June 22, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
“I love you, Canada!”
Pedro Martinez shouted those words near the end of his long awaited Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in St. Marys, Ont., on Saturday afternoon.
And judging by the ovation the former Montreal Expos ace received, Canada still loves him, too.
But just how much does Martinez love Canada?
Well, enough to bring along and donate his 1997 National League Cy Young Award to the Canuck ball shrine. Martinez is the only Expos pitcher to win a Cy Young Award, so it’s a very significant artifact.
“I’m more than happy to present this to the Hall of Fame and keep it at home,” said Martinez when presenting it to Hall of Fame board chair Jeremy Diamond in a ceremony on Saturday morning. “I hope that many Montrealers now feel inspired to come over and touch this because it’s the only one the Expos have.”
Even without this prestigious artifact, it was a triumph on its own to get Martinez to the Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. The superstar right-hander had been elected in 2018 but was unable to attend the ceremony that year due to health issues. Martinez then had scheduling conflicts in 2019 and there were no ceremonies in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the podium on Saturday, Martinez apologized for his delay in getting to St. Marys. To which one audience member, yelled out, “All good.”
Martinez shared the stage with fellow Canadian ball hall inductees Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), ex-Blue Jays reliever Duane Ward and Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.). Morneau and Ward were 2020 inductees, while Francis was a 2022 honouree.
In his speech, Martinez spoke about his love for the city of Montreal and the four seasons he spent there as an Expo.
“I remember when I came here to Canada, I really had a lot of questions,” said Martinez. “What is this going be like? All this snow. It was cold. A kid from the Dominican coming to Canada in the big leagues barely getting my feet wet. Right away I’m in Montreal where I have to learn some French . . . I barely had English sorted out.”
But it didn’t take him long to feel at home in the city.
“I don’t have enough [kind] words to say about the people of Montreal, how comfortable they made me feel when I came over,” said Martinez.
Born in Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic, in 1971, Martinez was signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. He was used primarily as a reliever for parts of two seasons with the Dodgers before he was dealt to the Expos for Delino DeShields on November 19, 1993.
From the podium on Saturday, Martinez credited Expos manager and fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Felipe Alou for changing the course of his career. Early in spring training in 1994, Alou called the then 22-year-old Martinez into his office and told him he was going to be one of his starters.
“And right away my confidence went right up,” said Martinez. “Felipe welcomed me to the Montreal Expos and gave me the confidence I needed to develop myself into the player I became.”
Martinez blossomed into a key member of the Expos’ rotation in 1994 and the team owned a six-game lead atop the National League East division in August before a strike wiped out the rest of the season. After registering 14 wins and a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts in 1995, he was selected to his first All-Star Game in 1996 when he recorded 13 victories and struck out 222 batters in 216 2/3 innings.
And while he was evolving into an ace, his love for Montreal continued to grow.
“Montreal didn’t have any policemen with guns. I left my car in my garage and I’d ride the subway. I would walk down Crescent Street at 1:30 [in the morning] by myself, 154 pounds soaking wet, and nothing would happen to me,” recalled Martinez. “I was in more danger on the mound than I was on the streets.”
The comfort he felt in the city likely helped inspire his 1997 season, which was one for the ages. In the midst of the steroid era, when offensive numbers were exploding, Martinez posted a 17-8 record and led the league with a 1.90 ERA. He also topped NL pitchers in complete games (13) and WAR (9.0) and his 305 strikeouts set a single-season franchise record. As a result, as noted earlier, he became the first and only Expos pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award.
Sadly, due to the organization’s financial constraints, the Expos dealt him to the Boston Red Sox following the season. In total, in four seasons with the Expos, Martinez posted a 55-33 record, good for a .625 winning percentage (second-best among pitchers in Expos history). He also registered a 3.06 ERA (fifth-best in Expos history), 20.1 WAR (third-best in Expos history) and struck out 843 batters (fourth-best in Expos history).
He continued his dominance with the Red Sox, winning four American League ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards in seven seasons with the club. And during the celebration after the Red Sox captured their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, Martinez acknowledged Expos fans in a TV interview.
“I would like to share this with the people in Montreal that are not going to have a team anymore,” he said. “My heart and my ring is with them, too.”
It was a gesture that Expos fans have not forgotten.
An eight-time all-star, Martinez finished his 18-year big league career with the New York Mets (2005 to 2008) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2009). In all, he recorded 219 wins, a 2.93 ERA and is one of four pitchers to complete their career with more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,154) and less than 1,000 walks (760). For his efforts, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
It may have been close to 25 years since Martinez threw his last pitch as an Expo and four years since he was elected to the Canadian ball hall, but it was clear in St. Marys on Saturday that Canadian baseball fans still adore the former ace.
“I’m extremely proud and believe me, I’m in Cooperstown, too, but this is as meaningful as my plaque in Cooperstown,” said Martinez during his speech. “I feel like I belong to Canada. My success, a lot of it . . . belongs to Canada.”