Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #67: Pedro
I’m coaching Bobby’s baseball team this year, and our first practice will be this afternoon, so I’m in a hardball state of mind. Our defending MLB champion Red Sox boast a lot of candidates for their Mount Rushmore: Ted Williams, Big Papi, Cy Young, Yaz, Ruth. But any aggregation of Rose Hose greats must include #45, the greatest starting pitcher of our generation, and perhaps ever.
Growing up, Roger Clemens starts were appointment television before the phrase had been coined. You’d go to the bathroom or to the fridge while your team was batting so you could be in your seat when #21 was on the mound. I remember his 20 K games (both of them) and how there was the sense that he might do it again at any time. He was dominant, intimidating, and fearless. We don’t know what happened in Game 6 of ‘86 (was he pulled? Did he beg out? What blister?). We do know he failed in spectacular fashion against the mighty Athletics in 88 and 90. And then he was gone, for the longest juice-riddled twilight the sport has seen. We were aceless in Boston.
Then along came Pedro.
It was a name made for chanting, for roaring, for bellowing in awe and admiration and longing. His starts were international incidents, with Dominican flags flying and K cards piling up and batters losing their nerve. He was half the size of the Rocket and twice the pitcher, a perfect game waiting to happen every five days, unafraid of the inside corner and controversy and man enough to admit the few times he was beaten. His 1998 and 1999 seasons were otherworldly, and the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway was one of the greatest non-playoff spectacles the game has ever seen. His follow up in relief against the Indians in Game 5 of that season’s ALDS was a cathartic joy for a still-cursed fan base, and still the most dominant pitching outing I have ever seen.
It was fitting and proper that he was part of the 04 team that brought the drought to an end. He was a no-doubt Hall of Famer (and was just as, if not more, qualified than Mariano to be unanimously elected). As an elder statesman of the game he remains hilarious and candid and a national treasure of two nations. Along with Tom Brady and Larry Bird, he’s a player I’ll tell my grandchildren I saw play in person and their eyes will grow wide. We’ve seen legends and myths trod the sod, folks. And Pedro Martinez is in the first rank.