A book much-awaited by Red Sox fans fully delivers what many had hoped for: a clearer look at the seemingly enigmatic pitcher who was Boston’s first Dominican sports superstar and one of the most colorful players in team history.
Pedro Martinez, who will be inducted this summer into the Baseball Hall of Fame, was a key component in the 2004 World Championship, some 86 years in the waiting. The three-time Cy Young Award winner currently works as a special assistant to the general manager of the Red Sox.
“Pedro” covers the right-hander’s life — from his childhood in Monoguayabo, Dominican Republic, the son of a landscaper and cooking-oil factory worker, on a “ditch-lined dirt street” on a plot by a large mango tree where he still keeps a cottage today to the present.
Martinez was relatively slight of stature for a professional athlete, an inch under 6 feet and listed at 170 pounds. Inside, though, burned a competitive fire that was masked by his often-mild demeanor. Generally, he tended to shy away from media attention, though he’s known for a few memorable phrases. That wasn’t for any shortcoming in being articulate; indeed, it was sometimes said of him that he spoke better English than Roger Clemens. He knew how local media pounced on a phrase, though, and for the most part kept his own counsel.
He began his pro career in 1988 with the Dodgers, his brother’s Ramon’s team, and was traded to Montreal before the 1994 season. The move separated the brothers and for that he never forgave the Dodgers.
Pedro spent four seasons with the Expos, winning his first Cy Young in 1997. Montreal GM Dan Duquette moved to Boston and traded to get Pedro in November of that year. Even as late as 2002, with two more Cy Youngs to his credit, Pedro still was motivated to prove to the Dodgers that he wasn’t “too small” to pitch in the majors. He pitched with a chip on his shoulder, and he knew just how much that energized him.
Coauthor Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald spent time with Martinez in Boston and the Dominican Republic and helped him articulate the “heart of a lion” which raged inside him. Pedro possessed the “instincts of a survivor. . . . Behind every pitch lay the determination and will to win: to kill rather than be killed.”
Martinez was a fan favorite in Boston, but — for essentially the same reason as Ted Williams (the fickleness of fans) — he decided early on never to tip his cap to the fans at Fenway.
Fans marveled at his mastery, particularly in 2000. His earned run average was 1.74 (the league average was 4.91). Opposing batters hit only .167 off him, the stingiest performance by a major-league pitcher since records began to be kept in the 1800s, arguably the best season in history. It was a rare game when Pedro didn’t strike out at least 10 batters.
Martinez was accused of being a “headhunter” — throwing at batters to intimidate them. “Pitching is offense,” he declares. Though he denies ever intentionally hitting anyone, he admits to at least nine specific times he hit batters (never in the head.) And he consistently argues that going “inside” to batters is an essential pitching tool.
Martinez was also called a diva. He is reasonably introspective throughout the book and ascribes that characterization to the fact that he defended his private life against the worst incursions by the media and he acknowledges being “snippy” at times. He could also be playful, cavorting around the clubhouse in the nude and talking up a storm at times; many will remember the time Nomar Garciaparra and others taped him to a pole in the dugout, taping his mouth shut during a game. Martinez offers numerous behind-the-scenes stories even the media never got to see.
This very rewarding book details several key moments in Martinez’s 18-year career — most notably the time manager Grady Little returned him to the mound in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS against the New York Yankees (“I was all done,” he says, when Little asked him to face just one more batter — then left him in for four more.) That cost Boston the lead and the Yankees went on to the World Series.
By Pedro Martinez
and Michael Silverman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
336 pp., $28
Bill Nowlin has written or edited more than 40 books on baseball, music, and history, and is working on a biography of Tom Yawkey.