#Shortstops: A Dash of Pepper

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Matthew Carter

In 1931, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics faced each other in the World Series for the second straight year.

Both teams were loaded with future Hall of Famers, with Frankie Frisch, Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, Burleigh Grimes and Jesse Haines for the Cardinals and Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove and Waite Hoyt for the A’s.

But one player, Cardinals outfielder Pepper Martin, was the star in this rendition of the Fall Classic.

Going into the 1931 season, Martin’s major league career amounted to playing in just 45 games with the Cardinals in 1928 and 1930. He remained primarily a bench player until June 15, when the Cardinals traded outfielder Taylor Douthit to the Cincinnati Reds. The trade finally allowed him to crack into the everyday lineup.

Martin finished the regular season with a .300 batting average and 16 stolen bases in 123 games, leading all of the team’s outfielders with 282 putouts.

His play helped lead the Cardinals to a 101-53 record and a second straight National League pennant. The team was now ready to face the A’s once again in the World Series.

Since Martin did not play in the previous year’s World Series, the A’s had no idea what to expect from him. In a team meeting on the eve of the first game, A’s manager Connie Mack told them that out of all of the Cardinals players, he was worried about Martin the most. “He’s the kind of aggressive, unpredictable kid who could be the hero or the goat,” Mack said prophetically.

Martin was determined to be the hero. As he told Cardinals manager Gabby Street before the start of the series: “All these writers are saying who’s going to be the hero of the series, but they don’t mention me. I’m going to be the hero.”

Martin backed up his statement by getting off to a great start in Game 1. Against Grove, he went 3-4 with a double, an RBI, and a stolen base in a 6-2 loss to the A’s.

In Game 2, his daring base running got the home crowd at Sportsman’s Park excited. He stretched a single into a double, stole two bases and scored the only runs in the game as the Cardinals won 2-0, evening the series.

As A’s coach Eddie Collins put it: “Nothing else in the world won for the Cardinals today but Pepper’s speed and daring on the bases.”

Before Game 3 at Shibe Park, Martin posed with a Philadelphia policeman who was pretending to “reprimand him for speeding” during the series. Facing Grove again, he went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored as the Cardinals won 5-2. The A’s shut out St. Louis 3-0 in Game 4, with Martin recording the Cardinals’ only two hits in the game along with another stolen base.

Capitalizing on Martin’s hot hitting, Street moved him up from sixth to fourth in the batting order for Game 5. He made Street “look like a genius” by going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI as the Cardinals won 5-1. His home run, which landed in the upper deck of Shibe Park’s left field bleachers, impressed Philly fans so much that they “gave him a thunderous ovation” in spite of Martin playing for the visiting team.

Martin went hitless in the final two games of the series, but he managed to steal a base and catch the last out of Game 7, sealing the world’s championship for the Cardinals.

Martin was the series’ leading batsman. In seven games, he hit .500 with four doubles, one homer, five RBI, five runs scored and five stolen bases. His 12 hits led all players in the series and tied the record for most hits in a series. With the rest of the team batting .205 in the series, it is easy to see that Martin was the difference maker in the Cardinals’ World Series championship.

Pepper Martin’s hat that he wore in the 1931 World Series is in the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The hat is made of grey wool and is a size 7. It has a red button at the top of the cap with red pinstripes and a red bill. The inside of the hat has a leather sweatband and white seam taping with the word “Martin” written on the seam taping in blue ink. It was manufactured by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company in St. Louis.

Martin would play his entire Major League career with the Cardinals, helping lead them to another World Series championship in 1934.

Matthew Carter was a curatorial intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series