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Cloud, meet silver lining

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff February 12, 2009 05:59 AM

It's understandable for a Red Sox fan to revel in watching Alex Rodriguez, that pathological narcissist, suffer yet another self-inflicted puncture wound to his image. Hell, it's practically our duty to savor the schadenfreude as another layer of the Yankees superstar's phoniness is peeled back and exposed. And yet again we find ourselves thanking the baseball gods — or Gene Orza — that the players union aborted the 2003 trade to the Red Sox. A-Rod, with his cheatin’ heart, is a true Yankee. He’s where he belongs.

But a word of warning: Don’t gloat too much about A-Rod’s circumstances, because all logic suggests one of the cherished Red Sox heroes in your little boy’s baseball card collection could be next. Or two. Or a half-dozen. One hundred three unrevealed names remain on the list of players who flunked that now-infamous ’03 test. There are 30 major league teams. My rudimentary math skills tell me that’s roughly 3.433 busted players per team. If the list eventually goes public, there is no doubt that perceptions and reputations of players we’ve cheered easily will be damaged beyond repair.

If you doubt that a McNamee or a Radomski lurked in the shadows of every last major league ballpark — including the one on Yawkey Way — well, keep clinging to your naïveté. A cynic, how ever, might see it this way: If the 2003 Red Sox scored 961 runs and slugged .491 as a team with an entirely clean lineup, then mark it down as one of the greatest feats in modern sports history.

Our willingness to turn a collective blind eye is the reason the sport is in this mess in the first place, and the more information that spills about the circumstances and culture of baseball in the mid-’90s and beyond, the more convinced I become that clean players were in the vast, vast minority. It wouldn’t stun me if steroid idiot savant Jose Canseco’s guesstimate that 70 percent of players were juicing ends up being on the conservative side. It’s enough to dull us to the devastating implications of it all. Nothing comes as a shock anymore.

There is, however, one name that might make me reevaluate my lifelong and unfailing passion for baseball:

Pedro Jaime Martinez.

I admit, part of it is about the misty watercolor memories of an unabashed Pedro admirer, one who still longs for the heady buzz that accompanied his starts during his heyday. We will never forget watching him pitch with remarkable guts and guile in the 1999 American League Division Series, taking the mound in relief with an aching oblique muscle and no fastball to speak of and no-hitting those menacing Cleveland Indians over the final six innings. We will never forget watching him deliver one of the most dominating performances we’ve been fortunate to witness, the 17-strikeout one-hitter at Yankee Stadium that same season, the lone hit coming when Chili Davis — his eyes actually closed — somehow connected for a solo home run. Blind luck, indeed.

But it’s about more than the good times. It’s about Pedro’s place in history, which would be amplified even more if somehow it were provable that his transcendent seasons were accomplished cleanly while so many of the batters he was embarrassing were fueled by the best performance enhancers money could buy.

As it is, Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons rank as the best back-to-back seasons in terms of adjusted ERA in baseball history — and his ’99 season ranks second all-time in ERA+, trailing only the 1880 campaign of someone named Tim Keefe, who pitched in a time when every player had a handlebar mustache, home runs were just a rumor, and the gloves were tinier than a toddler’s mittens. The case is very easily made that Pedro Martinez in his prime was the best pitcher the game has ever known.

And every time another swollen slugger’s name is sullied, Pedro’s legacy grows. His performance in the ’99 All-Star Game at Fenway, when he struck out five of the first six hitters — including certain oversized fellas named Sosa and McGwire — might stand as his moment of all moments, the little man, all 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds of him, stealing the thunder of what we now suspect was Steroid Row.

That is, if he’s not one of the mysterious 103.

Now, please, please, please do not take this to mean I am suggesting there is any reason whatsoever for suspicion about Pedro. That is neither the belief nor the intent. It’s just that you never know about anyone now. Ken Griffey Jr.? I don’t for a second believe he used performance-enhancing drugs . . . but I don’t know that he didn’t. Derek Jeter? Ditto. Until Selena Roberts’ bombshell last Saturday, many of us saw A-Rod as the poster boy for clean living, the all-natural slugger who was going to reclaim the home run record from that dastardly and bloated Barry Bonds. Yeah, so much for that.

I almost — almost — understand why so many turned to the needle, including A-Rod, who unwittingly walked into a full-service pharmacy when he first entered the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse in 2001. Players who wanted to stay clean found themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage. And some of it was fueled by jealousy, particularly among elite players who saw their statistics and bank accounts being equaled and surpassed by jacked-up lesser talents.

Yes, I almost understand it. But that does not excuse it, and the cold reality is this: We will not be able to put the entire sinister era in perspective and move on until the whole truth — every name, every last positive urine test, every last juicer, ’roider, and cheater — is revealed. I just don’t know how you sort it out with any clarity or fairness before then. And that’s assuming the day ever comes, which almost certainly will be over Orza’s dead body.

So we keep our wishes and satisfactions simple. Right now, I’m just glad to have some of my favorite baseball memories left untainted.

OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at finn@globe.com

18 comments so far...
  1. Roger Clemens isn't half the man that Pedro Martinez is. Thank you, Pedro. We will never forget you. You will always be one of us.

    Posted by Dom Feroce February 12, 09 10:10 AM
  1. You’ve got to be kidding! Pedro Martinez has had a chip on his shoulder his entire life. He has always resented Tom Lasorda’s contention that he was too small and frail to hold up as a starting pitcher. Pedro is an “injustice collector,” the kind of guy who finds insult in a simple “Good morning.” He has just the kind of mindset that would take PED’s. Always wanting to prove someone wrong, always feeling slighted in some way. Look at his ridiculous strikeout and ERA totals in the “music city” offensive era dominated by steroids. Sure he’s clean. What a joke! When will all the sports reporters/columnists get real? What do you get from covering up for all these players and then acting shocked when “another one bites the dust.” Reporters are either complete fools or complicit, just like Bud Selig. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn.

    Posted by Brian G. Walsh February 12, 09 10:21 AM
  1. G Walsh--

    What do you propose he took then? The guy was among the skinniest players in baseball so steroids seem farfetched. He was often injured so HGH doesn't seem likely...

    Couldn't all the injustices that he collected have been his fuel ala MJ, Tiger, and all the other GREAT COMPETITORS that we've seen?

    Posted by NC February 12, 09 11:31 AM
  1. The one reason why I don't think Pedro took PEDs is that his body has not undergone a change. He isn't any bigger now than he was 10 years ago. There are 2 reasons to take PEDs. One is to get stronger and the other is to recover quicker for physical exhuastion. Starting Pitchers don't have the same urgency to recover that Relief pitchers have. they pitch every 5th day-period. So physical recovery would not have been a motivating factor. That leaves getting stronger - building muscle and by looking at him, this is something that he hasn't done.

    I would be shocked if Pedro took steroids. There are other Red Sox players (past and present) that I would not be shocked by revelations that they juiced, but Pedro would surprise me.

    Posted by Jeff_s February 12, 09 11:43 AM
  1. Petey on steroids? Ridiculous! Barry Bonds's HEAD got bigger on steroids. The only thing we ever saw swell in Martinez was his paycheck and his ego--and as for his ego, it ain't boastin' if you can actually do it. He could do it.

    Posted by Ernest Scribbler February 12, 09 12:06 PM
  1. 1) I distinctly remember an SI pre-season issue with a prominent story on Pedro in those early-2000 years after shoulder injuries had started to take their toll. There was a photo of Nomar—one of the most obvious-but-unproven juicers of the era—admiring Pedro's biceps, after Pedro had supposedly put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Pedro was very skinny in the 1990s, but he definitely got a bit larger later on. And it's worth remembering that HGH use doesn't necessarily lead to dramatic changes in the physique of the user. A lot of pitchers used the stuff without going wild in the gym or putting on a lot of muscle mass. Plenty of small, skinny guys have tested positive for HGH… and steroids!
    2) How does one interpret Pedro's history of injuries as anything other than just another reason to take HGH? Andy Pettitte, Paul Byrd, Brian Roberts... all these guys claimed that their HGH use was about getting healthy after injuries. The fact that a player was often injured is not proof that they weren’t on PEDs. That's not how it works.

    Posted by tinisoli February 12, 09 12:17 PM
  1. i understand why Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and now A-Rod's names are being brought into this in such a major way. This has to end and the best way to do that is to expose the big names in such a way as to create fear in others that this will not work and we need to get back to the days of the 70's where Fred Lynn and Jim Rice were MVP candidates and looked more like Ted Williams than Teddy Atlas. But, at the same token, I understand why Roger and why Barry and why A-Rod did it. There was far too much on the line and the game was compromised, period. The players knew it, the owners knew it, the agents knew it, the GM's knew it and certainly MLB knew it. These guys won't go to jail for doing steroids and they won't have to surrender their inflated contract moneys because it wasn't illegal at the time. They will only get punished if they lie about it under oath to the government. Amazingly enough, I applaud A-Rod for coming clean on it, if only because he saw that the path to denying it (hello, Roger and Barry) is so bankrupt as a strategy that it was his only option. The postscript on this whole sorry mess will be that it was the Steroids Era of MLB and EVERYONE was complicit. Time for everyone to admit that and move on. It was the most shameful part of the Mitchell Report and it remains a disgrace to me anyway that this is somehow SOLELY about the players when EVERYONE supported this ecosystem of juiced players, contracts and attendance. Everyone should get a black eye on this and not just the stars who are the most visible part of what was a truly corrupt system.

    Posted by wayneri February 12, 09 12:21 PM
  1. I'd be surprised to find out Pedro did performance enhancement drugs. Look at his body frame. It never really changed from the time he came to the Sox to the time he left. He was just a gifted performer. His time has come and gone, mostly because he got the most out of that small frame, and is pretty much burned out now.

    Does anyone remember Ron Guidry? He had almost the same body frame as Pedro. And, he threw just about as hard. And was just about as dominating, during his prime. Guidry, for those who are too young to remember, pitched in the late 70's/early 80's. Well before steroid use became prevalent...or even known.

    Sometimes it's the size of the heart that matters most.

    Posted by Matt Talvi February 12, 09 12:41 PM
  1. I don't know, wayneri. I get the point about complicity within MLB and even in the bleachers of all those sold-out parks in the last twenty years. But at the end of the day, players either chose to cheat or they didn't. One could argue that taxpayers and the government were "complicit" in allow all the boondoggles, scams, and Ponzi schemes of the last 8 years on Wall Street, but at the end of the day we're still very angry with Bernie Madoff. And rightly so. A crook is a crook. The same should be true in baseball. In both arenas, millions of dollars were at stake, but I don't see why A-Rod and Clemens and Bonds were any less greedy and grotesque than the Wall Street cheaters.

    Posted by tinisoli February 12, 09 12:47 PM
  1. 3 words: Christopher Trotman Nixon

    Posted by Matt February 12, 09 12:54 PM
  1. understood tini, so let's go after a few owners, union heads, agents, managers and team doctors who knew this was going on and said nothing. they are all crooks too, aren't they? the wall street cheaters is a great analogy. it was hurtful, damaging and clearly wasn't going to be sustainable but everyone looked the other way because everyone was getting too rich too be the one to stop it. it's like driving 1,000 miles an hour right at the brick wall. so who are the adults here? Bud Selig? Don Fehr? George Bush? Allan Greenspan? Please. Unregulated mortgage industries and risky derivatives markets weren't illegal and steroids are kinda similar. But Bernie Madoff was an out and out crook. He goes to jail at any time. But what A-Rod did is not what Bernie Madoff did. A-Rod has more in common with Robert Rubin late of Citicorp than Madoff.

    Posted by wayneri February 12, 09 01:00 PM
  1. From SI, March 25, 2002:
    Catcher Jason Varitek used to call Pedro Martinez "Channel 11" because of the pitcher's sticklike legs. "No more 11," Martinez boasted this month to Varitek after adding 10 pounds through a rigorous winter training program. "Call me 12." Said Varitek, "I'll give you 11�. Maybe."

    And anyhow, you don't need to get bigger to be guilty of having used and benefited from PEDs.

    Posted by tinisoli February 12, 09 01:02 PM
  1. wayneri,
    Steroids were illegal at the time of A-Rod's use, and, despite the constant refrain from those who don't do the most basic research, they were also "illegal" in baseball. That's why Bud Selig, just today, has announced that he may suspend A-Rod—because they were illegal at the time, even though baseball did not have punitive testing in place. Fay Vincent issued a memo to the players association and the owners back in '91 or '92, and then Selig issued a similar memo in 1997, which was before the steroid problem took off thanks to Sosa and McGwire. Whether you care about baseball's rules or about federal law, A-Rod was breaking both at the time of his admitted PED use. People are mistaking the laissez-faire attitude of MLB for evidence that steroids weren't against baseball's rules. Like Madoff, A-Rod and others were breaking laws and the rules of the game. That it was easy for them to do so was the fault of lots of people in some way, but it doesn't let them off the hook.

    Posted by tinisoli February 12, 09 01:49 PM
  1. " Go wake up the Babe, maybe I'll drill him in the ass." Musta been 'roid rage.

    Posted by wallyme February 12, 09 02:12 PM
  1. You would be a fool not to believe there are atleast a few Red Sox on the list.

    Posted by denis February 12, 09 03:14 PM
  1. sorry.. yes it was illegal at the time. but there was no inspection and no punishment system in place, just big-a** contracts and an obvious desire for home runs to save a baseball league coming off of an ugly labor strike. listening to bud selig say that a-rod has brought shame upon this game while he's collection $17M annual paydays himself sickens me to no end. He's the commissioner of the steroid era and to say that he didn't sit back (as an owner and as a commissioner) along with Don Fehr and Gene Orza from the MLBPA and profit from steroids being in the game as much as some individual players did is the height of hypocrisy.

    btw, pedro's accomplishments in that era certainly only underscore how special a pitcher he was during that time. kinda strayed away from the gist of the article, but pedro pitching was appointment-time baseball. couldn't miss it.

    Posted by wayneri February 13, 09 12:56 PM
  1. To Tini-
    10 lbs. gained in an off-season isn't exactly eye-popping. A solid workout regimen should add that over 3-4 months. Add in legal supplements and adding 10 percent body mass over 4 months is not surprising.

    I don't think Canseco's 70 percent estimate is accurate. Given what is known about the test that A-Roid got popped on, I think 30-40% is more likely. Still, will we ever be able to talk about anyone from this era as one of the all time greats without having some doubter charge them with juicing?

    Posted by BostonBrahmin February 13, 09 05:09 PM
  1. No, the names to fear are Big Papi and Manny. If one did it, they both did. And from listening to their words carefully, I say the odds are 50/50 they did. That will break my heart, if it is true.

    Posted by Pip February 14, 09 08:16 AM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
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