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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In His 1st Year on the Ballot, Pedro Martinez (91.1%) Cruises Into Baseball's Hall of Fame

I am fairly certain that I will never see a Red Sox pitcher as dominant as Pedro Martinez was in his prime. Therefore, today became the perfect time to reminisce about Martinez's incredible career in Boston (1998-2004) since he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

One of the great things about Pedro is that he has so much personality and he was so lights out for long stretches that while we all remember particular special moments (17 Ks/one-hitter vs. Yankees, 1999 All-Star Game, coming out of the bullpen to beat Cleveland in playoffs, winning 2004 World Series) we can each cherish specific starts or less heralded occasions that were still so memorable to each of us.

Fresh off his Cy Young award with the Montreal Expos in 1997, Martinez was part of a blockbuster trade to Boston for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. Haha what year do you think that those guys will be elected to Cooperstown? He was a smash success immediately with the Red Sox (which was never easy to do especially back then before they had broken their absurd World Series drought). After going to two All-Star Games with Montreal, he made four as a Red Sox and picked up back-to-back Cy Youngs in 1999 and 2000. If baseball writers hadn't been so stubborn and backwards thinking (crazy, I know), he would have won AL MVP in 1999 as well but he finished second to Ivan Rodriguez.

Pitching in the height of the steroid era, Pedro put together some of the most unbelievable seasons that have ever occurred in modern times. 1999's numbers don't even seem real: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. 2002 was his other 20-win season (20-4) and he never suffered more than nine losses in a campaign for Boston. His 1.74 ERA in 2000 is insane and probably my favorite stat out of his million impressive marks. The career line: 219-100 with 2.93 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and 3154 strikeouts.

Not surprisingly for such a small guy (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) with many innings on his fragile body, he started to break down while he was with the Red Sox in the last few years. Other than his freakishly long fingers and extra greasy hair that he really let grow out at the end, there was nothing about him that made you think "genetic freak," that is before he unleashed a fastball in the upper 90s or made your knees bend with a sick curveball. Still, the team managed to give him enough breaks to last for the postseason which he reached four times with Boston. He was 6-2 in the playoffs as a Red Sox and how fitting that his last game for the team was Game 4 of the 2004 World Series in St. Louis where Boston broke their 86-year "curse" by sweeping the Cardinals.

After that, he signed as a free agent with the Mets and played there for four injury-plagued seasons then finished his career in 2009 with the Phillies who ironically enough lost to the Yankees in the World Series. Few probably remember that his MLB career actually began with two years in LA as a Dodger (where his older brother Ramon also pitched) before four years in Montreal where he became a star. Still, I'm sure there is no doubt that he'll wear a Red Sox hat in the Hall of Fame and when he makes what's sure to be an incredible speech, he has to talk mostly about his experience in Boston.

To those that are too young to know or who didn't feel it first-hand, attending a game that Pedro pitched really was like going to a favorite band's concert or a great party. You never knew what was going to happen but you were pretty sure that it was going to be memorable and possibly historic. Add that to the urgency of a team and fan base that was so desperate for a World Series crown and you can understand why there won't be another Pedro in my lifetime. Still, I feel so lucky to have grown up with this icon on my favorite baseball team and cherish all the memories that he brought at a very formidable time in my life. PS, somebody book me a hotel room on July 25 (the night before) in Cooperstown, I need to be there for that speech!

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