Former Yankee confirmed as grad speaker; Supreme Court Justice to be honored

Tino Martinez during the 1999 World Series. (AP)

Tino Martinez during the 1999 World Series. (AP)

Following a week of rumors and speculation, Fordham officials confirmed Thursday afternoon: Tino Martinez, a former major league baseball player and the father of a graduating Fordham student, will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2014 during Fordham’s 169th Commencement at Rose Hill on May 17.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Denny Chin, LAW ’78, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, will be on campus May 17 and awarded honorary doctorate of laws, Fordham officials said.

In addition, the university will award doctorates of humane letters to: Stephen Bepler, FCRH ’64, a Fordham trustee and formerly the senior vice president of Capital Research Investors; Yvonne Cagle, M.D., a retired US Air Force colonel; Sister Mary Alice Hannan, O.P., formerly executive director of Part of the Solution, a social service agency in the Bronx; Nemir Kirdar, GBA ’72, the founder and chief executive officer of Investcorp, a global investment group; and Reynold Levy, formerly the president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Chin and Kirdar will deliver keynote addresses at the Fordham Law School diploma ceremony and the Graduate School of Business ceremony, respectively.

Martinez, 46, is celebrated for his illustrious fifteen-year career, in which he played on four teams and was twice recognized as a league All-Star. He is perhaps most remembered for his time spent at first base for the Yankees during four World Series victories in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

“Tino Martinez has advanced himself through hard work and perseverance, with humility and gratitude that are not just the hallmarks of good sportsmanship, but are the foundations of a life well lived,” Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, said in a statement that was mistakenly published by school officials Monday afternoon.

While a student at the University of Tampa, Martinez set school baseball records by earning a .398 batting average and hitting 54 home runs in three seasons. He also impressed many while playing on the 1988 United States Olympic team.

That year, Martinez left school before graduating to pursue his baseball dream when the Seattle Mariners drafted him in the first round. He looks back at that time fondly.

“Winning the World Series was great,” Martinez told The New York Times in 1997. “But, getting to the major leagues in itself was also a great accomplishment, especially for someone like me.”

He added, “I was always a good hitter. But I didn’t have speed or a great arm. I had to work extra hard to convince people that I could be a major leaguer.”

(Martinez would later return to the University of Tampa to earn his bachelor’s degree, which he was awarded in 2011.)

The Mariners called him up on Aug. 20, 1990, months after his father — his persevering coach and a guiding light in his life — suddenly died of a brain tumor at the age of 48.

“I think he knows I made it,” Martinez told The Times, speaking of his father. “He always believed I would [make it to the major leagues]. I really believed. I don’t think he was just saying that.”

After spending five years playing for the Mariners, in which he carved out a reputation for himself, Martinez began playing for the Yankees, where he would spend five years.

Martinez first came to the Bronx, N.Y., in 1996, as the centerpiece of a trade the Yankees made to find a successor to legendary first basemen Don Mattingly. Martinez spent six seasons in pinstripes, successfully winning over the Yankee faithful, and was an integral part of the Yankees’ dominant teams in the late ‘90s.

In 1997, Martinez had his best season statistically. He posted career highs in batting average, runs batted in and home runs, made the All-Star team and finished second in American League MVP voting.

A pair of home runs cemented Martinez’s legacy as a Yankee fan favorite. His seventh inning grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series broke a 5-5 tie and helped the Yankees to a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres. In the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with the Yankees down to their last out, Martinez hit a two-run home run to tie the game. The Yankees would go on to win in extra innings, although they eventually lost the series.

Following the 2001 season, the Yankees let Martinez go to sign free agent Jason Giambi. Martinez made an emotional return to Yankee Stadium in 2003 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He received a standing ovation before each at-bat.

For his last season in 2005, Martinez returned for one final season with the Yankees. He batted just .241 on the year, but a stretch in May when he hit a home run in five straight games provided Yankee fans with one more memorable moment. Martinez retired as a Yankee in 2006, finishing his career with 339 home runs and a .271 batting average in 16 seasons.

In addition to touting his career, McShane announced Martinez as this year’s commencement speaker by praising his personal character.

“By virtue of his Yankee career, he is already a son of the Bronx,  N.Y., and by virtue of his integrity, decency and commitment to learning, it is our honor to have him address the Class of 2014,” he said in a statement.

Though less than a year ago, Martinez was forced to resign as a hitting coach for the Miami Marlins in the wake of allegations that he verbally and physically abused players.

“I want to apologize to the Marlins organization for my behavior,” he said last July soon after he resigned his post. “I think I was frustrated at times, the way players were behaving and certain ways they were doing things.”

He added, “When I asked them to do something and they wouldn’t do it, whatever it may be, I thought the way to get through was by being firm with them, and I probably used some four-letter words.”

Willie Randolph, former Yankee second baseman and Mets manager from 2005 to 2008, addressed Fordham’s Class of 2007. He, too, had a daughter in the graduating class.

Olivia Martinez, FCRH ’14, Martinez’s daughter, said she was looking forward to the ceremony. “I am very excited for him to deliver the speech and I know he is too,” she said via email earlier this week. “I hope everyone, whether they are Yankee fans or not, enjoy it as well.”

Max Prinz contributed reporting.