Pedro Martinez is my favorite player of all-time.
This is an obviously biased opinion; he did after all reach his dominance at a time during my most fervent fandom of baseball(1) and happened to be pitching for the Red Sox. But it is also a completely and wholly valid choice for a favorite player on a more objective level. He was perhaps the best pitcher in the steroid era. He had a Koufax-like streak of a few years where he put up insane numbers. Years where he made the best hitters in game look stupid. His 1997-2000 for example:
Keep in mind he’s 5-11. For years he was doubted as being a starting pitcher because of his slight frame. but he made up for it with control and a contortionist-like movement and grace with his freakishly weird hands (2). He could unleash a mid-90s fastball in his heyday but didn’t have the ability to throw it 85 percent of the time like most power pitchers. Instead he relied on his world famous change-up. Yes world famous. A pitch that looked the exact same as his fastball until you already swung. And if you were lucky enough to time it right you’d still miss cause the thing had so much movement it was stupid. It traveled in and down on righties and he could catch the inside edge on lefties. It is easily in the top 5 pitches of any pitcher ever. Up there with Ryan’s electric fastball, Clemens’s splitter, Randy Johnson’s slider, and Koufax’s curveball. Oh yeah, and Pedro had the ability to break up the rotation of those two pitches, with his reserve curveball, which he threw from THE SAME EXACT arm slot. This is insane for a pitcher throwing at that 3/4 angle and he had to use the weirdest grip possible to make it work. With every other pitcher that curveball drops straight down 12 to 6, but Pedro could make that puppy hook out and down. He still throws it as a looper and it’s STILL nasty. The best part of that curveball was it could easily be most guys #1 pitch, but with him it was his #3.
And now he’s definitely in the twilight of his career. His fastball is 85-88. He’s just gassed. Hampered by injuries (which were definitely real and inherent to a guy of his size putting that much strain on his body), he’s had to go the finesse route, but he’s still startlingly effective. He’s not striking guys out, but he’s scraping for every ground ball, pop fly, and sly K he can get. Even this year people thought he was done and then Charlie Manuel trots him out against the Dodgers and he just owns them. Even in his Yanks start he pitched pretty great, out-thinking guys, like with his awesome “quick pitch” in his last start against Jeter.
Look, calling someone a “gamer” is as banal and mundane as it can get, but nobody fits that description more than Pedro. A fierce, prideful guy who’s always going to go out and think he’s the best player on the field.
And that’s why I’m looking forward to his next start tonight. Some highlights from his conference yesterday: (via boston globe)
Pedro Martinez is in the interview room now at Yankee Stadium. His comments are too good not to share with you in (nearly) real time:
On Red Sox fans: “I know they don’t like the Yankees to win, not even in Nintendo games.”
He also said that he still considers himself a Bostonian and that he treasures his relationship with Red Sox fans. Earlier, he joked with reporters that he “wants his props” now and not when he dies.
Pedro faces Andy Pettitte tomorrow. Their first matchup was in 1998. Now they’ll take the mound in Game 6 of the World Series. It’s a very intriguing matchup.
UPDATE, 5:55 p.m.: More Pedro:
On Red Sox fans: “I’m pretty sure that every Boston fan out there can feel proud that I’m going to try and beat the Yankees and I’m going to give just the same effort I always did for them. They’re special fans and they will always have my respect.”
On Johnny Damon: “He’s a tough out and he’s going to give you a battle and he’s not going to get unraveled for anything. He’s always going to make it fun. J.D. is just a special human being and special player. I’m glad he’s doing well, too. That’s one of the guys I will always root for.”
On his legacy: “I’m pretty sure my name will be mentioned. I don’t know in which way. But maybe after I retire, because normally when you die, people tend to actually give you props about the good things. But that’s after you die. So I’m hoping to get it before I die. I don’t want to die and hear everybody say, ‘Oh, there goes one of the best players ever.’ If you’re going to give me props, just give them to me right now.”
What’s better than that?
He’s the anti-Clemens. A charismatic, thoughtful, brash-but-in-a-good-way, perennial all star, who in the dwindling days of his career reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher who’ll take the ball any time you give it to him. He regards all his fans and the fans of his teams with true respect. He remembers his friends and teammates with fondness. Yes, he once threw an old man on the ground, but the dude was asking for it (3).
And so he finds himself tonight going up against the New York Yankees yet again, with the entire season on the line. He’s going against a tough gamer guy as well in Petite (4), and I love it. I’m still pulling for Pedro. My fandom of him would continue for years no matter what team he played for. He was that much fun to watch.
I wish him way more than luck.
1 – not necessarily my most attuned. that would probably be the last few years. I was just simply my most fervent. I was young and bullish. whereas now I find myself waxing philosophical on the game of games.
2 – seriously, look that shit up
3- come on. it’s funny. no one got hurt… luckily
4- a great stand up guy, but admitted PED user. not going to point out as a bad thing. just saying if we’re going to compare to pedro, than it should be mentioned.