By Tom Knight
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Recently, we told the story of the late “Pepper” Martin, the hero of the St. Louis Cardinals when they defeated the Philadelphia Athletics in seven games to win the 1931 World Series. That was when Martin became known as “The Wild Horse of the Osage” because of his hitting and running.
There were two other heroes in that series for the Cardinals: Lefthander “Wild Bill” Hallahan and my dear friend, Hall of Fame righthander Burleigh Grimes. Each won two games! Nevertheless, Pepper did indeed steal the show.
We mentioned that Martin was a clean-living fellow who did not drink, smoke, or use profanity. But, like many ballplayers, Martin was superstitious. For some reason, he thought hairpins were lucky. Anytime he spotted one on the ground, he’d pick it up.
One time, in the team’s Cincinnati hotel, St. Louis baseball writers Roy Stockton and Ray Gillespi, thought they would have some fun and scattered an entire package of hairpins all over the lobby. Joe Medwick came in and began picking up the pins.
“Hey,” Stockton cried, “Those are for Pepper Martin!”
Medwick replied, “Let Pepper find his own hairpins!”
The fun-loving Martin liked to entertain off the field, too. After his fireworks in the 1931 World Series, he was voted by the Associated Press to receive its “Athlete of the Year” Award. With all the attention he was getting, he was booked for a long vaudeville tour at $1,500 per week!
After a few weeks, Pepper decided to call it quits in Louisville. He said, “I ain’t an actor; I’m a ballplayer. I’m cheating the public and the guy who’s paying me $1,500. Besides, the hunting season’s on in Oklahoma and that’s more important business.”
That was Pepper. He had five weekends to go and it cost him $7,500 — a lot of money in 1931!
He didn’t think he could sing or act, but he did learn to play the guitar and formed The Oklahoma Mud Cats. The group was composed of some of his St. Louis teammates. Pitcher Lon Warneke played the banjo, pitcher “Fiddler” Bill McGee played violin, naturally, pitcher “Lefty” Bob Weiland played the jug and sang, and well-known ex-Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Frenchy Bordagaray played the washboard. Martin, of course, played guitar and, sometimes, the harmonica.
They played mostly hillbilly music, with an occasional Stephen Foster medley. They performed in the clubhouse before games, as well as at banquets, high schools and colleges. Much in demand, the Mud Cats were often on the radio, including two coast-to-coast hookups from New York!
Martin finished his career with the Cardinals in 1940. He came back for a few games during the war in 1944 at age 40. With 13 years in the majors, Pepper hit over .300 seven times, led the league in stolen bases three times and had a lifetime batting average of .298. He appeared in three World Series.
When Pepper Martin died a month before his 61st birthday of a heart attack on his ranch in Oklahoma, Branch Rickey said of him, “He was one of nature’s noble men.”