Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Norberto Martín

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Norberto Martín spent years in the minors before finally getting a chance in the majors. He was originally celebrated for his glove, but by the time he was done, it was his reputation as a clutch hitter that endeared "Paco" to White Sox fans.

Paco Martín. Remember that guy?

Norberto Edonal Martín was born on Dec. 10, 1966 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The White Sox signed him on March 27, 1984, though it would be nearly a decade before he made his MLB debut.

Primarily a shortstop, Martín worked his way up through the minors but was plagued by injuries, which made him miss significant time in 1986 (limited to 10 games) and 1989 (missed the entire season). By 1990, Martín reached Triple-A Vancouver, where he spent three seasons.

Entering 1991, he was ranked No. 4 on the White Sox top 10 prospect list (per Baseball America). In 1993, the White Sox switched Triple-A affiliates from Vancouver to Nashville and Martín had easily the finest season of his career, hitting .309 and being voted best defensive second baseman in the American Association by Baseball America.

Martín's MLB debut finally came Sept. 20, 1993, when he pinch ran for Frank Thomas and scored a run on a Robin Ventura double. The first hit came Sept. 28 – a single off Tim Leary. The next day, in only his fifth MLB game and seventh MLB plate appearance, he recorded his second hit - a walk-off single in the 12th inning, giving the White Sox a 3-2 win over the Mariners. He finished the season 5-for-14 (.357) in eight games.

After undergoing offseason elbow surgery, Paco started the 1994 season in Nashville to regain his strength. With Craig Grebeck and Ozzie Guillen dealing with nagging injuries, the White Sox recalled him in late May.

Martín's first big ;eague home run came on June 4, 1994. – a ninth inning grand slam off Jim Poole in Baltimore. He's one of eight players in White Sox history whose first career MLB home run was a grand slam: Happy Felsch (1915), Spencer Harris (1925), Tom Turner (1942), Vince Castino (1943), Kevin Bell (1976), Danny Richar (2007) and Charlie Tilson (2019).

Martín cooled off quite a bit, enduring an 0-for-19 skid entering the Fourth of July before supplying the fireworks with a walk-off pinch hit double off the Brewers' Jesse Orosco. The game-winning run was scored by Ron Karkovice, who pinch ran for Craig Grebeck, who had just come off the disabled list and was still not 100 percent. It was quite a way to snap an 0-for-19 skid.

According to the Chicago Tribune, he repeatedly yelled "It's Paco Time!" after his game-winning hit.

Martín finished 1994 with a .275/.317/.366 slash line with that one home run and 16 RBIs. He spent the entire season with the big league club in 1995 and settled into his utility role, hitting .269/.281/.400 with a pair of long balls.

The 1996 season would be his best, but it certainly didn't look that way at first. He hit the 60-day disabled list after suffering multiple facial fractures when a fouled bunt attempt hit him in the eye in California on April 5.

In his first start back - June 9, 1996 – Martín, Harold Baines and Frank Thomas all had three hits in an 18-hit White Sox onslaught, a 12-9 slugfest win over Baltimore. One of Thomas' hits was his 200th career home run. On June 20, Martín registered what would end up his lone career four-hit game.

In 70 games, Martín hit .350/.374/.421; that batting average was second in the AL to Alex Rodriguez among players with at least 140 at-bats. Frank Thomas was third with .349. In addition, Paco remains one of four players in White Sox history to hit .350 and steal 10+ bases in a season (even though he had far fewer plate appearances than the others on this list).

 

 

BA

SB

PA

Norberto Martín

1996

.350

10

151

Luke Appling

1936

.388

10

618

Carl Reynolds

1930

.359

16

602

Eddie Collins

1923

.360

48

633

Eddie Collins

1920

.372

20

703

By now, Paco was a fan favorite. On Opening Day 1997, he led off the ninth inning with a pinch hit homer to tie the game at 5 (the Sox won in extras). It remains the only pinch hit blast in a season opener in White Sox history. He went on to hit a respectable .300 in 71 games, filling in whenever and wherever needed.

Martín was entering his age 31-season and in December 1997, the White Sox traded for 25-year old Benji Gil, designating Martín for assignment to clear roster space. (Gil would spend all of 1998 in the minors, then be traded to the Marlins, never playing a single game for the White Sox.) 

Martín caught on with the Angels and played a career-high 79 games, but he wasn't the same player, hitting only .215. He played nine games for the Blue Jays in 1999 in what would be the end of his MLB career. He continued to play in the minors, in addition to a stint in Mexico, for a few more years.

Post-playing career, Paco was a hitting coach in the Brewers organization for the rookie level Helena Brewers in 2004 and 2007-08, and later the low-A Asheville Tourists (Rockies organization) from 2017-19. In between, he was a baseball instructor at the Academy of  Pro Players in New Jersey, as well as at Grand Slam USA in Raleigh, N.C.

Martín's nephew, Jose Gumbs, played two seasons in the NFL: 2012 with the Chiefs and 2013 with the Redskins.

A valuable guy off the bench with a knack for big hits late in games. Who could forget Paco Martín?

Thanks to the SoxNerd (@SoxNerd on Twitter) for contributing a few nuggets to this article.

Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Norberto Martn originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago