Pedro Martínez in the late 1990s and early 2000s was one of the most dominant and feared pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen.
Over his nearly two decades in the Major Leagues, Martínez was a premier strikeout threat who puzzled hitters with his blazing fastball and devastating changeup.
Martínez was smaller than average for a big-league pitcher, and his dominance in the height of the steroid era makes his career even more remarkable.
Though he pitched for several different teams, Martínez is most remembered for his time with the Boston Red Sox, where he helped lead the team to their first World Series Championship since 1918 in 2004.
Early Life/High School
Pedro Jaime Martínez was born to parents Leopoldina Martínez and Paolino Jaime Abreu in Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic on October 25th, 1971.
He grew up in a working-class family, his father taking on a variety of jobs while his mother worked as a maid for wealthier families.
As a boy, he and his brother Ramon learned to play baseball using oranges, rolled-up socks, and anything else they could find.
There was little opportunity for education or advancement, so the brothers practiced relentlessly wherever they could.
Their father Paolino was an amateur pitcher in the 1950s and taught them everything he knew about baseball and encouraged them to continue working towards their dreams.
Ramon was very influential to Pedro growing up, and he said of his brother:
“What I know of baseball, and life off the field, I owe to Ramon. Everything I am I learned from Ramon.”
Ramon was four years older than Pedro and was progressing quickly as a pitcher.
The older Martínez began catching a lot of attention in the early 1980s, eventually being selected to represent his home country in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Soon after the Olympics, Ramon was invited to a baseball camp hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The younger Pedro accompanied his brother to this camp, helping him carry his equipment and offering support.
While Ramon was impressing the Dodgers with his pitching ability, Pedro also caught the attention of the team.
While throwing with his brother, Pedro’s throws were registered on the radar guns at close to 80 miles per hour.
He was encouraged to continue learning how to pitch, and in the late 1980s played in the Dominican Summer League and Winter League.
Martínez officially signed with the Dodgers in 1988, four years after his brother Ramon.
Both brothers became highly touted prospects while in the Dodgers minor league system.
While in the minor leagues, Martínez began learning how to throw a circle-changeup, a pitch that would be the key to his dominance in the years to come.
He also began learning English with the help of his coaches.
Though a premier prospect, Martínez was thought of by many to be too small to be a Major League starting pitcher despite his electric fastball and changeup.
Martínez was just over 130 pounds at the time.
Working relatively quickly through the minor leagues, Martínez was named The Sporting News’ minor league player of the year award in 1991.
He made his Major League debut for the Dodgers against the Cincinnati Reds in September of 1992, in which he threw a complete game in a loss.
Martínez again joined the Major League club in April of 1993, where he followed his brother’s start with a relief appearance of his own.
Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda believed Martínez’s size precluded him from being a starter for the Dodgers and used him almost exclusively as a reliever throughout his stint in Los Angeles.
Martínez impressed out of the bullpen, throwing 109 innings but striking out a staggering 119 batters.
In a move the Dodgers would regret, they sent the young Martínez to the Montreal Expos before the 1994 season for Delino DeShields.
It was in Montreal that Martínez had his chance to show his abilities as a starter, and he pitched well for the Expos in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
While pitching for the Expos, Martínez began developing a reputation as a hot-head and somebody who was not afraid to throw inside.
Though he caused controversy with his aggressive pitching and on-field demeanor, Martínez helped lead the Expos to MLB’s best record before the season was canceled that August.
Martínez followed the 1994 season that saw him notch 142 strikeouts with another impressive season in 1995, pitching to an ERA of 3.51 with 174 strikeouts.
Though the Expos finished the 1995 and 1996 seasons without a playoff berth, Martínez was growing into a fine young pitcher.
He became just the second pitcher ever to take a perfect game into extra innings in a 10-inning victory over the San Diego Padres in 1995 and in 1996 was selected to his first National League All-Star team.
1997 was Martínez’s best season to date and the season in which he solidified himself as one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Racking up over 300 strikeouts and pitching to an ERA of under 2.00, Martínez’s most impressive feat was perhaps his 13 complete games.
He won the 1997 Cy Young Award and began drawing comparisons to previous power pitchers like Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson.
Approaching free agency after the 1998 season, the Expos traded Martínez to the Boston Red Sox, where Martinez would become one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball.
Upon acquiring the 25-year-old Cy Young winner, the Red Sox were determined to have Martínez in their rotation for the long haul and signed him to a seven-year, $90 million contract.
Picking up where he left off the year before, Martínez won 19 games with a 2.89 ERA in 1998 and won back-to-back American League Cy Young Awards in 1999 and 2000.
Martínez was dominating American League hitters in the height of the steroid era with a blazing fastball and a changeup that fooled even the smartest batters.
This dominance continued to draw comparisons to former greats, and Martínez’s WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) of 0.7 in 1999 was the lowest ever for pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched.
In one of the most memorable moments of his career, Martínez started the 1999 All-Star game at home in Fenway Park.
He struck out five of the game’s best hitters in a row, including Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell.
Martínez’s pitching coach Joe Kerrigan once commented:
“Greg Maddux has outstanding movement and may manipulate the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen. But Pedro can get you both ways – with power and finesse.”
Martínez continued to dominate the American League in the first half of the 2000s.
Pedro Martínez once had 𝟏𝟎 consecutive regular season starts with 11+ Ks. 😮 No one else in history has more than 6 in a row. @45PedroMartinez pic.twitter.com/vMaxTcUNFu
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) February 11, 2022
After an injury sidelined him for much of the 2001 season, Martínez stormed back to lead the American League in ERA in both 2002 and 2003.
The 2003 postseason remains an integral part of Martínez’s legacy and the infamous rivalry between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
During a brawl in the American League Championship Series, Martínez threw Yankees’ 72-year-old coach Don Zimmer to the ground, attracting much criticism.
In the decisive game 7, Martínez blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning.
The Red Sox would go on to lose the game and ALCS after an Aaron Boone walk-off home run.
Determined to avenge themselves, the Red Sox again met the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
Martínez had a down year by his standards in 2004, pitching to an ERA of almost 4.00.
He also struggled in the postseason against the Yankees, but the Red Sox went on the defeat the Yankees in one of the most historic postseason series of all time.
Losing the first three games, the Red Sox made an extraordinary comeback to win the series and go to their first World Series since 1986.
Having not won a World Series title since 1918, the Red Sox easily swept the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 to break the curse.
Martínez was good in his only World Series start, throwing seven shutout innings.
After dominating the American League for the past seven seasons and winning a ring with the Red Sox, Martínez signed a four-year $53 million deal with the New York Mets after the 2004 season.
The Mets outbid the defending champion Red Sox, who offered Martínez a disappointing contract of three years, $40.5 million.
New York was looking for a pitcher to solidify their rotation and help the team return to the postseason for the first time since 2000.
Martínez saw a return to form with the Mets in 2005 after a disappointing 2004 season in Boston.
He again led the league in WHIP and held opposing batters to a batting average barely above .200.
He also recorded 15 wins and an impressive ERA of 2.82.
The Mets were quickly reaping the benefits of signing Martínez, but they failed to reach their goal of postseason play.
The 2006 season proved more successful for the team, as they won 97 games and the N.L. East Division title.
Martínez struggled in 2006, posting an ERA of 4.48 and throwing just 132 innings.
While he started the 2006 season on a good note, he quickly ran into injury trouble.
He would miss most of the 2007 season with a torn rotator cuff and a muscle tear in his calf.
Martínez underwent surgery and rehabbed extensively for much of 2007 and returned to the Mets’ rotation in September of that year, hoping to help his team go to the postseason.
He notched his 3000th career strikeout, becoming just the 15th in history to accomplish the feat.
Martínez pitched well upon returning, but the Mets collapsed at the end of the season and failed to reach the playoffs.
Hoping to carry the success of his limited 2007 return into 2008, Martínez had the worst year of his career.
The Mets again missed the playoffs and Martínez missed time due to recurring injuries.
While on the field, Martínez pitched to an ERA of over 5 and had diminishing returns on his fastball and changeup.
He became a free agent after the season.
He hoped to pitch again in 2009, but his recent injury history and his poor performance in 2008 scared teams away from offering him contracts.
The Philadelphia Phillies eventually signed Martínez to a small deal of just one year for $1 million in July.
The Phillies were hoping to add a veteran presence to their rotation as they looked to repeat as World Series champions.
Their low-risk signing proved successful for both the Phillies and Martínez, as he pitched well and helped the Phillies reach the postseason.
Facing his former Dodgers in the NLCS, Martínez threw seven shutout innings.
Though they lost that game, the Phillies would advance to the World Series against the Yankees, where Martínez pitched for the last time in his career.
After a quality start in game 2 of the series, Martínez’s last Major League Appearance was a start in game 6, giving up four runs.
The Yankees would win the World Series, sending both the Phillies and Martínez home without a ring.
After not playing in 2010 and 2011, Martínez announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
Life After Baseball
Upon retiring, Martínez had put forth a truly historic career.
One of just four pitchers with over 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks, Martínez tallied eight All-Star selections, three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles, a winning percentage of almost .700, and a World Series ring.
Martínez has remained active in baseball and the Dominican Republic since he retired from the Major Leagues.
He and his wife Carolina run the Pedro Martínez Foundation, which started in 1998 as the Pedro Martínez charity.
The foundation provides support for a variety of educational and youth programs in the Dominican Republic.
Many children who have faced abuse, teen pregnancy, hunger, and more have turned to the foundation for support and opportunities to have healthy meals and recreation.
In 2009, the foundation joined with Major League Baseball to expand the programs into the United States with the help of various nonprofit organizations.
In 2013, Martínez joined the Red Sox front office, becoming a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington.
The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series that year, their second since Martinez and the 2004 team broke their World Series curse.
2015 was a very busy year for Martínez.
In January, he was elected to baseball’s highest honor, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
He was elected in his first year of eligibility with over 90% of the vote.
While Martínez played for five teams in his career, he chose to don a Red Sox cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Martínez not only won his only World Series title with the team, but his years in Boston were the most dominant of his career.
In his induction speech, Martínez thanked his teammates and mentioned how the Dominican Republic influenced him:
“I would like all of you to not look at me as numbers, as baseball, as achievements, I would like you to see me as a sign of hope for a third world country, for Latin America. Someone you can look up to and feel comfortable enough to say ‘I’m proud of you.”
Martínez was also hired by MLB Network in 2015 as a studio analyst and currently works in the same role for TBS during the playoffs.
In June of that year, Martínez’s number 45 was retired by the Red Sox in a ceremony at Fenway Park just days after his induction to the Hall of Fame.
Martínez was supported by many who influenced him in his career, including his Expos manager Felipe Alou, Red Sox teammates David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek, as well as Ralph Avila, the scout who first signed Martínez to the Dodgers in the late 1980s.
To cap off the ceremony, the Red Sox gave Martínez a check for $45,000 to go to the Pedro Martínez Foundation.
In addition to his work at MLB Network and TBS, Martínez still works with the Red Sox during spring training.
Being one of the Red Sox’s greatest players, Martínez is very influential and acts as a mentor to the team and its prospects in camp.
He has worked with Boston’s pitching staff and pitching coaches over the past few seasons, offering his unique insight towards pitching and baseball in general.
Pedro Martínez’s run in the late-90s and early-2000s, culminating in a World Championship in 2004, remains one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in baseball history.
In an era of high-octane offense, Martínez dominated hitters in both leagues and solidified himself as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers of all time.
Being compared to Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, or Cy Young is a lot to live up to, but Martínez’s three Cy Young Awards, his 3,000+ strikeouts, and historic career justify the comparisons.
Simply put, Martínez will be remembered as an all-time great.
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