Good thing the Jays bats came alive last night, otherwise I’d be looking about as grim as Pit Martin does on this card. It’s a good thing I didn’t have any money riding on any of last night’s hockey games. I’d have been 0-fer.
I said a long time back that I wanted to go through the ’64-65 Topps set. The thing that has been holding me back has been Pit Martin. I just don’t know what to make of that expression on his face. There’s no apparent reason for it. Pit, at the time of this card’s printing, had just completed a pretty credible rookie season for Detroit, who went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. His offensive totals weren’t huge, just 9 goals and 21 points in 50 games, but when you consider he was a centre playing behind the likes of Alex Delvecchio and Norm Ullman, ice time would have been at a premium.
A little guy with wheels, he’d go on to an 18-year career (well, 17 if you leave out his cup of coffee in 1961) in which he’d play in three Stanley Cup Finals, win the 1970 Masterton, take part in four All-Star games and just be a really sound #2 centre, scoring 30 goals three times and topping out at 90 points in ’72-73. He’d put in over 1100 games, 324 goals, 800-odd points. These are very good numbers, the totals of a very solid pro. Everything about Pit is upside, yet he looks oddly haunted.
Of course, Pit Martin was also famous as the player who went the other way in one of the most lopsided trades in hockey history. It certainly wasn’t Pit’s fault. It was Terry Sawchuk’s – and beer’s.
The 1966-67 Chicago Black Hawks (as they were then commonly spelled) were the top team in hockey. They finished in first, seventeen points better than anyone. They scored more goals than anyone. They gave up fewer. They had the scoring leader, the league MVP, four of the six First-Team All-Stars and one of the Second-Team. They were the odds-on favourite to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, in the playoffs they drew an experienced Leafs team that could check anything to death and had Terry Sawchuk in goal. Terry was lights out and took anything the Hawks could throw at him. Toronto eliminated Chicago in six games, en route to a Cup win.
After their season ended, a young Black Hawk named Phil Esposito had a couple of pops at a team party and decided to give the GM a few suggestions about how best to handle the team in the off-season – specifically how not to screw everything up. This went over about as well as one would expect.
Despite showing a fair amount of promise, Phil found himself shipped off less than a month later to the worst team in hockey – the Boston Bruins. With him came a pair of underperforming kids named Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. In return came Pit Martin (traded to Boston in Dec. ’65), a young banger of a defenseman named Gilles Marotte and a minor-league goalie named Jack Norris.
The trade wasn’t really so much a bad one for Chicago as it was spectacular for Boston. Pit Martin was a very, very solid performer for the next ten years, while Marotte found some good offensive upside in Chicago before being shipped out in a trade to LA.
Espo, on the other hand, combined with a sophomore defenseman named Bobby Orr and immmediately became the dominant centre in hockey. He became the first player to reach 100 points in a season and set scoring records that were unsurpassed until a kid named Gretzky arrived. He led the league in scoring 5 times between 1969 and 1974, was the First-Team All-Star every year between 1969 and 1974, second-team in ’68 and ’75. He would retire as hockey’s second-leading scorer of all-time.
As for the other kids, Ken Hodge immediately became a constant 40-goal threat who hit 50 once. Stanfield became a dependable 20+ goal scorer and depth guy. Boston, dead last in 1966-67, became a powerhouse that won championships in 1970 and 1972 and probably would have won more had Orr been blessed with something other than kindling as knees.
None of this was Pit Martin’s fault, but how do you live up to a trade like that? Maybe that’s why he looks so glum.
He obviously gets over it, because he’s smiling on all the rest of his cards.
Sadly, Pit died in a snowmobiling accident in 2008.