Pedro Martinez generally spoke the way he pitched, which is to say that he shot from the hip. Martinez usually spoke his mind. He never shied from his humanity. Rather, he celebrated it.
Somewhere, Jon Lester is smiling about this.
“Openly, I'm going to say I'm not happy that Lester is not here anymore, and I'd like him to come back,” Martinez told reporters yesterday on the day the Red Sox inducted him into their Hall of Fame. “We had that talk in the outfield and during bullpen sessions and during games. I hate to see that Lester is gone, because he's a workhorse, he's a good example in the clubhouse, he's a role model in society. He's a good role model and family member. He's everything you need for a young group of guys that are developing. I think Lester is one of the guys we have to really hope he comes back. He's probably the right guy to have in front of all those young kids we have."
Think about this, folks. Martinez was a semi-controversial figure during his time here in Boston. He was often a bully on the mound and a diva off it. He defended his teammates between the lines, adhered to his own program off it. When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and then made the decision to let Martinez go, Pedro was calling some of the young Boston executives “computer geeks” and seemed content to get out of Dodge. He hid some feelings, but not nearly as much as most everyone else did.
Then the Sox brought him back, gave him a job, mended fences.
Now, what happened with Roger Clemens and Martinez is happening with Lester, who is doing something neither Martinez nor Clemens did on their ways out of town: he is pitching his best. A 34-year-old Clemens was 40-39 over his final four seasons when he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday the 13th of December 1996; Martinez’ ERA ballooned from 2.22 to 3.90 during his final year in Boston. Lester is peaking, plain and simple, and he is doing so at a time the Red Sox are in search for veteran stability to augment the stable of young arms they possess.
Only Pedro, while still cashing checks signed by John Henry, could witness all of this and ask what the hell the Red Sox are doing.
And on a day the team honored him, no less.
Openly, I'm going to say I'm not happy that Lester is not here anymore.
And in this world, who speaks openly anymore?
Indeed, think of the manure that was flying around before the Red Sox faced the Houston Astros last night in baseball’s version of the Toilet Bowl. Clemens was insisting he has been too busy (doing what?) to worry about the steroid stain that has obstructed his entrance to Cooperstown. Nomar Garciaparra was still saying, despite all we know and witnessed, that he never wanted to leave Boston. Clemens and Garciaparra never had the capacity to tell us what they were truly feeling because they somehow regarded it as some kind of weakness, because they still see it as some kind of admission that they are flawed.
But Pedro? He simply did not give a damn … and still doesn’t. Of course he’s flawed. Aren’t you? Martinez always was willing to unbutton his shirt, open his chest, expose his vulnerability. The Red Sox’ reluctance to pay Lester undoubtedly struck some sort of nerve with Martinez, who can still acknowledge the twinge far more than someone like Clemens ever did.
They did it to me, too.
In baseball history, since the start of 1900, there are 21 Red Sox pitchers who have started as many as 160 games for the franchise. Among those, Martinez (117-37, .760) ranks first in winning percentage by a wide margin. Lester (110-63, .636) is second. Clemens (192-111, .634) is third. In some way, all were on display yesterday at Fenway Park, where Clemens and Martinez were simultaneously inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame, a mere 48 hours after Lester ran his record with the Oakland A’s to a perfect 3-0.
In the midst of this, as the Red Sox face yet another big offseason during a recent stretch of seasons jammed with them, Martinez all but shook his head and waved his finger at the franchise. Players will defend players, for sure, because once in a uniform, always in a uniform. And yet, essentially, Pedro Martinez is a part of management now while Clemens and Garciaparra are not, which suggests that even Red Sox owners and executives respect Martinez for doing precisely what he did yesterday.
He said what he thought, stated what he believed, shared what he felt.