It began with the Boston Dirt Dogs’ jeer campaign, a countdown that began in earnest ever since the failed attempt to generate a welcome reception for Johnny Damon back in May.
It continued last week when Peter Gammons told the New York Post, “there will be a lot of booing,” a statement that convinces us that the Commish has been spending far too much time on the set of Baseball Tonight with John Kruk, a man with about as much baseball insight as a throw rug.
Or Joe Morgan.
Today it’s Hey Look At Me columnist Mike Celizic who writes that Red Sox fans need to boo Pedro Martinez tomorrow night when he takes the mound at Fenway Park for the first time since signing with the New York Mets in 2004. Or else.
And if they don’t?
“I’d be as shocked as I would be if the president let slip that his favorite newspaper is The New York Times and his favorite news channel is MSNBC,” Celizic writes. “I’d also be as disappointed as I’d be if I set out to construct a hot fudge sundae and discovered I was out of whipped cream.”
Come again? What does that even mean? Why not just use the clichéd “cherry on top,” collect your check, and be done with it?
Let me try. Ahem…ready? OK. “If Pedro Martinez is booed tomorrow night, I’d be about as disappointed as if I went to fridge and noticed we were out of milk.” How’s that? Oh, we’re rolling now.
Awful correlations aside, does anyone in their right mind really, truly believe Martinez will get anything other than a rousing, standing ovation tomorrow night? I mean, other than the handful of unsure yahoos who decide to be swayed by the misguided notions the likes of Dirt Dogs and Celizic, the greatest pitcher to ever wear a Red Sox uniform will be greeted with nothing but cheers.
Let’s get it straight: this is nothing like Johnny Damon. Nothing. Both left town under clouds of controversy, signing with New York teams. And it has nothing to do with Damon being a Yankee as opposed to a Met.
For all his on-field contributions, Damon was little more to Red Sox fans than a solid center fielder, one who contributed on a nightly basis, a certain upgrade from Darren Lewis, and a guy who played tough all the time. That’s not a dig, mind you, as we can say the same really about beloved guys like Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek. But it was only when he grew the beard and long hair that he became a Boston icon and a national superstar. At least among the pink-hat crowd. Red Sox fans liked him, members of the $9.95 Red Sox Nation adored him.
Pedro Martinez is one of the most important players in Red Sox history. Damon, for all the swooning fans he procured over his last couple seasons here, is simply not.
Martinez came to town with a Cy Young in his belt and cemented his status as the greatest pitcher in the game, a statement made with an exclamation point in 1999 when he was the Most Valuable Player of the American League, despite the stubborn votes of a pair of baseball writers that denied him the trophy.
For seven seasons, Pedro Martinez was appointment television in Boston. Dinners moved from the kitchen to the living room. Taverns were more crowded. Fenway Park was more energetic, Martinez’s Dominican fans rooting like crazy from the bleachers, posting punchado after punchado up on the wall.
It is an aura that is undeniably missing these days in Fenway Park.
Of course, so are Martinez’s diva ways.
On his way out the door, Pedro said some stupid things, most notably how the Mets “have shown more respect in days than Boston did in seven years.” Of course, all Boston did was show Pedro more “respect” than any other player in baseball history. Does one month of contention replace seven seasons of brilliant performance?
The Red Sox didn’t want to budge on not extending a fourth year to Martinez, and if they had, Mets general manager Omar Minaya might have been willing to go five. It was clear he was not losing Martinez.
For giving him a four-year, $53 million deal, Minaya was widely criticized as a buffoon. Theo Epstein retaliated by giving Matt Clement a three-year $25.5 million contract, and everyone admitted it was a tradeoff we wouldn’t be able to understand until we saw whether the fragile Pedro broke down in year four of the deal.
It took not a season and a half to realize the terrible divergence.
Today, Minaya can boast the best team in the National League, while Clement is hiding in an MRI machine somewhere. As he did in Boston, Martinez has become a huge part of the transformation in Queens, perhaps destined for his second World Series appearance in the past three years, maybe against his former club.
It astounds me that people failed to understand the reasons Damon was booed. It was partly because he was a Yankee, yes, but it was more for the offseason in which he proved himself to be a fraud, talking about the “Yankee Way” and what it means “to be a Yankee,” assessments that angered both Red Sox and Yankee fans alike. They were transparent statements, and they kept coming, as Damon refused to shut up, with an opinion on everyone and everything having to do with the Red Sox.
It’s a year later, and Martinez has only recently been talking about the Red Sox with his return imminent.
"If you go from Boston to the Yankees, you're going to get booed," Martinez told Newsday. "Same thing it would be if someone went from Boston to New York. Like I said before, before I became a free agent, if I see myself without a job, at 33 years old, I'm going to try and get a job anywhere I can -- anywhere.
"The same thing happened to Johnny [Damon]. He had no job, so he had to go. It's too bad that he had to say too much. He said that he would never go to the Yankees . . . I never said that. I just kept it open. I just wanted to get a job. Well, I got it with the Mets."
(For the record, Pedro did say he wouldn’t sign with the Yankees.)
Curt Schilling may have put the Red Sox over the top as World Series champions, but it was Martinez who got them to the playoffs three times over seven years without Schilling, but with the likes of his brother Ramon, John Burkett, and Mark Portugal pitching behind him in the rotation. Schilling will forever be remembered for the red sock in Yankee Stadium, but five years earlier it was Martinez who saved his team’s hide in similar fashion, marching out of the bullpen during Game 5 of the ALDS at Jacobs Field in the most jaw-dropping pitching performance most of us have ever witnessed.
Off the mound, he was just as entertaining, whether he be talking about the Yankees’ paternity case against him, or simply discussing waiting for a bus under mango trees with 50 cents. On the mound, he was controversial, a headhunter many thought, as blown up in the Don Zimmer throwdown. Off the mound, he showed up and left when he wanted and never apologized for it.
If you want to boo him for that, go ahead.
If you want to cheer him for the electricity he brought to Boston from 1998-2004, you’ll be among the masses.
You don’t have to like how he left Boston. Cheer, boo, whatever. We make too big a deal out of these, "how will he be greeted?" moments anyhow. But still, to not appreciate what he did while in Boston is a stance I simply can not understand.
Martinez doesn't know what the reception will be, but at least to those who get it, it's obvious. It’s a standing ovation tomorrow night.
How could it not be?