Pedro Martinez happily interrupts his bid for a season of 30 wins and 300 strikeouts tonight to start for the American League against the National League’s Curt Schilling in the 70th All-Star game at Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox ace is certain to receive a rousing reception in another painful reminder of what might have been for the Dodgers and Fred Claire.
In a 1993 deal that keeps slapping Claire and the Dodgers in the face, Martinez was traded to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields only to have the young prince of a second baseman become a frog in Los Angeles--while Martinez became king of the hill in Montreal. He was subsequently traded to the Red Sox before the 1998 season in another Expo payroll purge that would net Martinez a six-year, $75-million contract from his new employers.
The Dodgers reached the playoffs twice between 1994 and 1999. Would it have happened more frequently with Martinez at the head of a rotation that included his brother, Ramon? Would an improved record have saved Claire’s job as executive vice president, or was the ownership change destined to produce a new management team?
This much is certain: The trade wasn’t made in a vacuum. Claire has always accepted responsibility--as he did for all his transactions--but there were differing opinions within the organization whether Martinez should be a starter or reliever. There was concern about his stamina and durability at 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds and there was a gaping hole at second base after Jody Reed inexplicably rejected the club’s three-year, $6.6-million offer.
All of that has been chronicled.
What has not is the role played by Dr. Frank Jobe, baseball’s surgeon general and the Dodgers’ longtime team physician.
“I think I definitely influenced Fred on that,” Jobe said, referring to the Martinez-for-DeShields trade. “It wasn’t all Fred’s fault.”
Martinez had dislocated his left (non-pitching) shoulder swinging a bat at triple-A Albuquerque late in the 1992 season.
Jobe repaired it on Oct. 20. Martinez responded in 1993, his first full season with the Dodgers, by making 65 appearances, 63 in relief, with a 10-5 record, 2.61 earned-run average and 119 strikeouts in 107 innings.
He was rewarded in November by being traded to Montreal.
The medical reports were a significant factor.
“I don’t think I said get rid of him,” Jobe said, talking about the situation for the first time. “I’d never say that, but the circumstances kind of spoke for themselves. His shoulder had come out once, and once an injury of that type occurs, you can’t say it won’t reoccur. He had kind of a delicate stature to start with and there were already questions about his stamina. It’s a judgment call, but you had to kind of wonder, ‘Golly, is this kid going to break down?’ ”
Martinez starts the All-Star game with a 15-3 record, major league leading 2.10 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings. He was 19-7 with the Red Sox last year and the Cy Young Award winner at Montreal in ’97, when he was 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts in 241 1/3 innings. Almost as impressive as his mid-90s fastball and world’s best changeup is the durability and stamina that the Dodgers questioned.
He made 117 consecutive starts with the Expos, pitching through thumb and leg injuries, and he is headed for a fifth consecutive season of 30 or more starts--still motivated, he said Monday, by all those concerns the Dodgers expressed about his potential fragility. Martinez may not have known what Jobe was saying behind closed doors, but he is convinced that then manager Tom Lasorda questioned his physical ability to start on a regular basis, as did others.
“All those people who put all those labels on me must be out there now banging their heads against the wall,” Martinez said Monday. “You’re talking about some of the biggest people in baseball, but they obviously didn’t know anything about the game. I made 65 appearances in ’93 and they were still saying I was too small, too weak, certain to break down. I think about it all the time. It’s still my motivation. Durability is my whole game. I’ve proven them wrong. God-willing I’ll continue to prove them wrong.”
Thirty wins would be an exclamation point. No one has done it since Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968, after which baseball seemed determined to not let it happen again.
The mound was lowered in 1969, the designated hitter was introduced in the American League in 1973 and suspicions continue to mount that rabbits are being stuffed into the baseballs.
In a hitters’ era, pitching home games in a hitters’ ballpark, Martinez has continued to dominate.
“If I get to 25 I’ll probably ask to pitch every day,” he said with a laugh, referring to 30 wins. “I’d love to do it, but I know how hard it is. I mean, I’ve never won 20, so right now I’m just focusing on 16.”
Said Joe Torre, the New York Yankee manager who will manage the American League All-Stars: “I think it’ll be very tough for him to win 30. You have to be lucky. You have to hope the bullpen holds the lead in every game you come out of. With the number of people he strikes out, it takes a toll in September. Not that he isn’t capable. He’s the premier pitcher in our league. He reminds me of what Tim McCarver once said about Bob Gibson. McCarver said Gibson was very lucky because every time he pitches the other team doesn’t score.”
For Torre, there was also no question that Martinez was going to get the starting assignment in Fenway, his home park.
“Unless I didn’t want to come to town, he was my only choice,” Torre said with a smile.
Martinez is delighted. He is the first Red Sox pitcher to start an All-Star game in Fenway. He knows his fans, as he put it, will be crazy, but he is otherwise relaxed for his fourth All-Star appearance.
His is a refreshing attitude at a time when some All-Stars complain about losing the three days off or reject their selection because they weren’t elected by the fans.
“I want to experience everything in baseball,” he said. “I won a Cy Young, I was the top-paid player for a time, I’ve had 300 strikeouts, an ERA under two, and I’ve achieved a lot of other things, but I’d like to take a bite out of everything I can in baseball. You don’t get too many opportunities like this, and I get to have my chance.”
Martinez, in fact, had an 11-2 record at last year’s break and is still upset that Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove picked David Wells as the All-Star starter.
“If it wasn’t me, it should have been Roger [Clemens],” Martinez said. “[Hargrove] said he made his choice by who gave us the best chance to win. That’s what I read in the papers. If he wanted to win, his choice was Roger or me. I had a better ERA, more strikeouts, more innings and was an All-Star more times than Wells. He chose Wells because he liked him better.”
No one is more impressed by what Martinez has done or where he is than Jobe. The surgeon who repaired Pedro’s left shoulder in ’93 also mended the torn rotator cuff in brother Ramon’s right shoulder last year and expects him to be “back and doing well"--teamed with Pedro in the Red Sox rotation, in August.
“They may be slim and skinny, but they’re tough people,” Jobe said of the Martinez clan.
Claire agreed. He had no input into Ramon’s departure but pulled the trigger on Pedro.
“There are no absolutes, just judgment calls,” he said of that decision. “More than anything it came down to our need for a second baseman at a time when we thought we had a chance to win. We thought we were acquiring a young All-Star with a great potential.
“I talked to Tommy and Ralph Avila and a lot of other people in our baseball department. I considered the opinion of our medical staff, but none of that matters. As the general manager I had to make the ultimate decision and take the responsibility. And at the end of the day, you have to give a lot of credit to Pedro. What he’s achieved considering his size is remarkable. I can’t think of another right-hander of his size that has combined his power, finesse and heart. His spirit is unmatched. That was always evident.”
The driven and durable Martinez isn’t sure about that. In fact, he remains motivated by a conviction that the Dodgers questioned his spirit and heart--not to mention other body parts.
AMERICAN LEAGUE vs. NATIONAL LEAGUE
Tonight, 5 p.m., Channel 11, Fenway Park, Boston
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