I was this close to being a Red Sox fan. Honestly.
For some reason, Brits have been attracted to the Boston ballclub more than any other. Sox Nation established a strong fanbase in Britain and Europe that far outnumbers the rest of us, and I was very nearly one of them.
When I started to take a serious interest in baseball, deciding who my team would be was both exciting and significant. Whoever I opted for were going to be my boys for life, my guys. I could never be one of those fans who swap allegiances, so I had to be smart about my selection.
The Red Sox were immediately among the top candidates. Cleveland (the eventual winners) already had an advantage due to my previous allegiances to the Cavaliers and Browns, but at the start of the process I was open to being wooed by some of the other suitors in the league, and Boston kept coming up on my radar.
Perhaps it was the lore surrounding that historic, curse-breaking 2004 championship. I couldn’t escape it – every book I read and every video I watched involved this specific season, this moment that transformed the perennial losers into a powerhouse (the Sox have now won four titles this century.)
What attracted me most was the unlikely cast of characters, that band of eccentric rogues who upset the odds to win Boston their first World Series since 1918. From the loveable David Ortiz and crazy Manny Ramirez, to the veteran leadership displayed by Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling (before he became unhinged.)
It was a particular pitcher who caught my eye though, a man who stood head and shoulders above the rest (in metaphor only – he was considered short for a pitcher at 5’ 11).
That man was Pedro Martinez.
This colourful and cheeky Dominican pitcher appealed to me instantly. It was 2007 when I discovered him, when he was with the Mets, but his contribution to Boston was all I heard about, so I researched his past to learn all about Pedro in his prime.
For context’s sake, let’s start at the beginning. Martinez and his older brother Ramon (a terrific pitcher in his own right) relocated from their island home to play for the Dodgers but Pedro’s stay in Los Angeles was short-lived, and an unexpected trade to Montreal followed the 1993 season.
It was in Canada that Pedro found his groove and he soon developed into a starting pitcher capable of dominating the opposition. He managed to harness an explosive fastball that would completely overwhelm hitters for the next decade. By 1997, his final season with the Expos, Pedro had grown into one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball, and was rightly rewarded with his first Cy Young award (350 strikeouts in 241.1 innings for an insane 1.90 ERA).
With his impending free agency looming, the Expos cut ties with their ace and packed Pedro off to Boston in a trade. If Martinez was an artist, then Fenway Park became his canvas. In his prime the Red Sox faithful were treated to a Martinez masterpiece every fifth day, all of this in the midst of an era prolific with power and offense, when steroid abuse was rife and your average pitcher was regularly sacrificed by home run.
Pedro was definitely not your average pitcher. By the turn of the century he had become damn near unstoppable.
Look at his 1999 and 2000 seasons, both of which were crowned with Cy Young awards:
- 23-4 W/L, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 313 SO, 13.2 K/9, 243 ERA+, 11.6 WAR
- 18-6 W/L, 1.74 ERA, 217.0 IP, 284 IP, 11.78 K/9, 291 ERA+, 9.4 WAR
Every time I look at those numbers I am blown away by how incredible they are, how utterly immense and inconceivable it is to put together a season like that, let alone two in a row. I can’t help compare those peak Pedro seasons to some of the current greats of the game, consistently superb pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer. As amazing of those guys have been, they’ve never reached anything close to Pedro’s level.
The supremely gifted Martinez continued to accumulate personal achievements but the big one, the ever-elusive World Series, remained out of reach to him and his Red Sox teammates. To make matters worse, the final nail in the coffin for Boston’s championship hopes often came at the hands of the detested Yankees, who particularly delighted in torturing Martinez.
In the 2003 ALCS, a bench-clearing brawl saw Pedro get rough with 72 year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer. The 31 year-old pitcher threw the elderly gent to the ground and simultaneously incurred the wrath of everyone in the Bronx. It was an instinctual decision the pitcher would come to regret.
Then in 2004, with Pedro beginning to show signs of mortality, the Yankees routinely had his number. After a disastrous late-September start at Fenway, Martinez provided his enemy with these infamous words: “What can I say… Just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.” From that day forward Pedro would never set foot in Yankee Stadium again without hearing 60,000 people chant “WHO’S YOUR DADDY?”
He would have the last laugh though, and played his part in Boston’s unbelievable 2004 postseason. He featured prominently in the epic ALCS comeback against New York, finally vanquishing his “Daddy”, and pitched seven shutout innings in St Louis in Game 3 of the World Series. His stellar performance gave the Red Sox a commanding 3-0 lead that effectively wrapped up their title, ending 86 years of hurt. The Curse of the Bambino was no more, thanks to Pedro and co.
With his legacy in Boston secure, Pedro moved to the Mets for four seasons and two more All-Star appearances, before finally bowing out with the Phillies in 2009, featuring twice in the World Series against his old nemesis, those Yankees again.
Pedro hung up his cleats after that, putting an end to his astonishing 18-year career. In 476 appearances and 2,827.1 innings he recorded a 2.93 ERA with a 219-100 win-loss record. He didn’t have to wait long to have his legendary status secured, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015 on his first attempt, alongside other pitching greats like Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. The Red Sox celebrated him that year as well, retiring his number 45 at Fenway Park.
I eagerly bought his book Pedro upon release that same year, and naturally it was as eventful as could be expected, and I highly recommend it to any baseball fan.
Ultimately, despite his best efforts, Pedro alone couldn’t convince me to embrace that #DirtyWater and become part of Red Sox Nation, but he certainly helped make it a close race.
Whisper it quietly, especially among my fellow Indians fans, but thanks to Pedro I’ll always have a little bit of love for the Red Sox.