Pepper Martin: baseball’s leap day legend

By the time Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin had celebrated his sixth birthday, the Oklahoma native had not only made it to the Major Leagues but hit for a .300 average, led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Championship and turned in one of the greatest postseason performances in baseball history.

Of course, Martin, who went by the nickname “Pepper,” was only six years old in the sense that he was born on a Leap Day, Feb. 29, 1904. That meant that by the time he helped the Cardinals defeat the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1931 World Series, his “true” birthday had occurred just six times.

In reality, Pepper Martin was a 27-year-old standout that year, at the start of a prolific career with the Redbirds that would include two world titles and four All-Star appearances.

Called the Wild Horse of the Osage for his aggressive style of play, Martin attacked the game with a style similar to Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, though injuries prevented him from enjoying the lengthier career of either of the latter two players, both Hall of Famers.

A key member of the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang that included such standouts as Frankie Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher, Martin posted a career .298 batting average and a .443 slugging percentage.

Perhaps his greatest season was his first full campaign in the big leagues, 1931.

Despite beginning the season on the bench, Martin took over as a starter midway through the year and ended with a .300 batting average, seven home runs and 75 runs batted in to help the Cardinals clinch the 1931 National League pennant by 13 games over the New York Giants.

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