Forgotten A’s Pitcher, D-Day Hero Morrie Martin, Awarded Two Purple Hearts
Baseball fans who came of age during the 1950s, the National Pastime’s Golden Era, remember Morrie Martin as a journeyman left-handed pitcher who had limited success during his ten-year career. Pitching mostly for the basement-dwelling Philadelphia A’s, Martin’s career record was 38–34. Martin was credited with 23 wins as an A’s; the remaining 15 were spread out among the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals. The stout lefty from Dixon, Mo., made brief appearances for the Chicago Cubs, but didn’t earn a decision.
Martin was much more than a middling MLB hurler who walked more batters, 252, than he struck out, 245. Before Martin was inducted into the U.S. Army on June 2, 1943, he compiled above-average minor league credentials, 16–7, in Grand Forks, N.D., with the Class C Chiefs and in St. Paul, Minn., with the American Association’s Saints, two Chicago White Sox affiliates. Martin’s pitching stints with the Saints represented the last times he touched a baseball until his return home from WWII in 1945.
As Gary Bedingfield reported on his “Baseball in Wartime” website and pursuant to information drawn from Stan Opdkye’s Society of American Baseball Research essay, “Morrie Martin,” Martin entered military service with the Army at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and then served overseas with the 49th Engineer Combat Battalion where he took part in amphibious landings as part of Operation Torch at North Africa, Operation Husky at Sicily and Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
As an engineer, Martin was among the first to reach shore. Shortly after the D-Day landing, and while on guard duty near Saint-Lô, France, Martin was hit by shrapnel in his neck, left hand and arm. Despite his injuries, Martin remained on the front lines. Late in 1944, he was engaged in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Mountains of Belgium and suffered frostbite in the bitterly cold temperatures. Nevertheless, Martin remained with his unit until 1945 when he suffered serious, near-fatal injuries.
After Martin took two more rounds of shrapnel wounds, he was buried alive in Germany when the house he took shelter in was shelled. Left for dead, Martin and two other soldiers clawed their way out to rejoin their battalion. At the Battle of the Bulge, Martin suffered a bullet wound to the thigh, and nearly lost his leg when gangrene set in.
Evacuated to a hospital in Saint-Quentin, France, Martin caught a big break. A nurse looked at his chart, saw that he was a professional ball player, and urged him to reject the doctors’ advice that he give his permission to amputate his leg. Instead, more than 150 penicillin shots saved Martin’s leg from amputation, and he slowly worked his way back to the big leagues. Discharged from the Army in October 1945, Martin joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, and worked his way up through Branch Rickey’s fiercely competitive minor league system.
On April 25, 1949, Martin made his first MLB start against the Boston Braves, the 1948 National League champions. Martin pitched seven quality innings, but his opponent, Bill Voiselle, who pitched a complete game shutout, was better. For the balance of his career, Martin shuffled back and forth between the majors and the minors. Martin peaked in 1951 with the A’s when he compiled an 11–4 record.
On May 25, 2010, in Washington, Mo., Martin died from lung cancer at age 87. For his service in World War II, he was awarded two Purple Hearts, four battle stars and an Oak Leaf Cluster. Prior to his death, Martin told a newspaper reporter how much he valued his wartime service to his country: “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.” Until that interview, Martin, like most of the Great Generation, was always willing to talk about baseball, but refused to speak about his war heroism.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at email@example.com.