Known as the "heart and soul" of the St. Louis Cardinals's "Gashouse Gang," John L. R. "Pepper" Martin was born in Temple, Oklahoma, on February 29, 1904. He began his baseball career in 1922 with Oklahoma City sandlot teams. To make a living he sold drinks at a ball park and drove a "ballyhoo wagon" that advertised the city's minor league games. He later played for Ardmore. In 1924 he signed his first professional contract, agreeing to play for Guthrie, in the Oklahoma State League, for $124 a month.
From 1928 through 1944 he played second base for the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. Famous for his belly-flop slides, he led the National League in stolen bases and runs scored in each of three seasons. Once asked , "Where did you learn to run the way you do?" he replied, "Well, Sir, I grew up in Oklahoma, and once you start runnin' out there there ain't nothin' to stop you."
Martin's .418 career World Series batting average is the highest among players with fifty or more at-bats. He dominated the 1931 World Series, batting .500, stealing five bases, and hammering five extra-base hits. He also became a national celebrity as the subject of a serial titled "The Life of Pepper Martin" that regularly appeared in newspapers nationwide. Martin played for the Cardinals through 1944 and then for Havana's team in the International League before retiring in the 1950s. After his major league career, Martin coached and did radio play-by-play for the Tulsa Oilers in the early 1960s. He died in McAlester, Oklahoma, on March 5, 1965.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bob Burke, Kenny Franks, and Royse Parr, Glory Days of Summer, The History of Baseball in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1999).
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