“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” the ghost of Babe Ruth said to a young Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez in “The Sandlot.” “The Sandlot” brings back a lot of childhood memories and the quote is the inspiration behind this new baseball series. We will be turning back the clock and remembering some of baseball’s greatest heroes because their legends should never die. Pedro Martinez is a legend practically all baseball fans remember. The 3-time Cy Young winner was part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that reversed the 86-year Curse of the Bambino. The Sultan of Swat as some would call him.
Pedro’s electric fastball led to 219 career wins, 3,154 strikeouts, a 2.93 career E.R.A. and a World Series ring. Pedro came to the big leagues behind his brother, Ramon, by way of the Dominican Republic. Ramon was already in the Bigs for 4 years before his brother joined, and the elder Martinez fit the bill. He was 6-foot-4 and finished 2nd in the 1990 Cy Young race, but his brother, Pedro, was an undersized unknown.
At 5-foot-11, Pedro was a bit undersized. But he still had the electric fastball, putting hitters away in the blink of an eye. In his first full season with the Dodgers, Pedro finished 10-5 with a 2.61 E.R.A. primarily coming out of the bullpen. He was an instant top prospect. He was ready to take over the National League with Dodgers Rookie of the Year winner Mike Piazza. However, the Dodgers didn’t even give Martinez the chance to dominate in L.A. The team traded him to Montreal before the 1994 season.
And Los Angeles would regret that decision, as Martinez became one of baseball’s best with the Expos. After 3 solid seasons with Montreal, Pedro became Pedro in the 1997 campaign. With a miniscule, league-leading 1.90 E.R.A., Pedro won the 1997 Cy Young award and finished the season with 305 strikeouts. There was one problem. Montreal wasn’t really winning. So, the team shipped Martinez to Boston for top prospect Carl Pavano.
In Boston, Pedro became a fan favorite and proved his 1997 season was not a fluke. In his first 3 seasons with the Red Sox, Martinez won 2 more Cy Young awards, and the best single season for a pitcher in MLB history.
The year 2000: everyone thought the world was ending, reality TV was just getting big, Tiger was on top of the world and baseball players looked like bodybuilders. But, Pedro’s dominance on the baseball mound remained constant. Despite steroids being more prevalent than ever in the game of baseball, Martinez turned in arguably the best season ever for a starting pitcher.
Martinez posted a career low 1.74 E.R.A. and set the all-time record for lowest WHIP in a season at 0.737. The year 2000 featured the most runs in MLB history, while Martinez posted the lowest WHIP of all time. When baseball was the toughest on pitchers, Martinez was at his best. Martinez won his 3rd and final Cy Young award and was 2 wins away from winning back-to-back triple crowns. Imagine the records Pedro would have set if the baseball diamond was a level playing field in 2000.
Martinez would lead the league once again with the lowest E.R.A. in 2 of the next 3 seasons before the famed 2004 Boston Red Sox campaign. After losing in game 7 of the ALCS the year before, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez were poised to end the 86-year curse.
In 2004, Pedro was Pedro. He finished 4th in Cy Young voting and helped the Red Sox to a 98-win season. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the divisional series, and then came the famed 2004 American League Championship Series. Martinez may have admitted the Yankees had his number when he called the Bronx Bombers his “daddy,” but the Red Sox would get the last laugh.
The ”daddy” comment was the perfect fuel for Yankees fans to add to the fire for game 7. Not the smartest play by Martinez.
The Red Sox and Pedro would get the last laugh, however, eventually winning game 7 of the ALCS, completing the improbable 3-0 comeback before winning the 2004 World Series. Pedro started 1 game in the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, pitching 7 shutout innings, as the Red Sox ended the curse.
After winning the World Series, Pedro Martinez and that entire Boston team instantaneously became legends for Red Sox fans across the world. But, the legend wasn’t over for Pedro and he was on the move once again.
At 33 years old, Martinez earned one more big pay day and signed to play for the New York Mets in 2005. Even past his prime, Pedro led the league in WHIP during his 1st season with the Mets. Then, in 2006, Pedro showed signs that he was actually human, and not some pitching machine sent down from the heavens. For the first time in his career in 2006, Martinez finished a season with an E.R.A. over 4.00. He was still effective. But injuries hindered him and Pedro was no longer dominant. However, everyone on the Mets pitching staff benefited from having Martinez around. He passed down 17 years of MLB pitching knowledge. After 4 up-and-down seasons with New York, Martinez was off to Philadelphia for one last run at a ring.
Like any great story, Martinez’s career came full circle. In the 2009 World Series, Pedro and the Phillies were up against the New York Yankees. The “Who’s your daddy?” chant was alive once again. This time Martinez and his team came up short, and the Yankees won the World Series, as Pedro called it a career.
What a career it was.
Pedro’s blazing 4-seam fastball matched with his iconic circle change made him a nightmare for every hitter in the box. Nolan Ryan’s fastball, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball and Pedro Martinez’s circle change, those may be the 3 greatest pitches in baseball history. Pedro said his talent was God-given, and it’s hard to dispute that when you saw him pitch. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got interested in baseball just before Martinez became a mirage.
Martinez belonged on the mound. From Cy Young awards to World Series rings, Martinez did it all, except throw a no-hitter. Yes, of the 304 no-hitters in baseball history, Pedro doesn’t have a single one of them, or does he? Pedro not only threw 9 no-hit innings in a 1995 game against the San Diego Padres, but they were also 9 perfect innings. Pedro should have been in the record books, but there was 1 problem. The Expos failed to score any runs against the Padres, and the game went into extra innings. After Montreal scored in the top of the 10th, Martinez allowed a double in the bottom half of the inning. The perfect game bid was over. Maybe that’s why he wanted out of Montreal and the team eventually traded him.
In 2015, it was no surprise that writers inducted Pedro Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown wouldn’t be Cooperstown without him. The same way Pedro wouldn’t be Pedro without his circle change. The Yankees may have been Pedro’s “Daddy”, but Martinez was the godfather of baseball at the turn of the century. Pedro Martinez is an absolute legend that will live in baseball folklore for centuries to come.
“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”