BOSTON – SPORTS – When Pedro Martinez, age 43, went into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday his legacy in the sport reflects not only a brilliant career but a will power of determination seldom seen before.
By today’s standards Martinez slight frame, he weighed only 170 lbs when he originally signed, caused his first manager Tommy Lasorda, of the LA Dodgers, to say Martinez was too frail to pitch through the gruelling spring, summer, and autumn calendar of baseball. Yet after a time, with the Expos of Montreal, Martinez left the National League for the American in New England.
In fact Martinez will become the first pitcher under six feet in height since the sixties when New York’s Whitey Ford entered Cooperstown.
Though Martinez athletic stature was a slim shadow of other pitchers, Martinez’s enduring force was built into the anatomy of his whippet right arm. Plus his elongated pitching fingers which were a unique sight. Something Tom Verducci, of Sports Illustrated, observed as “a fantastic flexibility that extended right through the amazing concavity he developed in holding a baseball.”
And so it was Martinez God-given talent in gripping a baseball prior to delivery, with the range of his fingers that acted like a turbo weapon propelling the ball with such an elusive spin. Thus, Martinez evolved into inspired hurler for the ages. He would become one of only a few pitchers to strike out 300 batters in back to back seasons.
His career stats, after signing with Boston and winning a World Series Championship in 2004 as well as three Cy Young Awards, are awesome. Winning 174 while losing only 32 times. Yet In pitching for 18 years, over that time, Martinez was so durable. He would face 11,394 opposing batters.
In the All-star game of 1999 he became the first pitcher ever to strike out the first four batters he faced. He became the first pitcher since Washington’s Walter Johnson to register an ERA below 2.00 while striking out over three hundred. Johnson was one of five first inductees to the Hall in 1936.
Born in the Dominican Republic (Mangoguayabo) every game he pitched in Boston where his career really took flight saw thriving Latin American sports fans (of Jamaica Plain) flooding into Fenway Park in the Back Bay. His fellow Dominicans actually became a roving gypsy band of hundreds when Martinez started. They waved flags, sang songs, and played horns while dancing the Merengue along the Park’s aisles and steps.
However, Martinez didn’t just give citizens of his country a sparkling array of pure talent on the diamond, he returned their passion with his exceptional ongoing cultural work for Latinos.
They called him El Duro meaning the One (and only…).
In recent years Martinez has built a new church in his homeland. Besides financing construction of roadways to overcome the excessive mud, and bad footing, navigating the Dominican’s wet season.
It was the Yankees Paul O’Neill who told me, as we stood by a batting cage during a week watching Boston and New York, “few realize what a devastating changeup Pedro built into his pitching arsenal. So much so, that his dramatic changes in velocity made him simply one of the all time dominant figures in the game.”
Having followed the Bosox, since studying in College in 1967 when pitcher Jim Longborg became the architect of the Impossible Dream capturing a pennant for the Red Sox. Against all odds. There remain only two other right handlers, I can think of, who caused such a buzz in Beantown when they took to the mound. One was Luis Tiant (El Tiante) who starred in the 1975 World Series. The other Oil Can Boyd.
One night at Fenway, in 1985, watching the Can pitch a shutout the thunderous applause at the end was such a testament to the strength and endurance a pitcher might ever deliver. It also showed what an affectionate passion baseball is capable of producing when ‘a greatness’ is revealed live–and–in colour.
What former Montreal Expo pitching coach, who also worked with Martinez in Boston, said one day in the clubhouse following a sterling outing by the Red Sox. Kerrigan was pharmaceutical about pitchers who went well beyond expectations in the Big Show of professional sports.
“Not many understand,” Kerrigan commented, “the work Pedro sweated over in fashioning such a brilliant curveball. So there he would be on the mound. Fastball. Curve. And a phenomenal changeup. He walked inside his dream. To be dominant. To overcome obstacles others deduced in his size. But we all knew he was becoming a brilliant star. Bound for Cooperstown.”
At a Press Conference in New York on Saturday Martinez mentioned things he admires now after leaving baseball. His hands and fingers now working on a different stage. He said, “I love
To give help to my mother in the garden. Where the flowers are so beautiful. The orchids are so delicate. It makes us happy to cultivate.”
To add to this Martinez will return to Fenway Park tonight where the Red Sox will forever retire the jersey number he wore as a very brilliant pitcher. Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe has compared Martinez to another Hall of Famer left hander Sandy Koufax. He calls Martinez, “New England’s right handed Koufax.” Martinez wore number 45. It will be framed this evening with the likes of Teddy Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
Photo and Story by Ronn Hartviksen