Knight, DeCinces can advise Martinez on following a legend New Yankee's first lesson: Don't try to be Mattingly

April 01, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Tino Martinez, meet Doug DeCinces and Ray Knight.

As Martinez prepares to replace Don Mattingly at first base for the Yankees today, he should take comfort in the knowledge that he is not the first player to replace a living legend. In two comparable circumstances, DeCinces replaced Brooks Robinson at third base in Baltimore and Knight replaced Pete Rose at third base in Cincinnati.

DeCinces and Knight lived to tell about it, and now they have some advice for, and some thoughts about, Martinez.

"Tino is an established major-leaguer already," DeCinces said. "He's replacing the last living Yankee legend. Mattingly deserves all the credit he's receiving, but Tino is not a rookie trying to break into the major leagues replacing Mattingly. That will help him."

Martinez, 28, played four full seasons and parts of two others with the Seattle Mariners. After an undistinguished early career, he emerged last season by hitting .293, slugging 31 home runs and driving in 111 runs. If he hits that way in a Yankees uniform, he won't make anyone forget Mattingly, but he will gain quick acceptance.

"In my mind, Tino just needs to be Tino," Knight said. "He's a great offensive player. He's not Don Mattingly. He's not going to do the things Don Mattingly did. He may not be as good defensively. He may not hit .350. But he's a very good player. My advice to him is go play baseball. Don't try to be Don Mattingly; be yourself and play."

Martinez could revert to earlier seasons, when he hit in the .260s, reached the teens in home runs and drove in 60-some runs.

But, the Cincinnati Reds' rookie manager added: "I don't think he's going to fail. He's probably going to hit 30 home runs in that ballpark, drive in close to 100 runs."

Knight had played for the Reds for two seasons when he became their third baseman in 1979. Rose left as a free agent after the 1978 season, having amassed 3,164 hits out of his 4,256 total.

DeCinces began replacing Robinson, the automatic Gold Glover and outstanding clutch hitter, as the Orioles' third baseman in 1976 and completed the takeover the following season.

"My situation was a lot different from his," Knight said. "DeCinces took over for Brooks Robinson about the same time, but Brooks was at the end of his career and they knew someone was coming. Pete was in the midst of his career, playing great."

But, DeCinces said, at least Rose was gone from Cincinnati.

"Brooks Robinson was still in uniform," he said, recalling his takeover at the age of 27. "I took his job while he was still there. He was my backup for a year."

That Robinson was at the end of his glorious career and needed to be replaced provided little solace for DeCinces in his struggle to establish himself in the eyes of Orioles fans.

"It was very, very difficult," he said. "I faced it. It wasn't easy. I used to get hate mail. I was touted to be the next Brooks Robinson, at least the heir apparent. I remember being introduced for the second game of a doubleheader and fans booed. It wasn't so much me. They wanted to see their superstar. I think it was the audacity that someone could even replace him."

Asked if he ever became comfortable, DeCinces, a real estate developer in Newport Beach, Calif., said: "Yeah, when I got traded to the California Angels. It was always a constant comparison, something I had to deal with. But the thing I am proudest of when I look back was that I was able to overcome that as well as establish myself as a major leaguer. Once I got over playing for Earl Weaver and replacing Brooks, I had the tough things behind me."

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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