PITTSBURGH — Pedro Martinez was an artisan of sorts, a craftsman, his masterful right hand creating pitches with style, accuracy, purpose. Which is how he ended up here, 219 career wins to his name, in a dusty, bustling bronze foundry, where in March dozens of Matthews International craftsmen helped to create his plaque for baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Essential to the Red Sox ending their 86-year championship drought in 2004, Martinez appeared in his final major league game on Nov. 4, 2009, logging four innings in Game 6 of the World Series as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
But it was here, early on the wind-chilled afternoon of March 25, where foundry workers in face shields and fire suits carefully poured the fiery soup of molten bronze (approximate temperature 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) that formed his likeness that will hang in perpetuity in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Martinez threw some heat in his day, but nothing ever so hot, nothing nearly as everlasting.
“That’s the money shot, right there,’’ said Josh Rooney, Matthews’s director of sports and entertainment marketing, watching intently as workers poured the fiery bronze from crucible to casting form. “That’s forever.’’
Martinez, who will be inducted on Sunday, July 26, was cast in bronze on the same day, part of the same job lot, as fellow honorees Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio. The four stars will enter as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Class of ’15, bringing to 310 the total number to adorn the hallowed walls.
Many weeks ago, in the wake of the election results being announced Jan. 6, the Hall prepared the Class of ’15’s spots on its gallery’s oak-lined walls. Martinez’s plaque will be but a bunt’s distance from two awe-inspiring wooden statues, one of Ted Williams and the other of Babe Ruth, the latter of whom Martinez referenced in 2001, saying, “Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon me the word.’’
For the record, the Bambino quote was not cast in bronze as part of Martinez’s Hall of Fame plaque.
Matthews International, which opened as a sign shop downtown here in the 1830s, according to Rooney, has been the exclusive producer of these plaques for more than 30 years. It was the company’s sculptor for the Hall of Fame, Mindy Ellis, who plied and shaped the red clay, turning Martinez’s likeness into the bas-relief used by the foundry, at her home studio in suburban Bethel Park.
Originally a woodworker and cabinet maker, the 57-year-old Ellis has sculpted all of Cooperstown’s plaques the last 20 years, including those of other Red Sox icons Carlton Fisk, Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, and Jim Rice. When Cooperstown’s technicians install the Class of ’15 plaques on gallery walls late on the evening of July 26, Martinez will be one of a total of 76 faces Ellis has sculpted for the Hall since 1995.
“Actually, he has great features,’’ said Ellis, musing over Martinez’s facial composition the way a pitcher might analyze a hitter. “His nose, his lips, he has very full and beautiful lips, and wonderfully large dark eyes. I love his hair, too.
“It was my job to pull all that through, so when the fans stand there and look at his plaque, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’ ’’
The Globe, with permission from the Hall of Fame and Matthews International, had exclusive access to witness the manufacturing and finishing of Martinez’s plaque, with the understanding that no full images of the finished product would be published prior to the July 26 induction ceremony. The four players, in keeping with tradition, will see their plaques for the first time when they’re inducted at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
“That’s the first time everyone sees them,’’ said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, a former Red Sox public relations employee who grew up in Newton, Mass.
Each of the players is introduced to the crowd on induction day by Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark. There is also a brief video presentation for each player, which in Martinez’s case will encapsulate his rise to stardom from the Dominican Republic, and then it will be Idelson who finally carries his plaque to center stage.
“For the players, I’d say there are two ‘aha!’ moments that day,’’ noted Idelson, whose first days in baseball were spent selling concessions at Fenway Park in the early ’80s. “One is when they give their speech, with this fraternity of 50 Hall of Famers sitting behind them and this sea of fans in front of them. For many of them, it’s the first time it hits them; they realize this signifies the end of their playing careers.
“And then there’s the ‘aha!’ moment of seeing the plaque — the understanding of the moment that you belong to this greatest fraternity ever and that you’ve now stepped over to the other side. The other side being baseball heaven, but baseball heaven on earth.’’
The plaque process at the foundry played out across three days, March 25-27. Veteran tool specialist Doug Wood, his long black beard befitting that of a ZZ Top rocker, worked hand in hand with Ellis for the better part of two hours in the final stages on the 27th, the pair painstakingly applying the final touches.
Often half-sitting and half-standing on a chair near Wood’s cluttered workbench, fussing over such details as the Boston “B” on Martinez’s cap or curls in his hair, Ellis repeatedly sought both Wood’s opinion and handiwork in the closing moments. With a small X-Acto blade, she shaved away bits of unwanted bronze finishing paint. She often asked Wood to burnish Martinez’s face or chin or cap.
“You can tell,’’ said Rooney, watching as Ellis, outfitted in coveralls, repeatedly made revisions, “she’s giving it everything she’s got. It’s testament to her dedication.’’
Start to finish, from the date in January when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America reveals the names of the electees until the finished product is shipped to the Hall via FedEx, the plaque process is one of constant communication between Cooperstown and Pittsburgh.
Idelson and his team in Cooperstown get to work selecting a photo for each player, which is soon forwarded to Ellis, allowing her time to study the image before beginning her sculpting.
“Pedro had many looks and styles throughout his career,’’ noted Idelson in a recent interview in his office in Cooperstown. “He had the short hair. He had the Jheri curl. He always had a smile. We start by selecting an array of images, then picking the one definitive image.’’
For her part, Ellis gets to work even before Cooperstown makes its final photo selection. No need to dillydally in the Internet age. Once the electees’ names are made public, she immediately gets online and studies still photos and videos of each subject. By the time Cooperstown forwards the final choice, she already has an artist’s working knowledge of her subjects’ facial scale, proportion, and structure.
“I don’t have Pedro here,’’ she said, “so I am not looking at just how I will be technically correct. I want to get behind the flesh and try to feel whatever it is he is emoting.’’
With the preferred photo finally in hand, Ellis begins working the clay and crafting the images that she ultimately will submit to Rooney and project manager Paul Storino. Ellis can craft a relief in a day, she said, but the process typically takes much longer, with her sculpting not finished until Idelson and his team in Cooperstown are satisfied that the look is just right. It’s a process of constant revision.
“We have to feel this piece of art really resembles the player,’’ said Idelson. “Again, we realize it’s a piece of art and not a photograph, so there is some artistic license. But getting the art right is really important.’’
While Ellis is busy shaping her objets d’art, Idelson and his associates in Cooperstown prepare the 100 or so words that will fill out each new honoree’s plaque. A player’s image fills approximately the top half of the plaque, while his name, years of service, and brief bio fill the bottom half.
In the case of Pedro Jaime Martinez, the Hall highlighted the speed and accuracy of his pitches, his control, his deft changeup, and also made note of his impressive pile of stats (219 wins, 117 of them with the Red Sox), and his three Cy Young Awards (two with the Sox, one with Montreal).
The nuance, Idelson said, is trying to think generations ahead, how to relate a player’s essence and accomplishments to Hall visitors (typically some 300,000 per season) who will have little or no firsthand knowledge of the subject.
“A daunting task,’’ he said. “You need to quantify and qualify why this person is a Hall of Famer. You want to have an eye toward their style. What made them unique? What made them stand out? And we try to write these plaques looking 50 years ahead.
“Sure, we all know Pedro Martinez. But when we have all left this earth, we want that generation of fans to be able to have an appreciation for Pedro that we have today.’’
It is Matthews’s job then to take the artwork produced by Ellis and the prose forwarded from Cooperstown and shape them all into a plaque weighing some 25 pounds that will be mounted by four miniature rosette baseballs (also manufactured at the plant).
On “pouring day,” the reliefs sculpted by Ellis and the text provided by Cooperstown finally come together in an elaborate, old-world foundry process. Matthews Bronze is a busy plant, with the Cooperstown job just one of a steady stream of productions that keeps the plant busy with two shifts and a total of some 200 workers.
“I love the size of it, the smell of it, the grit,’’ noted Ellis. “It’s that great feeling of being in the dirt.’’
The art-to-finished-product evolution involves a series of steps in the foundry, the most dramatic of which is the pouring of the molten bronze, a concoction that is chiefly copper with small percentages of zinc, lead, and tin. It is an ancient, time-proven stew, dating back millennia (think: Bronze Age).
And though the Industrial Revolution brought bronze production into the modern age of manufacturing, the working of the metal and the making of plaques remains a craft that takes many hands and consumes many hours.
“Old school — everything we do is done by hand,’’ said Storino, a Matthews veteran who has been the project manager for years of Hall of Fame productions. “I think that’s lost on a lot of people in this day and age of technology. People think you can hit a button and produce something. But our casting of these is truly hand-crafted. A lot of hands have to touch this stuff, start to finish.’’
For example, in the first stages of production, when the molds initially take shape, very fine sand (referred to as virgin sand) is poured into a form that holds Ellis’s artwork. To ensure the sand is tamped snugly, a Matthews worker climbs atop the form and with firm steps uses his work boots to compact the sand. It’s the factory version of old-world wine-making, absent the grapes.
“Twenty-five years of doing it,’’ said a proud John Piotrowski, as he hopped off the compacted sand. “I’m the only one that does it, too.’’
Similar painstaking steps occur throughout the process, the first day’s efforts coming to a close with the dramatic pouring of the bronze, from furnace to crucible to castings. Hours later, when the metal is solidified and cooled, the plaques are broken out of the forms, known as flasks, and ready for finishing day — the combined handiwork of Ellis and Wood.
For more than two hours on the morning of March 27, Ellis and Wood fussed and fretted over the Martinez image. Step by step, the plaque shuttled from one work station to the next by Wood, the finished product took shape. Martinez, the crafty righthander with the astounding .687 winning percentage, faced an array of treatments, including drill press, sandblasting, wire brushing, belt sanding, and more. But he ultimately went the distance.
The end came at 10:42 a.m. on March 27, Ellis satisfied that her cleaning and scraping and Wood’s constant buffing were just right. With Martinez’s plaque face-up on a rolling cart, Wood wheeled him back to a corner bullpen for one last coating of lacquer spray.
“It’s that last stage, the lacquer,’’ mused Storino, “that really brings it up a notch.’’
Fini. Next stop, Cooperstown, the final line in the box score for Pedro Jaime Martinez.
“They knocked it out of the park,’’ said Ellis, who repeatedly credited Matthews workers for what she labeled “the magic’’ they create.
“The curls, the darkness in his eyes . . . Pedro looks great. He just shines.’’