On their way to a World Series championship, the 1980 Phillies got sidetracked by a Cardinals rookie pitcher whom Dallas Green, Philadelphia’s tough, savvy manager, called “the mystery man.”
Another rookie left-hander, John Martin, who pitched for three minor league teams in 1980, joined Olmsted in the Cardinals’ starting rotation in September and impressed general manager Whitey Herzog as a pitcher “just wild enough to be good.”
With John Gast and Tyler Lyons, the 2013 Cardinals became the first St. Louis team to use two rookie left-handed starting pitchers in the same season since Olmsted and Martin in 1980.
Olmsted was chosen by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1975 amateur draft out of Hazelwood East High School in suburban St. Louis.
After a muscle tear in his left arm decreased his velocity, Olmsted developed a screwball. In 1980, he was 13-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 25 regular-season games combined for Class AA Arkansas and Class AAA Springfield (Ill.). Olmsted also earned two wins in Springfield’s four-game sweep of Denver in the American Association championship series.
The Cardinals rewarded him with a promotion to the big leagues that September.
On Sept. 12, 1980, Olmsted, 23, made his major-league debut, starting against the Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader at Philadelphia. Facing a lineup that included Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Lonnie Smith, Olmsted held the Phillies scoreless for 9.1 innings before he was relieved by Jim Kaat.
The Cardinals scored five runs in the 11th and won, 5-0. Boxscore Olmsted didn’t get the decision but proved he belonged in the majors.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” Olmsted said to United Press International. “I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes and not embarrass myself. I wasn’t really awed by anybody. My job was to make good pitches and have them hit the ball at somebody.”
Eleven days later, Sept. 23, Olmsted started against the Phillies again, this time at St. Louis. He was pitching on two days’ rest as a substitute for Bob Forsch, who left the team to attend the funeral of his mother.
Olmsted shut out the Phillies for the first six innings, extending his scoreless streak against them to 15.1 innings. He went 8.1 innings, yielding three runs and earning the win in the Cardinals’ 6-3 victory. Boxscore
The loss was a crusher for the Phillies, who fell a half-game behind the Expos in the National League East. The Phillies were 82-68 with 12 to play. Two of their last four losses in a 10-game stretch were in games started by Olmsted.
“(Olmsted) doesn’t throw that many strikes, but he gets us out,” Phillies manager Dallas Green said to United Press International. “He’s a mystery man. But you’ve got to give him credit. He’s figured out how to do it and 82 other pitchers haven’t.”
Said Pete Rose: “(Olmsted) knows what he’s doing. He knows he’s not going to blow a fastball by anybody. Pitchers with slow stuff like that usually give us a lot of trouble.”
Red Schoendienst, the Cardinals’ interim manager, compared Olmsted with Fred Norman, the former Cardinal who went on to become a fixture in the Reds’ rotation, and said Olmsted “gets the ball where he wants it.”
Said Olmsted: “I hope I’m not a mystery man forever.”
Olmsted made five starts for the 1980 Cardinals and posted a record of 1-1 with a 2.86 ERA.
Like Olmsted, John Martin spent most of the 1980 season in the minor leagues. A 27th-round choice of the Tigers out of Eastern Michigan in the 1978 draft, Martin was pitching for Class AAA Evansville (where his manager was Jim Leyland) when Detroit traded him and outfielder Al Greene to the Cardinals for outfielder Jim Lentine on June 2, 1980.
The Cardinals assigned Martin to Springfield. Soon thereafter, he broke his foot. After he healed, he was sent to Arkansas. He had a 3-3 record and 4.15 ERA in 25 games combined for Evansville, Springfield and Arkansas when he received a surprise promotion to the Cardinals.
Martin’s big-league debut with St. Louis was as unexpected as his call-up. On Aug. 27, in a game against the Astros at St. Louis, Cardinals starter John Fulgham was lifted after one inning when his shoulder stiffened. Martin relieved, limited the Astros to a run in seven innings and earned the win in a 10-2 Cardinals victory.
Martin made 109 pitches. He retired 13 in a row during one stretch. Boxscore
“It caught me off guard,” Martin said to the Associated Press of being called into the game in the second inning. “It didn’t give me time to think about it.”
Said Cardinals catcher Terry Kennedy: “He never really gave them anything good to hit. I think he can compete here. I liked his aggressiveness.”
Martin, 24, made his first start on Sept. 6, in the second game of a doubleheader at Houston, yielded a grand slam to former Cardinals outfielder Jose Cruz and took the loss in the Astros’ 6-4 victory. Boxscore
In the season finale, Oct. 5 at St. Louis, Martin pitched his first complete game and got the win in the Cardinals’ 3-2 triumph over the Mets. Martin pitched a seven-hitter and retired the last 10 batters in a row. Boxscore
Herzog said of Martin, “He’s got a good arm. He’s just wild enough to be good.”
In nine games, including five starts, for the 1980 Cardinals, Martin was 2-3 with a 4.29 ERA.
After the 1980 season, the Cardinals traded Olmsted to the Padres in a package for pitchers Rollie Fingers and Bob Shirley and catcher Gene Tenace.
Martin was 17-14 in four seasons with the Cardinals before he was sent back to the Tigers in August 1983.