The Red Sox were everything in summertime New England when I was growing up. In 2003, the heat outside was more than matched by the hot air on WEEI during my morning ride to basketball camp. One of the more popular topics was the team’s star pitcher, Pedro Martinez, who inspired endless on-air speculation about his diva behavior and whether he was worth it given his diminished fastball.
Now, nearly six years after he retired from Major League Baseball, it’s likely that Martinez will be lighting up more than a few call-in switchboards this summer, too.
The volatile Hall of Fame pitching ace has just published a trash-talking, score-settling but disarmingly emotional memoir, Pedro, a book sure to make the reading list of any avid baseball fan who followed the game from the mid-‘90s to mid-2000s, when there was arguably no more consistently entertaining—and dominating—pitcher in the game.
No question, this delicious summer read is guaranteed fodder for talk radio, because the always outspoken and opinionated Pedro lets it fly on the page with the same abandon he once showed on the mound.
Consider, for starters, the flashing: A self-proclaimed nudist, Martinez describes how on separate occasions he welcomed new Red Sox managers Grady Little and Terry Francona by standing on a chair and waving his penis at them. This book is essentially Martinez giving the same greeting to the world—and not always so lightheartedly.
He was born in the Dominican Republic in 1971 in a 15-by-20-foot house. His parents would later separate, which he describes as particularly traumatic. His older brother, Ramon, nearly won the Cy Young award pitching for the Dodgers, but burned out early. Pedro followed Ramon into the Dodgers system, overcoming his small size and what he believed were low expectations. He broke out as the Pedro we know while with the Montreal Expos and won his first Cy Young Award. After being traded to the Red Sox, he won two more, signed a then-record contract, set a trend for colored gloves, and won a World Series. He ended his career slowly fading with the Mets and then the Phillies. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in January 2015, the first year he was eligible.
The Martinez in Pedro is exactly how I remember him when I rooted for him—self-centered, talented, sporting a stadium-sized chip on his shoulder, but simultaneously big-hearted and gutsy. In short he’s a surprisingly complex man. And chatty and confiding to a fault: He recounts his machismo-inflating fights to the point of nausea (the reader’s) and then spills as much ink on recollections that all seem to end with him bawling his eyes out.
His worldview is stark—you’re either for me or against me. Of those who helped him along his way, he speaks with effusive graciousness. Jason Varitek, the longtime Red Sox catcher, should request that Martinez write his obituary.
But Pedro is correspondingly scathing toward anyone he believes sold him short or isn’t in his league, and he has a very long memory.
Minor league coaches like Chico Fernandez (told Pedro he’d be back cutting sugar cane) and Joe Vavra (called him a dirty bastard) get knocked. So does Dodger bullpen coach Mark Cressey (called him Ramon’s little brother). He writes dismissively of Tommy Lasorda, dismissing Lasorda's claim he had no part in trading him to the Expos, and writes that “I can understand now why people snap and kill their bosses” when talking about longtime Dodger executive Fred Claire, who promised Martinez he would be brought up permanently to the Majors but failed to do so.
Because Mike Stanley didn’t side with Pedro over the manager just one time, Pedro recollects, “That was the moment I lost respect for him. I didn't like him, I didn’t like him in my games at all.”
When Don Draybeck hit him with a pitch, Martinez took it personally, and proudly recounts how years later he went up to him and declared, “Even in an Old-Timers’ Game, I’m going to hit you if I see you.”
After Mike Piazza trash-talked about how much money Pedro was making, Martinez “filed it away” and when he later faced Piazza, he writes, “I did not have to put much thought into how I could pitch to Mike, I just needed to make sure it was not too obvious.”
Jorge Posada committed an "unforgivable sin” when he yelled at Pedro and “cursed [his] mom. He mother-fucked her.”
Citing Don Baylor’s complaints about Pedro hitting batters, Martinez calls Baylor “the king of getting hit” who “didn't know anything about pitching.” Andres Galarraga wore “pussy pads on his elbows.” When Mark Davis, a former Cy Young winner, said Martinez was “too young to be throwing balls inside,” Pedro recalls that “when I saw him pitch he didn't have shit.” But nobody gets rougher treatment than former pitching coach and manager Joe Kerrigan—Martinez is brutally explicit about how much he loathes the man.
Even Mike Bloomberg is fair game. After Bloomberg criticized Martinez, and later apologized, Pedro snarks that, “I wasn't surprised he took it back: there were a lot of Dominican voters in New York.”
Here is a man comfortable with contradiction: at one point, he claims he was unfairly called out for hitting batters, that it was just him making sure he could throw inside. Later he admits that 90 percent of the time he hit a batter, it was intentional.
And while he is clearly still smarting over how fans treated him, he nevertheless insists that after he was booed for the first time at Fenway he never listened to anything said to him there, good or bad. As for the legendary Boston sports media: “Overlook the good, overemphasize the bad.”
One person does escape Pedro’s vengeful pen—Don Zimmer, the Yankees coach who charged Martinez in a bench-clearing brawl and was thrown to the ground. Martinez laments at length about manhandling Zimmer, then in his 70s, instead of just running from him.
But there is perhaps nothing Martinez is bitterer about than the two times he was runner up for the Cy Young Award. For that matter, he seems to think there was a conspiracy afoot even when he won in 1999.
Of his 2002 loss to Barry Zito, Pedro hints at discrimination and elsewhere writes that “baseball saw me as a threat, a foreign threat.” If he had won in 2002, he would have had a Cy Young count near those of Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. That, he says, was "a place where I didn't believe baseball wanted me. At that time I didn’t belong to America. I believe they thought I represented a real threat of becoming a historic figure in America’s game and I wasn't American.”
Martinez speaks frankly about steroids in the book—and why shouldn’t he? His already impressive numbers look even better given what we now know about an era where he was clean while so many were not. He claims that steroid use was widespread, most notably because he saw tons of back acne. He was once offered steroids back in the Dominican, he says, but refused them because he’d heard that among the side effects was testicular shrinkage.
Steroids crop up again when Martinez discusses his 1998 Cy Young loss to Clemens. In a miraculously short time, Clemens had gone from being written off to back on top. “It was like someone had performed a magic trick on the Rocket,” Pedro writes. “I heard later that the trainer who accused him of using steroids said that it was in the middles of the 1998 season when he gave Roger his first shot in the butt.”
Of Piazza, who was also suspected of using steroids, Martinez slyly chirps that, “like so many hitters that decade who found sudden success at the plate, he had added some weight and bulked up that lanky frame of his.” He is less subtle about Barry Bonds, who came to spring training in 1999, “with a dramatically enlarged physique and some bad back acne.” In a moment of stunning honesty, he admits that his friend Manny Ramirez getting caught doping “was maybe the biggest letdown.”
Here and elsewhere, Pedro repeatedly display’s the athlete’s wondrous ability to consider almost any subject within the context of his career stats: Discussing Jason Giambi’s steroid use, what Pedro remembers most vividly are the two home runs he gave up to Giambi in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
The book is not all juicy slashing. Martinez is capable of considerable emotion and sensitivity, particularly when talking about his brother Ramon, who looms large—not just over his younger brother’s career but also over his whole life. And his homeland is clearly dear to him: He spends chunks of the book not only trying to transport the reader there but also attempting to explain why he loves the Dominican so much.
He also cares a lot about other pitchers. Legends like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale dramatically changed his pitching, and he would do the same for others like Derek Lowe.
If any doubts linger concerning Pedro’s credentials as a softy, note his anything-but-bashful gushing about his second favorite pastime—cultivating flowers.
And in what may be the overshare of the year, he divulges what motivated him on the mound when he was younger. “Early on,” he writes, “I would conjure up a scene straight out of the most gruesome Hollywood blood-and-gore slasher flick: my mother, strapped tightly by ropes to a chair, her mouth gagged, her eyes clenched shut, too terrified to look down at the tip of a knife held to her throat by the leader of a gang of kidnappers.”
Let’s just be glad his only weapon was a brush-back pitch.