient nature of the St. Louis faithful. Cardinals fans obliged Martinez, who only hit .245 that first season with runners in scoring position, by booing him heartily when he (frequently) stranded runners on base.

It didn't seem to help.

Behind closed doors, things were even worse. Martinez had a caustic personality in the clubhouse. He was reportedly especially hard on young players, criticizing them to the point that it sapped their confidence and generally made the team tight.

Martinez lasted only two seasons with the Cardinals, traded to Tampa Bay -- with the Cardinals eating almost all of his remaining salary -- prior to the 2004 season.

Fortunately, one of the young players Martinez rubbed the wrong way -- Albert Pujols -- moved from third base to the outfield to take over at first after Martinez departed. And the Cardinals seemed to do alright, making it to three National League Championship Series, two World Series appearances and one world championship in the three years following Martinez's departure.

Meanwhile, the Yankees replaced Martinez with Jason Giambi whom they signed to a seven-year, $120-million contract. He never lived up to the reputation he created in Oakland and Giambi was soon embroiled in controversy for his admitted steroid abuse.

  Comments