Pedro's lofty accomplishments belied his small stature
Ace exhibited a rare combination of power and command over 18-year career
How great was Pedro Martinez? He was a dominant pitcher in an era otherwise dominated by hitters.
Martinez was elected to the Hall of Fame with an overwhelming 91.1 percent of the vote. That was not a particular surprise, given his accomplishments. But with the announcement Tuesday of the result of the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the only real question was why Martinez was left off the ballots of 8.9 percent of the voters.
Martinez and two other pitchers, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz, became first-ballot Hall of Famers. Along with Craig Biggio (elected in his third year of eligibility), this 2015 class formed a breakthrough. This was the first time in 60 years that the voting members of the BBWAA had voted in four players in the same election.
Martinez was small in stature, but large in performance. His nicknames indicated both aspects: the diminutive "Petey" and the great performer "El Grande." Martinez was one of those rare pitchers who combined both power and exquisite command, using, in his prime, a big fastball, devastating breaking pitches and a highly effective changeup.
During Martinez's career, he said that he weighed between 164 and 170 pounds. Still, he generated tremendous velocity.
"I considered myself a power pitcher with some finesse connected to it," Martinez said Tuesday in a teleconference.
How did he generate velocity?
"I was very precise in my mechanics," Martinez said. "My legs were the ultimate dictator when it came to power."
Martinez was a highly entertaining performer who pitched with aggression. He worked with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. He turned adversity into advantage.
"That was the result of the negativity around me, telling me, 'No, you can't,' when I knew I could," Martinez said Tuesday. "That transformed my mind and my body."
Between his ability and his attitude, Martinez performed at the top of his game. And that was great enough to put up astounding numbers. He won the Cy Young Award in both leagues, with Montreal in 1997 and with Boston in '99 and 2000. He was second in the Cy Young voting twice and he finished third and fourth once each.
Martinez's work from 1997 through 2003 included these ERAs: 1.90, 2.07, 1.74, 2.26, 2.22. In 1999, he won the pitching Triple Crown, going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, striking out 313 in 213 1/3 innings. And Martinez was doing this while pitching his home games in a hitter-friendly park, working in a league with the designated hitter.
In an interview on MLB Network on Tuesday, Martinez was asked if, despite his relative small stature, he felt 10 feet tall on the mound.
"To be honest, yes," he responded. "That's the feeling I had. Especially the '99 season. I got ahold of the American League and I felt right on top. With that demeanor I took the mound and I wanted to make sure that I came across that way, like I was the taller one."
My highest point in Boston was every game I had. I went out with the same intensity and passion. Each one.of my games were a sold out- Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) January 6, 2015
Martinez did his best work during what we now know was the height of the so-called steroid era. Runs were much, much easier to come by then than they are now. But runs were not at all easy to obtain when Pedro Martinez was on the mound.
So in a way, Martinez's already impressive performance becomes in retrospect even more impressive. He touched on that topic Tuesday in the interview on MLB Network.
"I did it clean," Martinez said. "There was a lot of back and forth about, 'Pedro's missing 15 days.' Seemed like every year Pedro had something to say about his shoulders, his legs, something. Guess what? I did it clean. That's the reason it would take me 15 days every time something hurt to [recuperate]. I didn't take the short way to get better.
"I did it the only I was I knew, the only way baseball taught me how to do it, and the only way my mom and dad taught me to approach my job; seriously and respectfully. I did it clean."
As a way of illustrating how far he had come, Martinez once told a story about himself as a youth, sitting under a mango tree in his native Dominican Republic without enough money for bus fare. Now, he joins another great Dominican pitcher, Juan Marichal, in the Hall of Fame.
Martinez pondered that long journey that is now going to include a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
"From the mango tree to the big leagues," he said. "It doesn't get any higher than this."
And at the peak of his powers, pitchers don't get any better than Pedro Martinez, a first-class competitor and now a first-ballot Hall of Famer.