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Morrie Martin

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: September 3, 1922 Dixon, MO
Date and Place of Death:    May 25, 2010 Washington, MO
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit: 49th Engineer Combat Battalion US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Morris W. "Morrie" Martin was born on September 3, 1922, in Dixon, Missouri, where he gre up on a farm. After watching the 17-year-old left-hander pitch back-to-back shutouts for an amateur team during the summer of 1940, scout, Wally Schang, asked Martin if he'd like to play professional baseball. In February 1941, the youngster received a telegram inviting him to spring training in Leesburg, Florida. The Chicago White Sox were impressed with what they saw and he joined the Grand Forks Chiefs of the Class C Northern League for the season, where he was 16-7 with a league-leading 2.05 ERA, easily making the All-Star team. The following year he was promoted to the St. Paul Saints of the Class AA American Association, where he was 1-4 in 25 appearances.

On December 28, 1942, Martin's baseball career was put on hold as he entered military service with the Army at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He trained at Camp Polk, Louisiana, and was assigned to the 49th Engineer Combat Battalion. In 1943, the 49th were sent to Oran, Algeria, in North Africa, as part of Operation Torch. Although not involved in combat in North Africa, it was still a dangerous place for American servicemen as locals were known to sneak into military barracks and kill servicemen for their possessions. "It was scary over there," recalled Martin.

In the spring of 1944, following an amphibious landing at Sicily, Martin's unit headed to England in preparation for D-Day. The engineers were among the first troops to go ashore at Omaha Beach, Normandy, clearing gaps in beach barricades to make way for the coming assault. Martin was involved in the taking of a key bridge at Sainte-Mère-Église, France, liberating the port city of Cherbourg, and the battle at St-Lo. It was at at-Lo, that Martin was hit by shrapnel, suffering wounds in his arm, hand and neck. "It wasn't too bad," said Martin, who received a Purple Heart. "They just patched me up and I went right back at it."

"When the battles would start, you remember how they got started," he said. "You remember the noise and the guns, and the artillery going off. But then I guess you just block it out of your mind. After everything started, it just goes blank. I don't remember a lot of things. I know it was hell, I remember that."

The Engineers then advance through Belgium, where the weather deteriorated drastically. Martin suffered frostbite to his feet. "I couldn't hardly walk," he said, "they were in such bad shape."

Moving into Germany, he was buried alive when the house he was in was shelled. Left for dead, he and two other soldiers clawed their way out and rejoined their battalion.

Martin and the 49th ECB later helped capture the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the last bridge standing on the Rhine. At was there that he suffered a bullet wound to the thigh. He was sent back to a hospital in Saint-Quentin, France, where doctors planned to amputate his leg. He remembers waking up as a nurse informed him they were planning to amputate his infected leg.

A nurse had learned that Martin was a ballplayer told him he could refuse the operation and, instead, take a chance on being treated with a still-experimental infection-fighting drug — penicillin. It took more than 150 shots of penicillin. "I owe that nurse my leg," he said.

Once he was able to walk again, Martin was sent to a hospital in Paris for two months of convalescence. He was then granted a furlough and shipped home on August 2, 1945 — his father's birthday. His father often told him, "That was the best birthday present I ever got in my life."

Reflecting on his military service years later, Martin said, "We had a job to do and we did it. I don't have regrets about the time I missed in baseball. I'm proud of what we did. I'd do it again."

Martin was discharged from the Army in December 1945, and was determined to return to professional baseball. He contract was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers and in 1946, he was 14-6 for the Asheville Tourists of the Class B Tri-State League, with a 2.71 ERA in 173 innings. He began 1947 at Danville of the Class B Three-I League and after seven good starts returned to St. Paul after a five-year absence. Used as a reliever the rest of that year, he became a starter again in 1948, and responded with a 13-11 record. He pitched in the Junior World Series against another Brooklyn farm club, the Montreal Royals, and then spent the winter in Cuba, pitching the Almanderas team to a title.

Martin made it to the major leagues as a 26-year-old rookie in 1949. He pitched 10 games for the Dodgers and had a 1-3 record. He was back in the majors in 1951, this time with the Athletics. It was to be his best season with an 11-4 record and 3.78 ERA, beating every American League team at least once. In total, Martin pitched 10 seasons in the majors with the Dodgers, Athletics, White Sox, Orioles, Cardinals, Indians and Cubs. Primarily a relief pitcher, he pitched a career-high 58 games in 1953, with the Athletics, posting a 10-12 record and 4.43 ERA

Martin returned to the minors after his major league career ended in 1959. He was with Houston in 1960, and had a brief coaching career before retiring.

Morrie Martin worked as a salesman in the meatpacking industry as well as coaching and organizing youth baseball. He sucummbed to lung cancer on May 25, 2010, in Washington, Missouri. He was 77 years old and is buried at St. Francis Borgia Cemetery in Washington.

Date Added December 15, 2017. Updated December 21, 2017

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