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Pepper Puts on a Show

A brash Cardinal rookie upset the A's when he ran wild on the bases in the 1931 World Series

General Manager Branch Rickey's cigar took an extra whirl when a bench-warming outfielder stormed into his office one June afternoon in 1931 and shouted, "You play me or trade me. I wasn't made to sit on no bench."

The speaker was John Leonard (Pepper) Martin—a 27-year-old rookie who had been bouncing around in the minors since 1923. Of mediocre ability, the squat, barrel-chested Martin was as fast as a quarter horse and was always keyed up, always trying. Knowing this, and perhaps moved by the brash rookie's eloquence, Rickey made room for him in center field. That year, drawing down $4,500, Martin played 123 games, hit an even .300 and provided the spark that helped the Cardinals win their second straight pennant.

Although the Cardinals were a sound, well-balanced ball club, they were rated far below Connie Mack's dazzling Philadelphia Athletics, the American League leaders for the third consecutive year. World champions the two previous years, the A's had run away from the Yankees in 1931, finishing 13½ games in front. The year before the A's had walloped the Cardinals four games to two in the World Series and now, with virtually the same club, Mack was seeking a record third straight Series win. Most experts thought he would have little trouble as the two teams took the field at Sportsman's Park, St. Louis, on October 1.

As expected the Athletics won, with Lefty Grove (31-4) pitching, but not before Martin had let them know that it was going to be his party. On his first trip to the plate he slashed a double off the right-field wall, followed it up with two singles and made a belly-sliding steal of second.

"Let me run on that Cochrane," Martin pleaded to Manager Gabby Street after the game. The next day he did run and in such a reckless manner that he had the entire Athletics team dizzy. In the second inning he stretched a single into a double, arriving head first at second, then a moment later broke for third and beat Catcher Mickey Cochrane's rifle throw in a swirl of dust. On a fly to center Martin came home with the first Cardinal run. In the seventh inning he singled, stole second, took third on an infield out, and again hurled himself across the plate as the pitcher, fielding a squeeze bunt, threw frantically to Cochrane. The pair of runs made by the Wild Horse of the Osage that afternoon were the only two scored in the game.

No longer was Martin a comparatively unknown rookie. Even the Philadelphia fans cheered him as he hit a single and a double and scored two runs in a 5-2 Cardinal victory in the third game at Shi be Park.

"The World Series being played this year between the Philadelphia Athletics and Pepper Martin of Temple, Okla.," wrote H. I. Phillips in the New York Sun after the fourth game, "resulted in a victory for the Athletics yesterday, 3 to 0." The Cardinals got only two hits, both of which came from the bat of Martin—a single and double. For good measure he stole another base. Martin was now hitting .643, surpassing Babe Ruth's four-game Series record of .625, made in 1928.

No player had ever before staged such a one-man show or had so upset an opposing team in a World Series. Hitting, stealing, bluffing steals, snagging flies on the run, the grimy-uniformed Martin electrified the fans and gave the A's a fine case of jitters. In the fifth game, although nipped by Cochrane for the first time on an attempted steal, Martin beat out a bunt in the fourth inning, smashed a homer in the sixth and singled in the eighth. He brought in four of the Cards' five runs to give them a 3-2 lead in the Series. At this point the ubiquitous Martin had made 12 hits in 18 times at bat for a .667 average.

Martin was held hitless in the last two games, but he did steal another base that led to a run in the final game (Grove had won the sixth game easily). And in the ninth inning, with the tying runs on base, he made a spectacular one-handed catch for the last out to save the game and the World Series for the Cardinals.