Book Review: Pedro

* Danny Gallagher reviews the new Pedro Martinez book Pedro by Boston Herald scribe Michael Silverman and Martinez. Gallagher covered the future Hall of Famer when he pitched with the Montreal Expos. ....

By Danny Gallagher
You saw the animated, fearsome character in Pedro Martinez when he was on the mound for the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.

When it comes to his memoir aptly named Pedro, he doesn’t let you down either. He comes out swinging. He lets it all hang out. 

He didn’t want to leave the Los Angeles Dodgers, he didn’t want to leave the Expos after four seasons, he wanted to leave the Red Sox after one season before even pitched for them and he regrets throwing Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground during a mélee.

There is no holding Martinez back in this book. He’s lights out in the faces of anyone he ever met. With immense contributions from Boston Herald baseball scribe Michael Silverman, who incorporates a lot of his own thoughts, knowledge, background information and interviews into Martinez’s writing, the book is a must-read. Thoroughly riveting.

Following the 1993 season which he pitched almost flawlessly in relief for the Dodgers, Martinez told manager Tommy Lasorda that he wanted the chance to be a starter in 1994.

In November of 1993, Martinez had travelled to the northern part of the Dominican Republic to a resort to relax. The first night he got there, he learned that the Dodgers had made their decision about him.

“They made me a starter. A starter for the Montreal Expos,’’ Martinez wrote.

“Pedro, we traded you to Montreal for Delino DeShields,’’ Dodgers GM Fred Claire told Martinez on the phone about the trade. “We were in need of a second baseman and we had to make this move. I think over there you’re going to have a chance to start.’’

Martinez was distraught. He protested with Claire, lamenting the fact he was leaving his brother Ramon, leaving his teammates and that he knew nobody in Montreal. And he didn’t know any French.

“I thought Montreal was a nice place for a city but as a baseball town, it was a dump, the furthest thing from Los Angeles in terms of exposure and payroll,’’ Martinez wrote. “I had never even thought about being traded at all. Nobody had every mentioned to me that was what the Dodgers were thinking. And why would they think about trading me? Nobody on the Dodgers tried to stop Fred and the Expos did everything they could to grease the skids to get me to Montreal.’’

The Dodgers’ brass and team doctor Frank Jobe had questioned Martinez’s durability because of his small size. The doctor had operated on Martinez’s non-throwing left shoulder following the 1992 season and was worried that the same injury would occur with his throwing arm.

Ramon got to the point after he heard about the trade, telling his brother that he was going to be a starter. Then Pedro thought of fellow Dominicans like Expos manager Felipe Alou and players Moises Alou and Mel Rojas. He felt a bit better but he was still bitter at the Dodgers. He felt betrayed.

In hindsight, as Claire has said many times since 1993 including comments to me for the book Ecstasy to Agony I co-authored with Bill Young, that it was a terrible trade.

“Pedro pitched great. Delino can speak for himself  but he struggled in the environment of Los Angeles,’’ Claire said in Pedro. “It turned out to be a trade that did not work out at all.’’

Martinez was more to the point in his animated self: “Time would show that, for the Dodgers, it was a clear loss, but to me their mistake was not making a lousy trade. Their mistake was forcibly removing me from the first baseball home I ever had. I had identified Dodger blue the moment Ramon signed with them in 1984, when I was a 12-year-old. The Dodgers gave up on me. They turned their backs on me, which is why, to this day, my back is turned on them.’’

Martinez didn’t want to leave Chavez Ravine, even though he ran across jealous teammates and distrustful coaches, some of whom actually detested him for his attitude, temper and going inside too much on batters with chin music. Some even called him a piece of crap. In the book, crap was not the word used. You know the four-letter word. It was even used even by minor-league manager Bill Russell, who eventually rose to become Dodgers’ manager.

Ramon called his brother one day when his brother was with Albuquerque AAA and said he had heard Pedro was a ‘’cancer in the clubhouse.’’ When Martinez got called up by the Dodgers in September, 1992, Russell delivered the good tidings but the manager had no smile on his face. 

“That was how I got introduced to the big leagues – begrudgingly,’’ Martinez wrote.

During spring training in 1993, Martinez was very impressive but in a surprise move, he was sent to the minors. Neither Claire, Lasorda or pitching coach Ron Perranoski gave him the news. It was third base coach Joey Amalfitano, who did the dirty work. In the book, an incensed Martinez admitted, “I wanted to kill someone.’’ He wanted to get a hold of Claire. In the meantime, he upended a dining-room table in Vero Beach full of china plates and food on the carpet. 

Eventually, he was back in the majors for good. Then when he arrived in Montreal for a news conference, it was the dead of winter and he admits he had never experienced coldness even remotely like that in his life. 

“This visit to Montreal felt like walking into an ice locker and having the door slam shut behind me,’’ Martinez wrote. 

A fellow by the name of Mark Routtenberg, an Expos minority shareholder, looked at Martinez and remarked that the skinny pitcher turned almost white he looked so cold. To this day, Routtenberg and Martinez are the best of friends.

During that first visit to Montreal, Martinez entered one of Routtenberg’s Guess stores, grabbed a name badge, pretending he was a sales clerk and helping customers out with their needs. Nobody caught on. Routtenberg told him he couldn’t believe Martinez was doing that.

Martinez finally got to start with the Expos in 1994 and his penchance for pitching inside and throwing chin music at opposing batters sparked several melees, one involving Reggie Sanders of the Reds, the other involving Derek Bell of the Padres. Martinez finished the strike-shortened season 11-5. His rise to stardom leading to Cooperstown had begun.

“I realized that the Expos wanted me as much as the Dodgers didn’t,’’ he wrote.

Besides, he got to fine-tune his English, got some command of French and of course, he was fluent in Spanish.

In the book, he expresses no feelings about losing teammates Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland and Ken Hill in the infamous firesale in April, 1995 when players returned to work after the strike. Talking of 1995, Martinez does mention that it was a thrill to pitch a perfect no-hitter for nine innings against the Padres before Bip Roberts led off the 10th with a double.

It wasn’t a secret that Martinez and Joe Kerrigan, a pitching coach of his in both Montreal and Boston, didn’t get along. We don’t know if they are talking all these years later. As an established veteran in Boston, Martinez was upset that Kerrigan would want him to report to occasional meetings so that players could get up to speed on the team next on the slate for playing the Red Sox. If he was late for a rehab session with a trainer or late to the park, Kerrigan was on Martinez’s tail.

“That act worked for you in Montreal and it worked for you for a while here but that crap’s not going to fly anymore around here,’’ Kerrigan told Martinez one time.

“Hell with you, Joe,’’ Martinez fired back at Kerrigan. “Things didn’t turn out good enough for me in Montreal or Boston for you?’’

At that point, Martinez and Kerrigan were about to come to blows and had to be separated. Later in the book, Martinez said, “I was a born snapper.’’ Just don’t mess with the guy.

Martinez lets it be known in his memoir about the time in March of 1996 when Expos vice-president of baseball operations Bill Stoneman showed up in the Expos clubhouse in West Palm Beach and handed Martinez an envelope.

“Here’s your letter. You’re being renewed,’’ Stoneman told Martinez.

Martinez, who was not eligible for salary arbitration, was still under Expos’ cost control and they couldn’t come to an agreement on a stipend with agent Fernando Cuza. So the Expos renewed his contract for $315,000, $45,000 more than he earned in 1995 when he was 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA. If he had been with the more generous Blue Jays, he would have received about $500,000.

“That was a raise and still a lot of money, of course, but back then, even in the wake of the 1994 strike that changed so much, the Expos were by far the cheapest of teams,’’ Martinez said. “It was the Montreal way. I looked around at other clubs and saw guys making more money than me and doing less. Mel Rojas made fun of me. He said, ‘Pedro, go get your Vaseline, they’re going to stick it up your (butt). Same thing with me, same thing with everybody.’ ’’

In 1997, Martinez was electric with a 17-8 record and puny 1.90 ERA But in the off-season due to financial restraints, he was traded to the Red Sox, obtained by the same GM Dan Duquette, who acquired him from the Dodgers for the Expos.

“Even before I officially won the Cy Young award in November, the Expos knew that my 1998 salary was going to be in the range of $7-8 million and that was out of their league,’’ Martinez said.

Funny thing, Martinez had told Duquette that he would spend one season in Boston and become a free agent because he thought the BoSox were rebuilding. But Duquette turned around and offered him a six-year deal worth $75-million. When the two sides were at $72-million, Martinez and his agents still pushed for $75-million. What did Martinez do? He called his good friend Routtenberg and told him about the money involved.

“Oh, my God, that’s unreal,’’ Routtenberg told Martinez.

Martinez proceeded to become an icon in Boston and was front and centre as the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first since 1918. In the clubhouse, he quickly referenced the Expos when he appeared before cameras.

“I told one interviewer that I had gotten my championship but that the 1994 Expos should have gotten one, too,’’ Martinez  wrote. “That’s how my mind works. It was hard for me to stay in the moment. I was looking back, to my Dominican roots and my baseball roots, especially the Expos, where I grew up as a pitcher.’’

It turned out to be Martinez’s last game with the Red Sox. He wanted to stay in Boston but he wanted a guaranteed, three-year contract and management was reluctant so he inked a more satisfying deal with the Mets, although George Steinbrenner and the Yankees took a run at him.

Martinez pitched his last game in the majors in 2009 with the Phillies and was elected into Baseball Hall of Fame on his first crack this past January. 219 wins and only 100 losses, not to mention the Cy Young Awards. Remarkable career.

Now back to that Zimmer incident. It was a low point in his career.

“Here came a 72-year-old heading right at me. What in holy hell was happening?’’ Martinez wrote. “He was mumbling as he got close to me and just as he got real close he also cursed my mom. He called me a son of a bitch.’’

Zimmer started to fall off balance and then Martinez flung him to the ground. It was ugly.

“In my entire career as a baseball player, my reaction to the late Don Zimmer’s charge remains my one and only regret,’’ Martinez said. “I was embarrassed and he was embarrassed and remorseful. I can’t defend what I did.’’

Martinez received many death threats after that incident and he even wondered if he would meet the same fate as John F. Kennedy. The lunatics out there who threatened Martinez thought better and did nothing idiotic. 

Pedro was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It retails in Canada for $36, $28 in the U.S.