Pedro Martinez on The Big Show: Of MVP and Cy Young snubs, the Steroid Era, and Boston’s everlasting place in his heart
|01.10.12 at 6:34 pm ET|
Former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez joined The Big Show on Tuesday to discuss his career in Boston, which featured what some consider to be the most dominant stretch by a pitcher in major league history. In seven years with the Sox, Martinez was 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA while averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings, averaging a shade under 200 innings a year.
Martinez won two Cy Young awards while a member of the Red Sox (in 1999 and 2000). Still, the fact that Tigers ace Justin Verlander was named the AL MVP re-opened an apparent wound for Martinez about his distress in being snubbed in the 1999 MVP voting, a year when Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts but was left off the ballots of two writers (George King of the New York Post and LaVelle Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune), resulting in Martinez finishing second to Ivan Rodriguez in the race. Martinez also rankled at the memory of finishing second to Barry Zito in the 2002 AL Cy Young race.
“I was kind of pissed off at first [when Verlander won the MVP], but then I went to realize that they are the [voters] are going to have to live with that label on their back. If anyone calls them prejudice or racist for not voting for me, everyone will have to understand that it’s their responsibility for not voting for me at that time,” said Martinez. “I feel kind of bad, but at the same time, I was really happy that the pitchers who really deserved it like Justin finally got the monkey off their backs, that a pitcher can have such an impact on his team that he probably deserves the MVP sometimes. It has to be an exception, like the year I had in ‘99, the year that [Dennis] Eckersley and those guys that won it, Roger [Clemens], had the impact that they had on the team. Justin Verlander was one who really had an impact on the success of the team. I really believe that the most important person they had on their whole team was Justin Verlander. That’s what makes you an MVP.”
Asked to clarify his suggestions that prejudice or racism might have played a part in the awards voting, Martinez said, “All I do is look at the facts. When I didn’t pitch that [final] game in 2002 [Martinez said that he would pass on his start on the final weekend of the season, at a time when the Sox had been eliminated], and I gave my start to Josh Hancock for the Red Sox, that died in a crash while playing for St. Louis, when I decided to give him my start, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to pitch.
“The only reason I did it was because my brother Jesus had an opportunity to be up with the Dodgers for a month, and they never gave him a chance to throw a pitch in the big leagues. They never gave him a chance. Joe Kerrigan [sic; Kerrigan was no longer with the Sox in 2002] came up and asked if I could let the Red Sox look at Josh Hancock because he might be involved in a trade. I said, ‘OK, fine. We’re disqualified. I’m not making any extra money from starts. I don’t need this to win a Cy Young.’ If you’re going to win a Cy Young, you have to pitch pretty much all year and pitch the way that I did.
“I’m not taking anything from Zito winning it that year, but that is also a very suspicious year, too. That was the only year that I had anybody get near my numbers, and that was the only year I didn’t win it, even though I thought I had the numbers to win it. I’m not taking it from Zito. He won the last 15 starts and had a pretty good year. My year, to be compared to Zito at any point, I think my numbers were better. I started thinking about that. The other three Cy Youngs that I won, I won unanimously.
“I was ripped apart,” added Martinez. “I’m not afraid to say that the way that George King and Mr. LaVelle Neal III went about it was unprofessional.”
Martinez went on to note that his 2.26 ERA in 2002 beat Zito’s 2.75 mark by “a big margin. That was a big margin. … What I was trying to do was give a young man an opportunity to pitch. That was the excuse they used to actually rip me away from a Cy Young. I’m not a guy that will back off a challenge. Now, after, what, 11 years, I see that they finally voted for another pitcher. Guess what: That pitcher is American. I was a Dominican-born player. That made me feel kind of awkward about it. If you compare my numbers to Justin’s, not taking anything from what he did, my numbers were way better. It would have been a lot easier for the voters to just do it. Do it. Just like that, do it.”
More highlights of Martinez’ interview are below. To listen to the complete interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page. To learn about “An Evening with Pedro Martinez,” an event on Friday to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Jimmy Fund and the Pedro Martinez and Brothers Foundation, click here.
On whether he can still pitch, and whether a 75- or 120-inning workload would be feasible:
I try not to think about it, but my body being in such good shape and being so healthy actually forces me to think about it. I don’t think I’m going to do it anymore, but I still believe I could definitely pitch probably more than that. But I chose a different path.
On whether the Sox approached him in 2011 about pitching for them:
I was never approached by the Red Sox. I actually thought about maybe going back and trying to do something. I knew that they needed someone. But I have a hard time leaving the lifestyle that I’ve chosen now. Leaving the family wasn’t going to be easy. Even if it was the Red Sox, I was going to have a hard time leaving my family.
On his relationship with the Sox and the degree to which he follows them:
The Red Sox are part of my heart, just like Boston is. I’m always looking to the Red Sox and actually checking out what they’re doing.
On pitching during the Steroid Era:
At the time, all I wanted was to compete. To me, it was normal. There were so many players doing it that it was normal. ‘¦ You could see the guys being beefed up from one year to the next. I told so many guys, I remember Brady Anderson going from 40 homers to nearly seven the next year. I saw Luis Gonzalez go from 57 to, what, 17 the next year? It was weird. It was weird.
Everybody just admired what I was doing. Everyone was so caught up in my success. But I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. All I wanted to do was to compete, to help the Red Sox win. It didn’t matter to me what I did individually. If I left Boston without that ring, without that championship, I’d feel like a bitter man right now. It didn’t matter to me that I was called a prima donna when I would miss two or three starts. I never did a steroid to [recuperate] in the time those guys would recup. I know how much a quad would probably hurt someone or a hamstring, how long it would take. I saw guys like [Clemens] sometimes get a hamstring or a quad or something, and in two days, he was right back and throwing 97.
I don’t know what went on. I certainly know that he recuped a lot quicker than I would, and I was younger. I pitched less, a lot less, than Roger did. He wasn’t young. He was a Hall of Famer before he got into that.
It always seemed not normal, that at 44, 43, you’re going to pitch that hard. I don’t think so. I’m living proof of it. I was young and dominate, but my career started going down, down, down, down as I was going up in age. There’s nothing you can do. If you do it normally, numbers are going to catch up to you, age is going to catch up to you, hitters are going to catch up to you, your fastball is going to go down a little bit and slowly it will take you away from the game. That’s what happened to me.
Were you ever tempted to take steroids?
No. No. Because when I was in Triple-A, I was told that I was too small, that I was too fragile to pitch in the big leagues in the Dodgers organization. Back then, I felt tempted. One of my teammates said, ‘I have a doctor, if you want to go and get a shot and get whatever and get big’¦’ He never gave me details. I asked him what would happen. How would that work? He specifically said that there are certain areas of a man that will get damaged. As soon as he said that, I said, ‘No. There’s no way that I will go for that.’
Steroids, they came into baseball very smoothly. They were left there for a long time. They did their job and did their damage to baseball. But I was never interested. I was so willing to prove to everybody that I could do it. … I wanted to prove everybody so wrong. I finally did it. I’m thankful for not ever taking anything illegal.
On whether steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame:
What they should do, if they’re going to keep Pete Rose from getting to the Hall of Fame for actually betting on the game, and if they have proof that some of those guys have done steroids . . . If you saw Marion Jones being stripped of so many medals that she won for the United States, not individually, not to make money, if they did that for her, I think everyone should pay a price. I’m not saying go to jail. But you have to pay for the consequences of doing it illegally. I hope nobody gets mad when I say that, but I believe you have to have responsibility for what you do. They have to be accountable for what they do.
On whether the label that he was a prima donna was accurate:
No, I wasn’t a prima donna. I was just a man who was normal, aging. When he was hurt, he was hurt. When he was fine, he pitched. It bothered me to be called prima donna. I don’t think that anyone clean, clean, clean, clean, worked harder than I did in baseball. As the time passes by, you’re going to realize that my body, my physical body, wasn’t supposed to take the toll that it did for 18 years plus the minor league years. Nobody predicted I would last that long. The only way you get that is not ability, but by working. Hard workers like me are hard to find.
Nowadays, you can see the way baseball is going, the way pitching is going. Nowadays, 250 strikeouts is a big deal. For Pedro, it was a minor deal to have 250. I’m not [physically] impressive. I’m a normal man with a very natural physical body. Very simple, too.
On whether his 17-strikeout one-hitter in Yankee Stadium in 1999 was the best game of his career:
That’s always going to be my lover against the Yankees. That game is going to be the game that describes how Pedro Martinez was defined, how Pedro Martinez on top of his game, could do it to just anybody.
My best game, while being with the Red Sox, the game I’m most proud of, it was probably one game, ‘99 or ‘98, I’m not sure what year it was, but I’m sure my manager told me, Pedro, we need you to go at least eight. At least eight. Because the bullpen was beat up. I gave up five runs in the first inning to Kansas City and I was able to bounce back and pitch eight innings after giving up five in the first inning. (Editor’s note: He meant this game on Aug. 24, 2000, a 9-7 Red Sox win in 10 innings in which Martinez received a no-decision.) That was one game that will never go away for me, because of how my manager needed me to be, how he wanted me to pitch to pick up the bullpen and how close I was to getting out of that game. Giving up five in the first inning and not leaving the game was one important game for me.
That game against the Yankees is always going to be my highlight in the old Yankee Stadium. They’re going to have to die with it and take it with them.
Looking back on Grady Little’s ill-fated decision to leave Martinez on the mound for the eighth inning against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS:
I thought I was out in the seventh inning, because I was told by [pitching coach] Dave Wallace that was my last inning. Also, the head trainer that we had, Chris Correnti, told me you might be looking at your last batter or so. When I came out, I was pretty sure I was out. Then, Grady asked me to get Nick Johnson out, because [left-handed reliever Alan] Embree could not get him out whatsoever. [Little] said, ‘After that, I’ve got the bullpen ready for you.’
So I went in and I did that. But you know what? I did that so many times. I was out to get one batter and I would get one inning. As a matter of fact, that ‘99 game when I came out hurt in Cleveland, I was supposed to pitch one inning just to hold them there, and I ended up pitching six complete innings. Nobody asked about it, because it looked good when we finally won it. But I went over my head, I went over everybody’s head. I went over Jimy Williams‘ head. I went over the rules they had for me that night. I just took it upon me to do it, and I did it. I disobeyed what Jimy wanted to do. Jimy wanted to take me out. I said no. He didn’t want me to pitch at that time that I went in, and I said, ‘No, I want to go in.’ When it goes good, everything tends to be overlooked. When it goes wrong, it comes back to bite you.
Grady’s decision, if you ask me today the same thing, can you get Nick Johnson out? I would say yes. Can you get [Jorge] Posada? Yes. Can you get [Hideki] Matsui? Yes. Can you get anybody ‘ can you get any of those players? I would say yes, and I would take the ball again because I never back off a challenge.
Don’t ask me. If you want to take me out, just don’t ask me. Take me out right then.
On whether he looks upon anything from his Red Sox career with regret:
To be honest, now that you guys are right there with WEEI, the only thing I regret was answering to you guys when you asked me, ‘Do you want to leave Boston?’ And I said, obviously ‘No.’ When it comes to business, baseball has a dark side. I should have never said that I never wanted to leave Boston, because that showed management that I have interest in staying in Boston and that I’m not willing to leave Boston whatsoever. I did not want to leave Boston, but at the same time, I expected Boston to appreciate me a little bit more. It wasn’t that they didn’t. It was just that the business part of baseball forces you to do that, to look for the best for your management.
As a player, you have to look at what’s best for you. Living proof: Albert Pujols. He should have never been put in that position to become a free agent. Nobody wanted to see Albert leave St. Louis, even Albert. The situation, the business part, forces you to do that. The only thing I regret was saying, ‘No, I don’t want to leave Boston,’ because they knew they could play with my mind.
On whether he could have said that he would consider leaving Boston while in a Red Sox uniform:
I could have easily blamed it on the Red Sox and said why would they let me become a free agent? That was it. I never was a politician with you guys. I was always plain honest. I spoke from my heart. ‘I don’t believe in curses.’ ‘I feel like the Yankees are my daddies.’ That was horrible, too. That was horrible. But that was an honest answer.
If you guys were to play the whole sentence I used when I said that, everyone probably would have understood that.
You know what, that actually worked out for me, because every time they chanted that, I focused a little more, I beat up on them a little bit harder.
On his relationship with Red Sox fans:
I’m a Bostonian. I consider myself a Bostonian. I believe my best years, my most important years, were in Boston. Part of my heart is in Boston. The other part is with my family and my own interests. I don’t have anything bad to say about my years in Boston. Honestly speaking, which is not very often that you’ll have an All-Star speaking honestly, I love Boston. I miss Boston. I miss the fans. I love the fans. I loved living in Boston. I’m actually thinking about selling my house in New York and buying back in Boston to actually go back.
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