September 28th, 2008 → 1:02 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Today’s do (and possibly only delay death by a day) or die Mets game makes me, once again, mourn for the great Pedro Martinez of yesteryear. I know Johan was gangsta and all that–but it was Pedro circa 99-00 who was the real assassin. I’m not talking about the whole “use your head” imbroglio or even the throw-down
with Zimmer. I’m talking about days like days like September 10, 1999, when, save for a right-field porch Chili Davis shot and a first-batter Chuck Knoblauch HBP, Pedro was perfect, piling up 17Ks on route to one-hitting the eventual Series champs. It was the height of Dominican fervor, and fans up in the nosebleeds above left were posting Ks in the Bronx, mind you; afterward, there were chants of “Pedro-Sosa” throughout the streets surrounding the Stadium. It was the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen pitched. (And yes, I was there: with four comrades from Newton North. Things got ugly there towards the end of the night. At one point, I appealed to a cop for help. His response? “What do you want me to do?”)
April 4th, 2008 → 11:08 am @ Seth Mnookin
Pedro is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers never to throw a no-hitter or a complete game. The story of his 9 perfect innings with the Expos is well-known (he gave up a double to lead off the tenth of the 0-0 game). I didn’t realize that two other near-perfect games started off with hit batsmen: the September 10, 1999 masterpiece (yes, I was there) in which Pedro plunked Chuck Knoblauch to start the game, gave up a right-field Stadium porch HR to Chili Davis in the 3rd, and struck out 17 Yankees while retiring everyone else. (That’s the game Mel Stottlemyre called the best he’d ever seen.) A year later, Petey hit Gerald Williams to lead off a game in Tampa Bay…and proceeded to retire the next 24 batters before John Flaherty squeezed out a single to lead off the ninth. (Here’s some more on that game.)
There is, of course, another odd non-perfect game in Sox history: the June 23, 1917 match in which Babe Ruth walked the leadoff batter, promptly got tossed, and was replaced by Ernie Shore, who went on to retire every batter he faced. (That leadoff walk was wiped out on a double play, so Shore only actually pitched to 26 batters.)
April 3rd, 2008 → 10:13 am @ Seth Mnookin
I’ve had a long, and somewhat complicated history with Pedro. Some of my most joyous baseball memories are the result of his brilliance. (I’ve already gone on too many times about his 17-K performance at Yankee Stadium in September 99…the game that got me escorted out of the ballpark for my own safety.) His 2006 return to Fenway was chill (and tear) inducing. On the other hand, his continued obfuscation during same return was childish, and I’m very happy the Sox aren’t on the hook for his salary. (Among other reasons is this Sunday’s starter.)
My strongest memory, however, won’t be a single memory, but an enduring appreciation of his awesome, impish, love of the game–his childlike enthusiasm, one all the more infectious because it was married to the best right-handed pitcher ever to play the game. That’s what makes his recent injury–and the last several years–so sad. He can still pitch; he’s too smart and too innately talented to completely fall off the table. But he’s frail. And when he’s on the mound he looks, well, old. I want to remember this guy, the one who dominated the 1999 All-Star Game, the guy who looked like a teenager when he got to Boston…not the one being helped off the field for what feels like the 100th time in the past three years.
In that spirit, I give you this full-throated appreciation of Pedro’s majestic 2000 season…which was recently rated as the best single season performance in Red Sox history. Here’s the key graf: “Let me state this unequivocally: Not only did Pedro Martinez in 2000 post the best season by any player in Red Sox history, he posted the best pitching season ever in the history of baseball. His 1.74 ERA, stripped of all context, is still in the top 100. When considering the league-average ERA in 2000 was 5.07, the mind boggles. No hitter has ever bested the league-average OPS by 190 percent â€šÃ„Ã¬ no oneâ€šÃ„Ã´s really ever come close.”
That write up is part of a larger project: the ranking of the top-50 best individual Sox seasons of all time. (Rounding out the top five: Williams ’41, Pedro ’99, Yaz ’67, Cy Young ’01.) The whole thing is worth checking out, and will undoubtedly case plenty of debate. (Like, for instance, the fact that D-Lowe, whose ’02 season comes in at 29, is higher than Papi, whose top season (2006) is ranked 30th.) Enjoy. It should help you keep your mind of what’s been going on with #45 for the last several years.
September 5th, 2007 → 10:48 am @ Seth Mnookin
I tend to have inauspicious timing when it comes to taking time off: I was in North Carolina when the news broke that the Sox had won the Dice-K sweepstakes and I was getting married when Buchholz threw his no hitter. (Note: this does not mean that I will be on my honeymoon should the Sox make it to the World Series.) This deprived me of the chance to write many breathless posts about Buchholz’s composure, the fact that on a weekend in which Pedro returned to the mound for the first time in 11 months the most exciting baseball involving someone with “Pedro” in his name came from Dustin “DP” Pedroia, or how the past four-games have served as a good illustration of the Sox’s front office philosophy.
Actually, that last point can be illustrated in a way that will encapsulate everything else I wanted to talk about. There were a handful of mentions over the last several days about just how Buchholz happened to arrive in Boston: he was the chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the ’05 draft after Pedro signed with the Mets. At the time, Pedro was hailed as the savior of the Mets; over the next two years, as the deficiencies in the Sox’s pitching became more and more apparent, Theo et al were excoriated for letting the most exciting pitcher, well, maybe ever, decamp for Queens; they were also excoriated for any number of other supposed sins. (To quote one example, chosen at random: “…there have been many bad decisions since [the World Series] – letting Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon escape to New York…Matt Clement, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, and the long-term contract for puzzling Josh Beckett, for starters,” from Phil O’Neill’s Worcester Telegram piece, “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downswing,” August 27. 2006.)
O’Neill, needless to say, didn’t revisit this topic over the weekend; nor has anyone else, as far as I can see. (I also haven’t seen O’Neill revisit his labeling the Beckett signing a “bad decision,” but I haven’t looked all that hard, either.) If you’re interested in just how horrendous Pedro’s three-year, $40-mil contract has been thus far, consider this comparison: since arriving at Shea, Pedro has started 54 games (and 354.7 innings) and gone 25-16 for a .610 winning percentage. Matt Clement, surely one of the Sox’s most disappointing signings of the last several years, has started 44 games (and thrown a total of 256.3 innings) and gone 18-11 for a .620 winning percentage. Put another way, Pedro’s been paid approximately $1.6 million per win and about $113,000 per inning; Clement has gotten a little less than $1.4 mil per win and about $98,000 per inning. I’m not pointing this out to illustrate how great Matt has been but how piss-poor Pedro has performed. (I’ll avoid getting into this too much, but I do feel compelled to point out the following: Pedro’s arm injuries could have been predicted; Clement getting nailed in the head with a ball traveling well over 100mph could not have been.)
As I was saying, pretty much all of this backstory has been ignored as Boston has reveled in the afterglow of Buchholz’s no-no…pretty much, but not entirely. Take Rob Neyer’s piece on ESPN, which I’m pointing out for reasons other than the fact that he very graciously refers to the ways in which Feeding the Monster addressed just these very issues in a section on the non-signing of Pedro in December of 2004. Neyer may be the only writer to lay out in plain English the implications of not overpaying Pedro many, many millions of dollars: “Because the Red Sox ‘lost’ Martinez to free agency, they were were awarded the 42nd pick in the 2005 draft, and they used that pick to draft Buchholz. So for the Red Sox, the Mets’ profligate offer to Martinez was a wonderful gift, and one that should keep on giving for a number of years.” Indeed. In fact, I’d bet Clay’s a gift we’ll all be talking about long after most folks have forgotten why he ever put on a Sox uni in the first place.
If you, too, want to deepen your understanding of everything happening in Red Sox Nationa and donâ€šÃ„Ã´t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s been called â€šÃ„ÃºRed Sox porn,” don’t delay: Nowâ€šÃ„Ã´s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)â€šÃ„Â¶and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. Theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.
April 5th, 2007 → 4:58 pm @ Seth Mnookin
When my baseball game-watching career is over, I have no doubt that being present when Pedro returned to Boston in a Mets uniform will be one of the highlights (along with that ’99 one hitter at Yankee Stadium. Oh, and the final 8 games of the 2004 season). But as crazy as Fenway was those nights last June — and as crazy as Opening Day in ’05 was — I have a feeling Dice-K’s first start in Red Sox home whites is going to be full-scale, batshit insane.
Again, let’s remember: today’s game was only against the Royals. And, as we all know from Monday, it’s only one game. But, yeah, 7 IPs, 10Ks, 1BB, and a knee-buckling curve that starts off batters with a called strike…I can live with that. (It’s almost, dare I say it…Pedro-esque.) Shoot, even Mr. Covelli L. Crisp got into the action. Nice RBI, Coco!
February 1st, 2007 → 10:06 am @ Seth Mnookin
Let’s see: in the months since the ’06 season ended, the Sox were seconds away from trading Manny, until they weren’t. They were about to lose the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, until they didn’t. They signed J.D. Drew to a five-year deal, until they didn’t, and then they did. And in just the last week, the Red Sox were thisclose to a deal to bring Todd Helton to Boston, and then they weren’t. In the midst of all this, the New York Times has been waging a bizarre jihad against Theo Epstein, who, oh, by the way, happened to get married. (Don’t worry: he nuptials did not really feature Coney Island’s Nathan’s hot dogs.)
It’s been a hectic offseason. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for a calm couple of weeks until spring training starts.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask, but it is. With Curt Schilling in danger of being supplanted as the team’s top pitcher by Dice-K, Schill pulled a Pedro and picked up the gun #45 had pointed at the Sox’s front office before the ’04 season. Less than a year after saying ’07 would be his last season in the bigs, Schilling announced — on WEEI, naturally — that he would pitch in 2008. Oh, and he sure as shit better get a deal before April 1. “There won’t be any distractions in questioning because if I don’t have a contract before the season starts, then I’ll get a contract after the 2007 season, as a free agent,” Schilling said last night. What if the Red Sox want to, you know, see how a 40-year old whose last two years could generously be described as up and down was doing once the rigors of the season started? “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “I think I’ve earned the right to do one or the other. If they don’t think the risk is worth the reward, or vice versa, I get that.”
That language might sound familiar to readings of Feeding the Monster. Here’s how I described the situation as it stood in spring training 2004…a couple of months after the Sox signed Schilling:
“Pedro Martinez, meanwhile, who was paid $14 million in 2002 and was signed for $15.5 million in 2003, said he felt disrespected by the fact that the club hadnâ€šÃ„Ã´t picked up his $17.5 million club option for 2004. If the Red Sox didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t act by the time the 2003 season started, Martinez said, heâ€šÃ„Ã´d assume his career with the club was over. ‘Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s bye-bye once the year starts,’ he told reporters. ‘Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m gone. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m just going to pitch. I wonâ€šÃ„Ã´t wait until the All-Star break to talk to them.’ …
With Schilling on board, Martinez wondered if the Red Sox were planning on keeping him around beyond the 2004 season, and without a contract, he was both hesitant to risk further injury and worried about giving the impression he was less than totally healthy. Martinezâ€šÃ„Ã´s anxiety about pitching during one season before he knew if heâ€šÃ„Ã´d get paid for the next had been apparent since 2003, when, during spring training, he began agitating for the Red Sox to pick up his 2004 option. Now, when he spoke of Grady Littleâ€šÃ„Ã´s decision to leave him in Game 7 of the previous fallâ€šÃ„Ã´s American League Championship Series against the Yankees, he talked not of the fact that the game was on the line but of the risk to his arm. â€šÃ„ÃºI was actually shocked I stayed out there that long,â€šÃ„Ã¹ he told Sports Illustrated. ‘But Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m paid to do that. I belong to Boston. If they want me to blow my arm out, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s their responsibility.’ …
The same fragility that made Martinez anxious about securing a long-term deal made the Red Sox concerned about giving him one. ‘The arm angle Pedro had in spring training was very worrisome,’ says John Henry. When Henry asked one of the teamâ€šÃ„Ã´s top baseball operations executives what kind of season Martinez would likely produce, the answer stunned him: ‘I was told, â€šÃ„Ã²Heâ€šÃ„Ã´ll win 12 or 15 games, have a 4.00 ERA or a 3.50 ERA.â€šÃ„Ã´ And I was like, â€šÃ„Ã²Fuck.â€šÃ„Ã´’ Despite this prediction, the team wanted to re-sign its star. ‘I thought he should finish his career in Boston,’ says Henry. …
On April 30th, as the Red Sox sat in the visiting clubhouse in Arlington, Texas, waiting for a thunderstorm to pass, Martinez decided to chat with the Heraldâ€šÃ„Ã´s Michael Silverman, his favorite reporter on the beat. Martinez told Silverman he was cutting off all negotiations with the Red Sox until seasonâ€šÃ„Ã´s end. ‘Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m just really sad for the fans in New England who had high hopes thatâ€šÃ„Â¶I was going to stay in Boston,’ Martinez said. ‘[The fans] donâ€šÃ„Ã´t understand whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s going on, but I really mean it from my heartâ€šÃ„Ã®I gave them every opportunity, every discount I could give them to actually stay in Boston and they never took advantage of it. Didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t even give me an offer.’ His contract status, he said, wouldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t be a distraction for him or the team ‘because Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m not going to allow it.’”
It’s no secret that Pedro and Schilling were not the best of friends, and it’s no secret that Pedro was wounded that Schilling overtook him as the Sox’s best pitcher. It turns out the two pitchers might not be that different after all. Negotiating in the media? Check. Playing on fans’ emotions and Boston’s tendency towards soap operas? Check. Needing the attention focused on himself? Check.
On the upside, 2004 — another season with its fair share of drama — ended up okay when all was said and done.
(Obligatory FTM plug: The reviewers love it, it was a New York Times bestseller, and it’s available for only $17.16 on Amazon. Oh, and, of course, signed, personalized bookplates are still available free of cost. And How can you resist?)
November 22nd, 2006 → 11:01 am @ Seth Mnookin
There are a handful of the country’s sportswriters who repeatedly demonstrate they are aren’t worth the paper their ballots for baseball’s year-end awards are printed on. (The repulsive and repulsively dishonest George King* of the New York Post is perhaps the best example of rampaging stupidity: in 1999, he left Pedro** off his ballot completely, handing the MVP to Pudge Rodriguez. King lied through his teeth and claimed he didn’t believe pitchers deserved the award despite putting Rick Helling and David Wells on his ballot the year before.)
The 2006 AL MVP Awards, as Keith Law points out in yet another one of his excellent columns (ESPN Insider only), is another example of the travesties that regularly result when a bunch of folks with very little understanding of the game have the power to decide its most prestigious honors. Law points out — correctly — that Morneau wasn’t even the most valuable Twin; Joe Mauer was. (Another reason to like Mauer: he looks enough like me that more than one person joked that I’d somehow snaked my way onto the cover of SI.) I’ll let Law handle the honors: “The reality of baseball is that a great offensive player at an up-the-middle position is substantially more valuable than a slightly better hitter at a corner position. And when that up-the-middle player is one of the best fielders at his position in baseball, there’s absolutely no comparison. Joe Mauer was more valuable than Justin Morneau this past season. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand the first thing about baseball.”
Indeed. Derek Jeter*** would likewise have been a better choice. Oh well.
* Late-morning addition: Irony of repulsive ironies: King actually has a column in today’s Post discussing the writers who didn’t put Jeter atop their ballots.
** Take another look at that season. That’s good enough to inspire an entire region’s worth of man crushes.
*** Historical footnote: the only other time Jeter received even a single first-place vote was on King’s 1999 ballot. What a fucking moron.