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BOB RYAN

Martinez showed his true colors

So how are you enjoying your offseason so far?

Anyway, I'll bet you didn't sign a $54 million contract. I know I didn't.

On the other hand, none of us will have to pitch in front of the Mets' defense next year. Pedro will. At least we'll have some peace of mind.

Ah, Pedro, I guess now we really do know ye.

Nah, we don't. That's the central lesson we never seem to learn, or want to learn. We really don't know them.

I got one of those angry e-mails yesterday. You know, the ones that decry the "modern" player, with his lack of loyalty, as opposed to the old-timers who played for "the love of the game." Because of Pedro, this e-mailer was henceforth through with baseball. He'll find something else to do next summer, rather than follow the Red Sox. Sounds tough. Maybe he will, and maybe he won't.

But these are almost invariably the sort of people who don't know that Hall of Famer Edd Roush sat out the entire 1930 season because he could not come to a contract agreement with the New York Giants. Mr. Roush did not play solely for fun. He played for money, as do they all, then and now.

As Latrell Sprewell would say, a man's gotta feed his family.

The longer I've been around professional sports, the more I realize I should always pay heed to the wisdom of the incomparable Roger Angell, who warned us long ago that, when the subject is baseball players, "they are what they do." In other words, we should fix on their talent, not their perceived humanitarianism.

Of course, I usually appreciate the full extent of Angell's dictum after the fact.

Pedro's a pretty good example. During his first two or three years in Boston, he was almost in the too-good-to-be-true category. He was a great pitcher, for sure. He appeared to be a team guy. He was bright, witty, and accessible. His command of his second language was so good that I once told him he could teach an English course to Hispanics during spring training. He wasn't just capable of translating his thoughts from Spanish to English. He was idiomatic. He had English slang and references. His postgame explanations were often pitching clinics. All this made him immensely appealing from an American writer's viewpoint.

We were also told that some of his vast earnings went toward construction of a church in the Dominican Republic. What a guy.

As time went on, the quirkiness became evident. He became increasingly sensitive to perceived slights, whether they came from management, the media, or the fans. It was no longer possible to praise him enough. But he cleverly wanted it both ways. If he pitched less than great, he would say, "You know, I am just a man, not God. I can have bad days." Fair enough. But only he could say or write that. He wanted complete control of the praise agenda.

Then another Pedro began to surface. This imperial Pedro wanted to come and go as he pleased. He was quite willing to embarrass his managers by living on his own time schedule, knowing he had the clout to get away with anything. He became an envelope-pusher supreme.

So was this a new Pedro or the real Pedro? And did it really matter? He was what he was, and now he wasn't as appealing a personality. The word most commonly used to describe his whole shtick was "diva," but he could just as easily have been called an old-fashioned "spoiled brat."

Until someone somewhat comparable is imported to replace him, it is ludicrous to say his talent won't be missed. He still won 16 games last season, he still had some magical moments, and he still had enough gas in the tank to pitch brilliantly against the Cardinals in the World Series. He's a No. 1 starter for all but the Red Sox, the Astros, and (probably) the Cubs.

The Red Sox will miss that talent, but do not think for a minute management will miss The Act. He had become very high maintenance.

Had you told me five years ago I'd wind up writing what you just read in the above paragraph, I would have been incredulous. But I know I am right, and I should have known better than to deify Pedro Martinez or any other ballplayer.

The eternal truth is that we always find out what really makes any of them tick when it's contract time. That's when we learn what their priorities are. Some fool us in a pleasant way. Brad Radke has now done it twice, and good for him. He really does like living and working in the Twin Cities enough to accept less than full-market value to remain there.

Pedro's decision was to leave a good team situation for a shaky team situation. The only reason was the money. Perhaps Pedro isn't as smart as we thought he was. Or perhaps we never really knew him at all.

Sometimes the choice of agent tells you all you need to know. I have churned out a sufficient share of adoring prose on the subject of Jason Varitek, who has captivated us all with his bulldog approach to the task these past seven years. But the bulldog has chosen the ultimate pit bull to do his negotiating, and in so doing he reveals another, less attractive side of his personality.

Anyone who chooses Scott Boras as his agent is inherently into combat and bloodletting. Anyone who chooses Scott Boras as his agent is prepared to preside over a scorched earth campaign. Anyone who chooses Scott Boras as his agent is not remotely into this for "the love of the game." He is into this to maximize his earning potential to the last penny, not to win championships or perform in harmonious circumstances.

Does that change your opinion of Jason Varitek?

They are what they do. In Pedro's case, he pitches. In Varitek's case, he catches (with all the leadership attributes that implies) and hits. They are not romantics. They are professional ballplayers. They are the spiritual descendants of Edd Roush.

That's it. That's the deal. In order to continue loving the game, we must all work on ignoring who's playing it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com. 

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