Monday, July 18, 2011

Babe Martin: Ballplayer and Part Time Wrestling Referee

Babe Martin was born Boris Michael Martinovich, the son of a professional wrestler, Iron Mike Martin (Bryan Martinovich). Both of Boris’ parents were born in parts of the former Yugoslavia, his father in Montenegro and his mother in Serbia. They each emigrated to the United States and settled in Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. At least one geographically-challenged sportswriter once dubbed him the “Hungarian hot-shot.”

When wrestling, the senior Martinovich adapted his surname to the circumstances. He wrestled in Montana and he wrestled in Chicago, and in any number of other places. If he was wrestling in an Italian area, he took the name Martini. In a Scottish or Irish area, he became McMartin or O’Martin. “Dad could speak a number of European languages, being born over there,” Babe said, adding “When he married mother, that was the end of his wrestling.”

Boris had two brothers and two sisters, Lola and Olga. Brother Robert was the only other one interested in sports, but it wasn’t something he pursued past college. He became part-owner of a Budweiser distributorship in Florida, while brother Bryan -- who’d boxed and wrestled a bit professionally before going into the service -- became a jeweler in St. Louis. Boris married the former Mildred Slapcevich of St. Louis in 1943. He never legally changed his last name, but still generally goes by the name Martin. His sons, though, prefer to stick with Martinovich.

His mother prompted a family move to Zeigler, Illinois, in the southern part of the state, due to a conflict with an in-law. Born on March 28, 1920, Boris was just one year old at the time of the move. “The only type of industry at that time in southern Illinois was coal mining so my dad went to work in the coal mining business. A shaft caved in on him. He survived that, but died about three years later. He just died. Back in 1926, they didn’t know how or what a person died from.” Boris was three at the time of the accident, and the family moved on to St. Louis.

Boris’s mother was very supportive of his ambitions when Boris showed athletic inclinations early on. “I played on sandlots, glass, and gravel fields, under bridges, wherever I could go ahead and play on. Playgrounds, wherever, you know. In the summertime, I’d be gone early in the morning and come home at dusk”. Martin was a good ballplayer, good enough that “they took me out of grammar school, seventh grade, to play on the ninth-grade high school team.”

As the youngest in his family, he was called Baby. “They called me Baby for years. And then as I got a little bit older, it got to be a little bit embarrassing so they called me Babe.” He was Babe all through high school and beyond.

Though he was both a catcher and outfielder in pro ball -- and only a catcher during his brief time with Boston in the majors, he began as an infielder. “As I grew, I got larger. If it had been today, I never would have consented to be a catcher. I could play first base. I was a pretty good infielder; although I was big, I could have moved to third base. But you know, back then, you did what you were told. If they wanted you in the outfield, you moved to the outfield. Today they don’t take that….”

Martin played for McKinley High School in St. Louis in 1936-38, and his high school coach was Lou Maguolo, who scouted in the area for the St. Louis Browns. Maguolo later retired from coaching and became a full-time scout, working in that capacity for the New York Yankees. Babe was all-district in basketball and also played three years on the school’s football team.

Martin graduated from high school in 1940 at age 20 and most sources show him as signing with the Browns then. “Actually,” Martin confides, “I signed in high school unbeknownst to anybody. I signed in 1938. They gave me a job working in the Browns office at $100 a month and I worked out with the Browns and Cardinals. Back in the ’30s, I guess ’37, ’38, ’39, we didn’t have any money. So $100 a month, bringing that home for my mother…my brother Bryan was really the only one that was working at the time. I was working in the office…office work. Answering the telephone at the switchboard. I wasn’t very good at that, but mostly I was on the field. I was working out.”

Martin played for the Browns and Red Sox and worked as a wrestling referee in his spare time.

Read a lot more about Babe Martin at:

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