When he came to Montreal in 1994, he was a scrawny, wild-throwing right-hander thought to be too fragile to be a starting pitcher.
Four seasons later, he left the city as a Cy Young Award winner and the best starting hurler in baseball.
And while it’s true that Pedro Martinez wasn’t widely recognized as a superstar until he was dealt to the Red Sox, it was in Quebec that he learned how to pitch.
So while the surefire Hall of Famer will likely be pictured in a Red Sox cap on his Cooperstown plaque, Martinez told a Montreal Canadiens publication (http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=587553) in August that he’d be just as happy to be portrayed in an Expos cap.
“I thought about that recently and I would be just as happy to go in as a Red Sox player or an Expo. It would mean a lot to me to do that for the fans in Montreal who have lost so much,” Martinez told the magazine, “but it’s MLB’s decision and I’m pretty sure I would be inducted with Boston.”
Following in the footsteps of his brother, Ramon, Martinez signed with the Dodgers in 1988. After a two-game stint with the Dodgers in 1992, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound hurler was employed primarily as a reliever by the club in 1993. It’s often reported that manager Tommy Lasorda believed Martinez was too frail to be an effective starter.
On November 19, 1993, Martinez was dealt to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. It was not a popular trade amongst Expos fans. DeShields was the sparkplug of the club’s offence and had never stolen less than 42 bases in any of his four seasons in Montreal.
But under the tutelage of Expos pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and the fatherly touch of manager Felipe Alou, Martinez blossomed into a topnotch starter. In 1994, the fiery Dominican posted 11 wins and a 3.42 ERA in 23 starts to help the Expos to the top of the National League East division. The team boasted a 74-40 record and was six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves when the players’ strike wiped out the season.
Martinez told the Habs magazine that he believed that the Expos squads of that era could’ve won multiple championships if the team had been kept intact.
“We were that good and we knew we could beat anybody,” he said.
Unfortunately after the strike, fire sales of their high salaried players became an annual occurrence for the Expos and the team would never return to dominance. Martinez, himself, improved to 14 wins and a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts in 1995. That campaign, he also tossed nine perfect innings against the San Diego Padres on June 3 before squandering a hit in the 10th frame.
In 1996, he added 13 more victories, fanned 222 batters and was named to his first all-star team. But his 1997 season was one for the ages. While the Expos finished just 78-84, Martinez registered 17 wins, a microscopic 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts in 241-1/3 innings, making him the first right-hander since Walter Johnson in 1912 to reach 300 strikeouts and record a sub 2.00 ERA in a season. For his efforts, he became the first – and only – Expo to win the National League Cy Young Award.
By the end of that campaign, Martinez had become hugely popular in Montreal and Expos president Claude Brochu had assured fans that he wouldn’t trade the team’s ace. His promise, however, was short-lived. Citing the club’s dubious finances, he dealt Martinez to the Boston Red Sox for Carl Pavano and a player to be named later (Tony Armas Jr.) on November 18, 1997.
Many point to the Martinez trade as the death knell of the Expos. Most diehard fans that were still clinging to the idea that club could contend again were finally fed up.
During his seven seasons in Boston, he would win 117 games, be selected to six all-star teams, collect two more Cy Young Awards, lead the American League in strikeouts three times and in ERA four times. His outspokenness and propensity to pitch inside also propelled the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees to new heights.
Martinez was also a key starter on the 2004 Red Sox team that captured the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years. But even though he had been with the Red Sox for seven seasons by that point, part of his heart still resided in Montreal.
“I would like to share this with the people of Montreal,” said Martinez in an TV interview amidst the World Series clubhouse celebration (you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUXq7ZVXgvU). “They’re not going to have a team anymore. My heart and my ring is with them too.”
Martinez would sign with the Mets following the 2004 campaign and pitch parts of four seasons in the Big Apple, before finishing up his career with nine starts for the Phillies in 2009.
Without overwhelming you with statistics, Martinez’s career numbers compare favorably with those of Cooperstowners like Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax. The dominant right-hander amassed 219 wins and a .687 winning percentage (seventh best all-time). His career WAR (an all-encompassing statistic that measures how many wins a player is worth above a minor league replacement player) was 75.9, which ranks ahead of Hall of Famers like Ford, Marichal, Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Jim Palmer and Don Drysdale. Martinez also averaged 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings, which is the third best ratio in major league history.
“At his best, Pedro Martinez was (the) planet’s best pitcher for a period of three years,” tweeted ESPN senior writer Buster Olney. “So he should be an easy first ballot choice.”
Martinez may have played the bulk of his career outside of Montreal, but his tenure in the city remains special to him.
“The fans here are so passionate and they know their baseball,” he told the Canadiens magazine. “Plus, we were all so comfortable here that none of us wanted to leave. In my opinion, it (Major League Baseball) not only could have worked here, it could still work. Actually, if we could have done what the Canadiens did as a franchise with the way they promote hockey and support the team, anything would’ve been possible. We would have gotten our downtown park and the fans would still have their Expos or “Nos Amours” as they used to call us.”