Tino Martinez, a former major league baseball player and the father of a graduating Fordham student, is slated to deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2014 during Fordham’s 169th Commencement at Rose Hill on May 17, according to a statement released by school officials Monday afternoon.
School officials quickly removed the announcement, which was obtained by “Fordham Daily,” from Fordham’s website soon after it was mistakenly published Monday. After Fordham’s Board of Trustees approves the speaker selection on Thursday, administrators are expected to announce that Martinez will deliver this year’s commencement address.
Martinez, 46, is celebrated for his illustrious fifteen-year career, in which he played on four teams and was twice recognized as a league All-Star. He is perhaps most remembered for his time spent at first base for the Yankees during four World Series victories in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, touted Martinez’s accomplished career and personal character in a statement.
“Tino Martinez has advanced himself through hard work and perseverance, with humility and gratitude that are not just the hallmarks of good sportsmanship, but are the foundations of a life well lived,” he said in the statement.
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While a student at the University of Tampa, Martinez set school baseball records by earning a .398 batting average and hitting 54 home runs over the course of three seasons. He also impressed many playing on the 1988 United States Olympic team.
That year, Martinez left school before graduating to pursue his baseball dream when the Seattle Mariners drafted him in the first round. He looks back at that time fondly.
“Winning the World Series was great,” Martinez told The New York Times in 1997. “But, getting to the major leagues in itself was also a great accomplishment, especially for someone like me.”
He added, “I was always a good hitter. But I didn’t have speed or a great arm. I had to work extra hard to convince people that I could be a major leaguer.”
Martinez would later return to the University of Tampa to earn his bachelor’s degree, which he was awarded in 2011. The Mariners called him up on Aug. 20, 1990, months after his father – his perervering coach and the man he considered a guiding light in his life–suddenly died of a brain tumor at the age of 48.
“I think he knows I made it,” Martinez told The Times, speaking of his father. “He always believed I would [make it to the major leagues]. I really believed. I don’t think he was just saying that.”
After spending five years playing for the Mariners, carving out a reputation for himself, Martinez began playing for the Yankees, where he would spend five years.
Martinez first came to the Bronx, N.Y., in 1996, as the centerpiece of a trade the Yankees made to find a successor to legendary first basemen Don Mattingly. Martinez spent six seasons in pinstripes, successfully winning over the Yankee faithful, and was an integral part of the Yankees’ dominant teams in the late ‘90s.
In 1997, Martinez had his best season statistically. He posted career highs in batting average, runs batted in and home runs, made the All-Star team and finished second in American League MVP voting.
A pair of home runs cemented Martinez’s legacy as a Yankee fan favorite. His seventh inning grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series broke a 5-5 tie and helped the Yankees to a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres. In the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with the Yankees down to their last out, Martinez hit a two-run home run to tie the game. The Yankees would go on to win in extra innings, although they eventually lost the series.
Following the 2001 season, the Yankees let Martinez go to sign free agent Jason Giambi. Martinez made an emotional return to Yankee Stadium in 2003 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He received a standing ovation before each at-bat.
For his last season in 2005, Martinez returned for one final season with the Yankees. He batted just .241 on the year, but a stretch in May when he hit a home run in five straight games provided Yankee fans with one more memorable moment. Martinez retired as a Yankee in 2006, finishing his career with 339 home runs and a .271 batting average in 16 seasons.
In the announcement that the university removed from the web, McShane praised Martinez’s character.
“By virtue of his Yankee career, he is already a son of the Bronx, N.Y., and by virtue of his integrity, decency and commitment to learning, it is our honor to have him address the Class of 2014,” he said.
However last July, Martinez was forced to resign as a hitting coach for the Miami Marlins in the wake of allegations that he verbally and physically abused players.
“I want to apologize to the Marlins organization for my behavior,” he said at the time. “I think I was frustrated at times, the way players were behaving and certain ways they were doing things.”
He added, “When I asked them to do something and they wouldn’t do it, whatever it may be, I thought the way to get through was by being firm with them, and I probably used some four-letter words.”
Willie Randolph, former Yankee second baseman and Mets manager from 2005 to 2008, addressed Fordham’s Class of 2007. He, too, had a daughter in the graduating class.
A source in the President’s Office has said Fordham had been close to securing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to deliver this year’s graduation address. Sotomayor grew up near the Fordham campus.
News that Martinez, not Sotomayor, would be the commencement speaker first came from baseball commentator Michael Kay, FCRH ’82, who revealed that Martinez would be Fordham’s grad speaker during a televised broadcast of last Friday night’s Yankee game.
Olivia Martinez, FCRH ’14, Martinez’s daughter, confirmed that her father would address Fordham’s graduating class. She said she was looking forward to the ceremony.
“I am very excited for him to deliver the speech and I know he is, too,” she said via email. “I hope everyone, whether they are Yankee fans or not, enjoy it as well.”