Fred Claire wasn’t a politician. However, like many politicians, the erstwhile executive vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers said one thing when he was talking about Pedro Martinez in 1992, ended up doing the opposite, and regretted his action.
“I won’t trade Pedro Martinez, I don’t care who they offer,” Claire said.1
Well, he did trade Martinez, and lost the services of one of the best pitchers of the last 50 years, a three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher with a career 219-100 record and a lifetime 2.93 ERA. More on the trade later.
Pedro Jaime Martinez was born October 25, 1971, in Manoguayabo, Distrito Nacional, Dominican Republic, the fifth of six children born to Paolino and Leopoldina Martinez. Manoguayabo was a poverty-ridden town nine miles from the country’s capital of Santo Domingo, and the family lived in a tin-roofed hovel with dirt floors. Paolino supported the family by working as a janitor and performing odd jobs, while Leopoldina took in laundry. The Martinez children grew up poor, but they were well dressed for school and they took their education seriously.
They also took baseball seriously…very seriously. Pedro, along with his older brother Ramon, had pitching in their genes thanks to Paolino, who was a top-flight pitcher during the 1950s (he played with future big leaguers Felipe and Matty Alou, both of whom said he was good enough to play in the majors) with a mean sinkerball.
"I was too poor to leave the country," Paolino says. "When the Giants invited me for a tryout, I didn't have cleats. So I couldn't go to the tryout.”2
Nonetheless, the young Martinez boys grew up playing baseball, using tree branches or other sticks they could find to fashion bats. For balls they would re-enact the French Revolution with their sisters’ dolls. “When my sisters came home from school, they’d find [the dolls] with no head and they would go, ‘Mommy! Mommy!’” he said.3
In addition to having his father as a pitching role model, Pedro looked up to his brother Ramon both on and off the field. Almost four years older than Pedro, Ramon became de facto head of the household when Paolino and Leopoldina divorced when he was 13, showing a maturity and leadership that influences Pedro to this day.
“What I know of baseball, and life off the field, I owe to Ramon,” said Martinez. “Everything I am I learned from Ramon.”4
Ramon pitched for the Dominican Republic team during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles at age 17, and was signed as a free agent by Los Angeles Dodgers scout Raphael “Ralph” Avila on September 1 of that year. The Dodgers sent him to their baseball academy back in the Dominican Republic to begin his professional career.
In the grand tradition of annoying little brothers everywhere, 13-year-old Pedro tagged along when Ramon went to the academy. Avila eventually noticed him tossing a ball around and decided to put the radar gun to his fastball – it clocked in at 80 miles per hour. Wisely, Avila told Pedro to keep on pitching. Pedro did just that, and in 1988, Avila signed Pedro, now 16, to get him into the Dodger fold before he could turn professional. Pedro continued pitching locally in 1988-89 with the Dodgers’ Dominican Summer League affiliate, going a combined 12-3 over the two seasons.
Finally, in 1990 at age 18, he began his climb through the Dodgers’ minor-league system with Great Falls of the rookie-level Pioneer League. His season was a harbinger of things to come, as he went 8-3 with a 3.62 ERA. His victory total was the highest on the team, as was his walk total of 40 in 77 innings.
His performance earned him a trip through the southwest United States in 1991. He started off in Bakersfield of the Class A California League, where he won all eight of his decisions with a 2.05 ERA. Since it was clear that he was too good for that level, he then moved to San Antonio of the AA Texas League, and while his record there was only 7-5, he had a sparkling 1.76 ERA, prompting the parent club to move him yet again, this time to the Albuquerque Dukes of the AAA Pacific Coast League. Martinez struggled at this level, only going 3-3 with a 3.66 ERA.
Overall, Martinez went 18-8 with a 2.28 ERA and 192 strikeouts and 66 walks in 177 1/3 innings pitched, becoming the first player to go through three levels in the Dodgers’ system in one season, since brother Ramon did it three years earlier. The Sporting News named him its minor league player of the year.
“Although Pedro stands just 5-9 and weighs about 160 pounds, his fastball has been clocked at 90 mph,” wrote Mike Eisenbath. “He also has a wicked changeup that seems to be a family gift.”5
It was in spring training 1992 that Claire uttered his fateful words. Martinez was doing well at Dodgertown, the team’s spring training facility in Florida at the time, and his reputation was growing to the extent that other teams asked about him. At the time, he wasn’t going anywhere except Albuquerque, because the Dodgers felt that another year of seasoning at AAA was in order for the 20-year-old.
In 1992, Martinez went 7-6 with a 3.81 ERA, but with 124 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings pitched and only 57 walks. His overall season earned him a September call-up and his first major-league start, a 3-1 complete game loss at Cincinnati.
Pedro had a good spring training in 1993 but was sent down again to Albuquerque just before the season began, but after pitching only three innings in one game with the Dukes, he returned to the Dodgers on April 9 after reliever Todd Worrell was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
He got into his first Dodger game that year, coming on for brother Ramon, who had only given up one run in six innings to the Atlanta Braves, but was down 1-0. Pedro gave up two more runs in 1 2/3 innings. The final score was 3-0. Pedro and Ramon became the first brothers to pitch in the same game for the same team since Rick and Mickey Mahler did it in 1979 for, as it happens, the Braves.
His next appearance, and first loss of the season, came the following night in the Dodgers’ opener home against St. Louis. Gerald Perry of the Cardinals arrived at the ballpark less than hour before game time because he thought it was a night game. Martinez wished he had stayed away because Perry hit a three-run homer off him in the seventh inning to erase a 7-5 Dodger lead. The final score was 9-7 St. Louis.
Although the season didn’t start the way he would have wanted, Pedro righted his pitching ship and went on to have a very good rookie year. He appeared in 65 games, all but two of them in relief, and finished with a 10-5 record and a fine 2.61 ERA. Perhaps his most impressive statistic was his 119 strikeouts in 107 innings pitched.
Good rookie season notwithstanding, Claire did indeed hear a trade offer that he couldn’t refuse, and in November sent Martinez to the Montreal Expos in exchange for speedy second baseman Delino DeShields. For the Expos it was a cost-cutting move, as DeShields made $1,537,500 in 1993 and was eligible for arbitration. Martinez, on the other hand, had made $114,000 the previous season and couldn’t go for arbitration for another two years.
The Dodgers had used Martinez almost exclusively in relief because they didn’t think he had the size and strength to pitch deep into ballgames. The Expos saw him as a starting pitcher despite weighing less than 160 pounds, and put him into the starting rotation with Ken Hill, Jeff Fassero, Butch Henry, and Kirk Reuter.
It is well known among baseball aficionados that the 1994 Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball at 74-40 when their season and a possible World Series appearance were derailed by a players’ strike. The pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the National League (3.56), and Martinez was a major contributor to the team’s success. He went 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 144 2/3 innings.
He also became known as a headhunter for his tendency to pitch high and inside, and acquired the nickname “Senor Plunk” from the Montreal media. He led the league in hit batsmen with 11, got thrown out of 12 games and got into three fights. That first fight occurred on April 13, when Reggie Sanders charged the mound after being hit on the elbow by a Martinez pitch with one out in the eighth inning. Even Sanders’ teammates thought it highly unlikely that Martinez tried to deliberately to hit him at that point because Martinez was pitching a perfect game at the time.
“That’s the way you’ve got to pitch,” said Reds catcher Brian Dorsett, who broke up the no-hitter in the ninth by hitting a single with nobody out in the top of the ninth. “You’ve got to bust them in and keep them honest.”6
“He’s not trying to hit anyone,” said Expos pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. “He isn’t a malicious kid.”7
An Expos fire sale saw the Expos lose Hill, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, and John Wetteland prior to the 1995 season. What had been a powerhouse the year before was an also-ran team that finished last in the National League East Division with a 66-78 record. Nonetheless, Martinez continued improving, going 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA and 174 K’s in 194 2/3 innings. He hit 11 batters again, but that represented an improvement because he pitched 30 more innings than he had the previous year, and left him in third place among league leaders behind Mark Leiter of the Giants with 17 and Darryl Kile of Houston with 12.
The highlight of Martinez’ 1995 season, and perhaps of his career, came on June 3 against the Padres in San Diego. That night Martinez became only the second pitcher in history to take a perfect game into extra innings. Harvey Haddix went 12 perfect innings for the Pirates against the Braves in 1959 before losing his no-hitter and the game in the 13th. Pedro was perfect through nine, but the score was still 0-0. The Expos scored once in the top of the tenth, but Martinez gave up a double in the bottom of the tenth to leadoff hitter Bip Roberts. Closer Mel Rojas relieved him and got the next three hitters to preserve the win.
The Expos bounced back in 1996 with an 88-74 record, missing out on the National League wild card by two games. On the surface, it looks as if Martinez’ season wasn’t quite as good as the year before; he went 13-10, with the highest ERA of his career to date, 3.70. His won-loss record was hampered by the fact that the Expos only scored 22 runs in the ten losses. Nonetheless, he got his first All-Star nod and gave up two hits in one inning of work as the National League shut out the American League, 6-0, in Philadelphia.
Any questions about Martinez’ abilities were answered in 1997. In the same season that DeShields left the Dodgers after three unspectacular seasons (.241 batting average and .326 on-base percentage from 1994-96), Martinez went 17-8, led the league with a 1.90 ERA, 305 strikeouts, and 13 complete games. He also struck out two American League hitters in one inning of work at the All-Star Game. He became the first and only Cy Young Award winner in Expos history, receiving 25 of 28 first-place votes (Greg Maddux got the other three). For Martinez, the award was more than a mere personal accolade, as he became the first Dominican pitcher to win it. Not only was he proud of that, he felt that fellow Dominican Juan Marichal should have won it at least once during his great career. He even gave his award to Marichal at a banquet after the season ended. Marichal, though deeply touched by the gesture, returned it back to Martinez.
From an Expos standpoint, the first Cy Young Award in the team’s history was worth celebrating only because it increased Martinez’ trade value. Pedro was one year away from free agency and Expos management wanted to trade him while they could still get something for him. Eventually they sent him to the Boston Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. After the trade, Martinez signed a six-year contract with the Red Sox worth $75 million, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball at the time.
The 1997 Red Sox under Jimy Williams finished fourth in the American League East Division with a 78-84 record. With Martinez in the rotation in 1998, Williams suddenly became a much better manager, piloting the Red Sox to a 92-70 record, good enough for second place in the division and the wild card playoff spot. Pedro had another magnificent season, going 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA and 251 strikeouts. He was an All-Star for the third straight season -- for the American League this time -- but didn’t appear in the game. He finished second in the Cy Young voting behind Roger Clemens of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Martinez also got his first taste of postseason action, as he took the mound in Game One of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. Pedro pitched seven strong innings, giving up three runs, striking out eight and not giving up any walks as the Red Sox won easily, 11-3. It was his only appearance of the series, as the Indians went on to win the next three and move on to the American League Championship Series.
Martinez had a season for the ages in 1999. He won the pitcher’s triple crown, leading the league in wins (23 against four losses), ERA (2.07), and strikeouts (313). He not only started and won the All-Star Game for the American League at Fenway Park, but he did it in style, striking out five of the six batters he faced in two innings’ work. He was also chosen the game’s MVP.
The Red Sox again made the playoffs as the wild card in a rematch from 1998 against the Indians. Martinez started Game One and pitched four scoreless innings before leaving with a strained back muscle. Cleveland scored in the bottom of the ninth to win it, 3-2. Boston won two of the next three to knot the series at two going into Game Five. Meanwhile, the knot in Martinez’ back disappeared.
Bret Saberhagen started the decider for Boston and was replaced by Derek Lowe in the second inning. After three innings, the score was 8-7 Cleveland. The Red Sox tied it in the top of the fourth; then on came Martinez in the bottom of the inning. What happened next became part of Red Sox lore.
For the next five innings, Martinez completely silenced the Indian bats. He threw 97 pitches, allowed no runs and no hits, walked three and struck out eight. In the meantime, the Sox scored four more runs to take a 12-8 lead. Martinez showed a sense of style by striking out Omar Vizquel to end the game and the series.
Martinez was the only bright spot in the ALCS against the Yankees, which the Bombers won in five games. Roger Clemens was now with the Yankees, and what was hyped as a big showdown between Pedro and Clemens in Game Three at Fenway ended up as games that are hyped as big showdowns often do. The Sox hammered Clemens for five runs in two innings and won going away, 13-1. Martinez pitched seven scoreless innings for the win.
While the Y2K scare was nothing more than hype in the hi-tech industry, Martinez’ year 2000 deserved all the publicity it got. He won his second consecutive Cy Young Award by unanimous vote with an 18-6 record, and he led the American League in ERA (1.74), shutouts (4), and strikeouts (284). His season was especially impressive because it came at the height of the steroid era, when the overall American League ERA that year was 4.91. He held opponents to the lowest on-base percentage against (.213) in 100 years.8 The Red Sox finished second yet again in their division, but did not make the playoffs.
The 2001 season was an odyssey of frustration and disappointment for Martinez as he contended with major injury for the first time in his career. He missed two months after with a minor rotator cuff tear, and did not pitch the rest of the season after a September 7 3-2 loss to the Yankees. He also got into a dispute with general manager Dan Duquette, who said in early September that Martinez was healthy enough to pitch. “I think Dan knows as much about medicine as I do, maybe less,” said Martinez. “That’s why I’m surprised he said I’m healthy.”9
For the year, Martinez was 7-3 in 18 starts with a respectable 2.69 ERA in 116 2/3 innings pitched.
Pedro bounced back in 2002 with a vengeance. He reached the 20-win plateau for the second time (20-4), won the ERA and strikeout titles (2.26 ERA, 239 K’s) and was voted to the All-Star team, although he didn’t play in the game (the infamous 7-7 tie in Milwaukee). He also finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Oakland’s Barry Zito.
Pedro’s 2003 season will be remembered for two controversial incidents he was involved in during that year’s ALCS against the Yankees.
Martinez had a 14-4 record that season and won the ERA title again with a 2.22 average. Red Sox manager Grady Little started limiting the number of innings Martinez worked and gave him an extra day’s rest whenever he could. The Red Sox finished 95-67 and earned them their first playoff birth since 1999. After defeating the A’s in the ALDS, the Sox hooked up in a memorable series that was a slugfest in more ways than one.
Martinez got his first start in Game Three with the ALCS tied at one game apiece. The Yankees had just gone ahead, 3-2, in the fourth when Martinez hit right fielder Karim Garcia with a pitch. No fight erupted, but it charged up an already electric atmosphere, and the benches emptied in the bottom of the inning when Clemens threw at Manny Ramirez.
Baseball brawls generally involve players from both teams running on the field and shouting “Oh yeah?” at each other. For some reason, the Yankees’ 72-year-old bench coach Don Zimmer decided to take a run at Martinez, who wasn’t in a very good mood himself after blowing a lead in the top of the inning. Martinez threw Zimmer to the ground, and while no one was injured, the game did suffer a black eye. Zimmer later admitted the encounter was his fault.
Although Martinez lost that game, the Red Sox hung in and forced a Game Seven. Little went with his ace, which was a good idea, at least for most of the game. Going into the eighth, the Red Sox led 5-2. With one out and a run in, and Hideki Matsui coming up, Little went to the mound and asked Martinez if he had anything left. Martinez said he did, but it turned out he was wrong.
“Little went to the mound, spoke to Martinez and patted him with encouragement, but then turned and stepped back to the dugout, not knowing that he was about to join Bill Buckner in Red Sox lore,” wrote Buster Olney.10
Matsui hit a ground-rule double, which left runners at second and third. Yankee catcher Jorge Posada then got a bloop hit that drove in two runs and tied the game. Aaron Boone hit the series-winning homer off reliever Tim Wakefield in the 11th.
Since it’s easier to replace managers than star pitchers, Little was fired after the 2003 season and Martinez stayed in the rotation. He wasn’t quite as dominant in 2004, for even though he had a 16-9 record, his ERA was an un-Pedro-like 3.90. The Red Sox made the playoffs again in what proved to be an historic season for the team.
The Yankees and Red Sox met again in the ALCS. Martinez lost Game Two, going six innings in a 3-1 defeat. The Yankees wore out home plate with all the times they crossed the plate in a Game Three 19-8 battering, giving them a 3-0 series lead. But then the Yankees forgot they had to win four games.
The Sox stayed alive by winning Game Four, 6-4, in 12 innings. Pedro pitched Game Five and allowed four runs, leaving after six innings down 4-2. The Sox tied it in the eighth and won it in the 14th to make the series 3-2. After Curt Schilling’s courageous outing in Game Six, the Sox completed the comeback in Game Seven. Martinez pitched the seventh inning and allowed two runs on three hits, but the Red Sox won the game easily 10-3.
After such an inspired comeback by the Sox, the World Series was anti-climactic, as they easily disposed of the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games. After a mediocre ALCS, Martinez was excellent in his only World Series start, pitching seven shutout innings in Game Three and getting the win in a 3-1 Red Sox victory.
In the joyous victors’ clubhouse at Busch Stadium, Martinez took a moment to remind fans of the departing Montreal Expos how important the city was to him by sharing the Red Sox victory with them.
“I’m glad I got it [the World Series win] and I would like to share it with the people of Montreal that are not going to have a team anymore,” he said in an interview. “My heart and my ring is [sic] with them, too.”11
Winning isn’t everything in sports, nor is it the only thing. Professional sports is a business and like any businessman, Martinez took the opportunity to shop his wares to the highest bidder once he became a free agent after the 2004 season. That bidder turned out to be the New York Mets, who signed Martinez to a four-year, $53 million deal in December 2004 that included a $3 million signing bonus. The Red Sox worried how long his shoulder might hold up and had offered $40.5 million over three years. In addition to the salary, Martinez’ contract included incentive clauses for winning the Cy Young Award and being named to the All-Star team as well as a luxury suite at Shea Stadium.
Martinez proved to be worth the price to the Mets, at least for the first year. He was 15-8 in 2005 and made the All-Star team. On a personal level, Pedro married his sweetheart Carolina Cruz that year, whom he met through his Pedro Martinez and Brothers Foundation in 1998 when she was a sophomore at Boston College. She was able to attend the university on a scholarship provided through the foundation.
In 2006 he made the All-Star team again, but only went 9-8 with an astronomical 4.48 ERA as injuries to his hip, calf, and toe limited him to 23 starts. He underwent major surgery for a torn rotator cuff that October, and missed the Mets’ postseason, which saw them come within one game of going to the World Series. While the operation may have relieved pain, it cost him velocity on his fastball. It took 11 months for Martinez to recover, and he didn’t make his first start of the 2007 season until September 3 against the Reds in Cincinnati. That was a milestone game for Martinez, as he became only the 15th pitcher to record 3,000 strikeouts when he got Aaron Harang on an 87 mile-per-hour fastball. For the season, Martinez went 3-1 in five starts with a 2.57 ERA.
The decline continued in an injury-filled 2008, as Martinez had the worst season of his career, a 5-6 won-lost record with a 5.61 ERA for a team that went 89-73. The Mets missed the playoffs by one game and there’s no doubt having Pedro pitching at top capacity would have vaulted them over the Brewers and into the wild card.
The annus horribilis that was 2008 also included great personal sadness for Martinez, as his father died of brain cancer in July at the age of 78.
When the 2009 season began, Martinez could relate to the proverbial teenage girl waiting for the phone to ring on a Saturday night. Martinez was a free agent, but the 37-year-old’s age and mediocre statistics did not attract teams. Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies, who were hoping to repeat as World Series champions, signed Pedro to a one-year $1 million contract on July 15. They hoped he could provide them with some quality starts and help them overcome injuries to their pitching staff. After three starts in the minors, he returned to the majors on August 12 at Wrigley Field and was the winner in a 12-5 Phils victory over the Cubs. He went five innings, gave up three earned runs, and struck out five.
Martinez contributed to the Phillies winning the National League East Division by compiling a 5-1 record with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts. He didn’t play in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, which the Phillies won in four games. He pitched magnificently in Game Two of the NLCS against the Dodgers, going seven scoreless innings and leaving with a 1-0 lead. The bullpen couldn’t hold on and the Phillies lost, 3-1. It was the team’s only loss in the series, which they won in five games.
Then came the World Series against his old rival from the Red Sox days, the hated Yankees. Pedro started Game Two and gave up three runs in six-plus innings. Yankee starter A. J. Burnett was almost unhittable that night and the Yankees won, 3-1.
In what turned out to be the last game of his career, Martinez started Game Six with the Phillies down three games to two. He just didn’t have it that night, giving up four runs in four innings as the Bombers won the game, 7-3, and the Series.
Overall, Martinez had a decent season, but something was missing and he knew that the time had come to hang up the spikes.
“You find yourself alone, ironing your clothes again and you find yourself moving your car and parking and driving by yourself home late at night after being on the road,” said Martinez in an interview. “After achieving what I achieved in baseball, I felt like if I was going to go through all of that just to achieve a little bit more, I would rather not.”12
Retirement has been good for Martinez, who is both a deeply religious man and a proud Dominican who has not forgotten his roots despite the millions he earned playing baseball. He and Carolina run the foundation, which is headquartered in Santo Domingo. His foundation has built a three-story school, and a facility that offers kids the chance to learn computers, English, and music as well as how to battle domestic violence and teenage pregnancy.
He received a unique honor in 2011, when the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled a painting of him done by Susan Miller-Havens.
He has also re-established ties with the Red Sox by becoming a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington in January 2013. He celebrated another World Series win with the team that same season.
Not bad for a kid who had to tear off dolls’ heads to play the game he loved.
December 13, 2013
1 “Pedro Martinez turning some heads in Dodgers’ camp,” Ocala (Florida) Star Banner, March 2, 1992.
2 Peter Gammons, Clemson Smith Muniz, “Pedro Martinez could throw Boston its best party in a long, long time,” ESPN Mobile Web Archive, July 10, 2012 (note that this date refers to when the archived article was put on the ESPN website. It was probably written soon after Martinez was traded to the Red Sox in late 1997.)
3 Mike Shalin, Pedro Martinez: Throwing Strikes (Sports Publishing LLC, 1999), 21
4 Ibid, 23.
5 Mike Eisenbath, “Minor League Player of the Year,” The Sporting News, October 28, 1991.
6 Tim Kurkjian, “An Inside Job,” Sports Illustrated, April 25, 1994.
7 Kurjkjian, “Baseball,” Sports Illustrated, May 16, 1994.
8 Statistics provided by the book Red Sox Threads, by Bill Nowlin published by Rounder Books.
9 Howard Ulman, “Martinez criticizes Duquette,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 5, 2001.
10 Buster Olney, “Boone’s blast, Rivera’s arm lift Yankees,” ESPN the Magazine, October 2003.
12 Sean Deveney, “Happily retired Pedro Martinez reflects on time with Red Sox,” sportingnews.com, April 20, 2012.