Buck Martinez's broken leg and his journey into broadcasting

Three decades ago, Buck Martinez broke his leg at home plate and lived to tell the tale -- and also to chronicle the first-ever playoff run of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Buck Martinez recalls the moment a collision at home plate ended his 1985 season. 1:43
In showbiz, they tell you to break a leg. 

In baseball, they would never tell you to break a leg, though in Buck Martinez's case, a broken leg gave him an epic story to tell baseball fans for years to come.

Buck Martinez is seen blocking the plate during a September 1982 game. Three years later, he would break his leg in a similar play at home plate. (Bill Becker/Canadian Press)

Martinez's leg break — a literal one — occurred on July 9, 1985.

The Blue Jays catcher was blocking home plate when a collision with the Mariners' Phil Bradley abruptly ended his season (though Martinez did manage to tag Bradley and another runner out, while injured). 

"The two leg bones came dislocated out of the ankle socket and in fact, I broke the fibula — the small leg bone — up by my knee," Martinez said, when recalling the moment on CBC's Midday in January of 1986, six months after the mishap.

The veteran ballplayer told Midday that the collision didn't cause him much pain in the moment, but it was clear that the injury was an ugly one.

"I knew that I had a sensation that my leg was asleep," Martinez said. "There was no pain involved, but I couldn't move my leg. I couldn't rely on it at all to prop me up or move about any more. It was dead."

Watching and writing

In any case, the collision put Martinez out of the running when the Jays made their first-ever playoff run. (The Jays lost in seven games to the Kansas City Royals, who went on to win the 1985 World Series.)

He was watching the games, however, and he also wrote a book — From Worst to First: The Toronto Blue Jays in 1985 — about that season, which according to a Toronto Star report, went on to sell some 17,000 copies.

Amazingly, Martinez made it back to the diamond in 1986, a season in which he played 81 games for the Blue Jays.

It ended up being his last as a player in Major League Baseball, and the book he wrote about that season had a title that seemed to signal that he was done as a ballplayer.

At the end of the 1986 season, Buck Martinez talked to CBC's Midday. 1:44

"The Last Out is my last out as a player, the way it looks right now," he told Midday, when he appeared on the show again in December of 1986.

Martinez said leaving his playing days behind would be tough, but also a relief. In the book, he likened the change to being "a released prisoner," according to Midday's Peter Downie.

"The dedication it takes to play for that long and to play as well as I liked to have played takes an awful lot of dedication," said Martinez.

"And it's just a load off your shoulders, mentally and physically, when you think, each year, as I got older and older, I  had to work harder and harder at it to maintain that level of Major League Baseball [performance]."

Buck Martinez is seen in Kansas City, Mo., to report on Game 6 of the 2015 American League Championship Series between the Blue Jays and the Royals. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

He admitted it would be an adjustment to his spring and summer schedule.

"When I get closer and closer, it's going to be a very natural thing to be thinking: 'Well, it's about time to go to spring training,' and in fact, I won't [be there]," said Martinez.

But Martinez would hardly leave the game behind — as just a day after appearing on Midday to promote The Last Out, he signed a deal with TSN to be the network's colour commentator for Jays games.

He's since had a long career covering baseball for many years on radio and TV — in Toronto and also for a time in Baltimore — and he would actually go on to manage the Blue Jays in 2000 and 2001 and then return to broadcasting.

Today Martinez is the team's play-by-play announcer.