Pedro Martinez will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Red Sox fans will spend this week remembering what he did for the franchise and what an honor it was to watch him pitch. He had it all. He had the talent, the confidence, the personality, and the charisma. He was the perfect fit for the Red Sox during a time in which they needed a boost. In terms of impact on the city of Boston from a sports standpoint, he’s right there with Bobby Orr and Larry Bird. He was that good.
Pedro’s numbers are more than deserving of the Hall of Fame induction. Don’t give me the lack of 300 wins debate. The Hall of Fame is for the elite players in baseball and there has been no pitcher more elite in baseball in the past 50 years than Pedro Martinez. Pedro posted a 219-100 record and a 2.93 ERA over an 18 year career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets, and Phillies. His .687 winning percentage ranks second behind Whitey Ford since 1950. While Pedro’s overall career numbers speak for themselves, the years most fans remember were his seven years with the Red Sox. During these seven years, Pedro posted a 117-37 record with a 2.52 ERA. That’s a .760 winning percentage over seven seasons! This was during an era where offense was at it’s peak. 2.52 ERA’s over seven seasons just weren’t happening back then. He won two Cy Young Awards in these seven years and he finished in the top four in the voting in six of the seven seasons. He also led the league in ERA four times during this span. In 2000, he posted a 1.74 ERA which led the league. Roger Clemens finished a close second that year with an ERA of 3.70. Pedro was truly in another league. Another stat that stands out: In 1999 and 2000, Pedro led the American League in Wins Above Replacement. In 1999, it was 9.7 and in 2000 it was 11.7. An 11.7 WAR for a player who played once every five games?! No one in the American League, pitcher or position player, has posted a WAR above 11.7 since Pedro did it in 2000. Enough said.
I could go on and on with numbers that will show that Pedro is not only elite, but could be argued as the best pitcher that ever played the game. Again, if you consider the years he pitched along with his dominance, the only pitcher who really compares is Sandy Koufax. Pedro was one of those players whose impact went far beyond the numbers.
I’m going to share what I remember about Pedro and the impact he had which goes much further than just baseball. When the Red Sox traded for Pedro prior to the 1998 season, there were higher expectations for the team. He had just won the Cy Young Award with Montreal and the Red Sox desperately needed an ace after Clemens signed with the Blue Jays a year earlier. When I heard that the Red Sox traded for Pedro, I remember being excited, but I didn’t really know what to expect. At the time, I hadn’t had the opportunity to see a lot of Expos games. I had positive hopes, but I never could have imagined what happened over the next seven years. At the time, the Red Sox were not a very good team. In 1997, they were 78-84 and finished 20 games out of first place. The team had some hope as Nomar Garciaparra had come into his own and already was an elite shortstop. Pedro immediately transformed them from a mediocre team to a contender. The team made the playoffs in consecutive years in 1998 and 1999. Pedro was the difference. Without him, the Red Sox were a good team, but never great. When he was on the mound, they suddenly became the best team in baseball. The Red Sox went from Clark Kent to Superman. It was an amazing transformation. The best part about it was the feeling it gave the fans at Fenway Park. Remember that buzz?!
Many fans will tell you the game they remember most about Pedro was the 17 strikeout game against the Yankees. Or maybe it was the 6 innings of no hit ball against the Indians in Game 5 of the ALDS in 1999. The game I remember most was on a spring afternoon in 2000. I remember is was a hot day and it took a while to get into the ballpark because there were so many people around Fenway. There was a lot of excitement and happiness coming from people who were wearing red and blue that day. By the time I got to the ballpark, all of the local establishments were jammed with lines out the door. I couldn’t get in so I went into the park early. It was very loud and there was a lot of excitement. Pedro was pitching! He came out of the dugout and Fenway erupted. As he was warming up, the entire crowd was standing up and cheering. There were Dominican Republic flags and Pedro signs all around the ballpark. As the game started, people sat down and started watching. Then there were two strikes on the batter. Everyone stood up and started clapping and cheering loudly. The anticipation…and then…Strike Three! High fives…smiles…joy all around. No one sat down as the next batter quickly had two strikes. You knew it was coming. It was just a matter of whether he was going to blow a fastball by the batter or if the batter would be left looking silly with his bat on his shoulders. Strike Three! Repeat! Every time it happened it was a great feeling. Finally, we were the ones who could mock and ridicule the other team for looking silly out there. It felt good to have “Red Sox” on the front of our shirts. Pedro was with us and all was good. Normally, when fans need to go get food, a drink, or use the rest room at Fenway, they bolt out from their seats after the Red Sox bat. Not at this game. No one was missing a pitch from Pedro. You waited until the Red Sox came up to get up. You were not missing this experience. 80+ years of being mocked and ridiculed for not winning a World Series, but now we had Pedro and there was nothing that was going to stop him. There were no 1918 chants on this day. No Buckner references. Just Pedro chants.
It was good to be a Red Sox fan that day. It was good to be a Bostonian. We had Pedro. He made that ballpark an amazing place to be. I look back at the game today and I wouldn’t have traded that ticket for a ticket to the Super Bowl. No way. Watching Pedro during his peak was a privilege and an experience, as a fan, that will likely never be matched. The Red Sox have had a lot of success over the past 12 years. Three World Series wins. Great playoff comebacks. Ortiz walkoffs. None of those games compared to being at Fenway when Pedro pitched in his prime.
The second game I remember most was a game I didn’t even have a ticket to. It was Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees and were down 2-0 in the series. This was during a run where the Yankees were clearly the elite team in baseball. They were in the middle of a run of four championships in five years. The Red Sox were a good team, but were not at the Yankees level at this point. Until Game 3… I went into the Fenway area and it was packed once again. I walked around the outside of the park to get to feel that electricity. I got together with friends to watch the game. Pedro vs. Clemens. Normally, when the Yankees fans were at Fenway during these years, there was a sense of confidence with them. They had every right to have it. Not on this day. They had hope that Clemens would somehow out pitch Pedro, but deep down they knew that it just wasn’t going to happen. Again, on this day, the Red Sox were the best team in baseball because of the man on the mound. The Red Sox won that game 13-1. Pedro pitched 7 innings, gave up two hits, no runs, and had 12 strikeouts. The series was now 2-1. The interesting thing about it was when the game was pretty much over, there was a sense of fear from the Yankees fans. You could sense it. They knew the Yankees were much better than the Red Sox. However, they also knew that if this series got to a Game 7, they had no shot against Pedro. Of course, it never got to that point. However, Pedro put that fear in the opposition even if they were elite. For those brief moments, it was great to have that feeling of victory and fear over the Yankees fans.
Pedro Martinez went on to the help the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. Many fans forget that he was a big part of the 2004 playoff run. This included Game 3 of the World Series in which he pitched 7 innings and let up no runs. That performance took all hope away from the Cardinals. He was a winner, a competitor, and a player who was very enjoyable to watch. For all of his contributions on the field, his greatest contribution was to the true baseball fans who were able to watch him dominate baseball games in his prime years. He changed the experience at Fenway Park. After all of the years of ridicule and negativity, he made us proud to be Red Sox fans.
How many players in the past 50 years can you say changed the experience at Boston sporting events? Orr, Bird, and Pedro. Short list.
The buzz and electricity at Fenway when Pedro pitched sure seems like it was a long time ago. For all of his contributions on the field, his greatest contribution was the impact he made to the Red Sox fans. He changed the baseball experience for us.