One spring day in 1931 a dust-covered, bowlegged young man, with a hawk nose, buffalo shoulders and long, hairy arms, marched into the St. Louis Cardinals' training camp in Bradentown, Fla. and announced to Manager Frank Frisch: "I'm Martin." Manager Frisch stared. Then he asked Rookie Martin why he was late. Martin explained that he had been detained in jail for riding a freight. "But we sent you railroad tickets." Retorted Martin: "What do you take me for, a dope? I cashed them in and rode for nothing."
Such was the introduction of John Leonard ("Pepper") Martin to the big leagues and U. S. baseball fans. Born on a 29th of February of an Irish father and Dutch mother in Oklahoma, Pepper Martin had tussled with a rattlesnake as a tot, eloped at 24, kicked around in the minor leagues for seven years. Powerful and ungainly, he played baseball by main strength, sometimes throwing his bat at the ball, charging like a buffalo across the diamond, sliding into bases head first. The way he cut up ball fields made him the despair of ground keepers; the way he smeared up his uniform by diving at bases and the ball gained him the title of "baseball's dirtiest player."
Rookie Martin's batting and running won him an outfielder's job and the Cardinals the National League pennant. That fall Pepper Martin won the World Series from the Athletics almost by himself. He made twelve hits, stole five bases, moved hard-bitten old John McGraw to exclaim: "The greatest World Series player I ever saw." Though Pepper Martin never again reached his 1931 World Series form, he became the most fabulous figure in baseball. They called him "The Wild Horse of the Osage." He was the loudest and toughest of the Cardinals' famed Gashouse Gang. Once, when he threw a ball during a game, yards of bandage unraveled from his hand. Manager Frisch stopped the game, learned to his amazement that Martin was playing with a broken finger. "Aw," said Pepper, "it's only a small bone." He horrified the Cardinals' President Sam Breadon by playing football and racing midget autos in off hours.
In private life Pepper amused himself by hunting ducks and mountain lions. Once, prowling in Philadelphia's tony Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, he discovered a cache of painters' equipment. He rounded up Teammates Dizzy Dean and Ducky-Wucky Medwick, and all three, wearing overalls and carrying paint buckets and brushes, marched into the main dining room bawling: "C'mon folks. Beat it. There's going to be a banquet here in an hour and we gotta get these walls painted. Don't bother about paying for the checks, scram."
The Cardinals' General Manager Branch Rickey, never noted for keeping aging ballplayers, kept Martin long past his prime. Three years ago he declared: "That Pepper Martin will never be sold or traded." But last fortnight, as it must to all ballplayers, the end of his major-league career came to Pepper Martin at 36. To pasture in Sacramento, where he will manage a Cardinals' farm club, went the Wild Horse of the Osage.