By Jason Keidel
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This column abruptly stopped last night, much the way you froze when you heard the news that Satan was murdered. I was born & raised in Manhattan, and often worked at 7WTC. But, just as Rudy told us to continue with our lives ten years ago, to not let “them” win…alas, we have sports.
And we have baseball. And an AP wire slipped right through this site with nary a notice. In case you didn’t get the obscure, “Napoleon Dynamite” reference in the title of this article, you can vote Pedro Martinez into the Hall of Fame, where he should have his own wing. Apparently, he is near retirement, and is assuredly due a day of remembrance.
He was sarcastic, surly, and sublime. He hurled an ancient Don Zimmer to the turf, threatened to throw at Jorge Posada’s head, and longed to drill the Bambino “in the ass” with a fastball.
But Martinez is the best pitcher of my – and perhaps any – lifetime, and is the rare player in any sport at any position whom you watched no matter the game, time, or score. Like Michael Jordan, you nearly lauded and even applauded him despite his dominance over your team.
He gave the Mets instant heft when left Boston and signed here as a free agent and, despite the decay in his arm, his inability to short-circuit the radar gun, he managed to win on grit and guile. He was a pitcher as much as a thrower. Like Jordan, who could no longer jump his way over defenses, he relied on nuance, mind games when he lost the slow game to Father Time.
And there’s the delicious irony that Martinez is a member of a small group of small men who manhandled the monsters he faced, from McGwire to Sosa to Bonds, and the conga line of goliaths who wielded needles as often as maple, only to return to the dugout, bat glued to shoulder after another hypnotic pitch from Pedro. He joins Greg Maddux and Mariano Rivera as men built like your milkman who baffled the giants who made the batter’s box a squatter’s right for twenty years.
It would take an entire column to list his statistical eminence, so we’ll just indulge you with his 2000 season. His ERA was 1.74 while the American League’s ERA was 4.97 – the largest differential in history. His WHIP was 0.74, breaking Walter Johnson’s 87-year-old record (0.77). If that weren’t enough, he was the only starting pitcher in history to have twice as many strikeouts (284) as hits allowed (128). He somehow went just 18-6. In those six losses, he had 60 strikeouts and 30 hits allowed in 48 innings. In his first loss of that season, he threw a complete game, allowed 1 run, with 17 strikeouts and 1 walk.
We all remember his 2-0 duel with Roger Clemens that year, perhaps the greatest game ever pitched when you consider the cachet of the two pitchers and their teams and the intensity of the rivalry, and the fact that both men pitched for Boston in their respective primes.
Baseball geeks, sabermetric slaves can give you more. Physicists can tell you how his endless fingers, long as tentacles, allowed him to get great, late movement on his pitches But for the romantic in us, we just revel in the result. Baseball imbues the boy in us, nine-inning flights of fantasy and nostalgia. And while there’s no doubt the sport trades on stats, the fact that there’s no clock, a start time but no end time, we lean on its oddity, it’s unconventional ways of settling scores.
As a native New Yorker, I was always inclined to hate Pedro Martinez, and now I miss him. As with watching any savant play for the enemy, I secretly wanted him on my team.
Baseball needs people and pitchers like Pedro Martinez, who gave one, long middle finger to the Steroid Era. If you hate the game, you couldn’t hate the player, the pitcher nonpareil, whose dominance might never be duplicated.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com