On Wednesday afternoon in Oakland, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hit career home run number 400, making him the 49th player in MLB history to reach this milestone. It was also his 342nd home run in a Boston uniform, which ranks him fifth all-time in team history behind Ted Williams (521), Carl Yastrzemski (452), Jim Rice (382), and Dwight Evans (379). “Big Papi” also ranks second behind Manny Ramirez in number of at-bats per home run at 14.7, just ahead of Jimmie Foxx and Williams.
The seven-year itch was strong enough to sour the relationship between Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox to the point where negotiations to bring the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher back for at least a few more seasons were little more than pomp and circumstance. Truth be told, there was little to no surprise from the Boston front office and Red Sox fans when Martinez decided to take his show from the Fenway to Queens to the tune of a guaranteed four-year deal with the Mets. The biggest question now becomes why Martinez would chose to join a club that had not seen a winning season since the run to the World Series in 2000 and finished 20 games below .500 last season, the only team who had a payroll above $100 million that missed the playoffs. Of course, as typical of players who bolt via free agency to other teams, it was less about money and more about respect; yeah, right.
For nearly seven seasons, having Martinez pitch every fifth game almost guaranteed a win that day for the Boston nine. People came to the park, waved Dominican flags, posted his strikeout total for the game in the upper bleachers, and chanted his name as he stared down every batter through the order, never afraid to throw a little inside or fire one right through the heart of the plate. Whenever a batter did reach base, fans reacted with disbelief, unable to fathom the possibility; they also knew that, when it became necessary, he would reach back into his pocket for that strikeout to snuff any threat. Watching him pitch was always reason to tune in, no matter who the opponent would be.
So it was no coincidence that as his stock grew, so did his arrogance. People who knew him long ago when he was coming up through the minor league system of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that he longed to pitch for as a youth sitting under that mango tree in Santo Domingo, noticed the self-confidence he exhibited and how determined he was to prove himself as had his older brother, Ramon. With just a slight build but a whip for an arm, it took quite some time for him to prove his worth. When the Red Sox offered to trade with the Montreal Expos for his services in the winter of 1998, that was when he realized that he had arrived on center stage in a city that thirsted for an end to a championship drought.
As Pedro quickly became a legend in Boston, he found himself believing that he was invincible and that the rules did not apply to him. Why should anyone question his actions outside the lines when he was doing so much for the team on the field? Whether it was showing up late for spring training, snubbing a chance to pitch in the All-Star game so that he could fly to the Dominican for a family vacation, or staying behind in Boston during the sixth game of the 2004 American League Championship Series, he felt that the only responsibility he had was to win games. He enjoyed rock-star status among his legion of fans and, through the fault of both the club and himself, he was allowed to be Pedro.
Now, the team is moving in a new direction. No long does the term, “25 players, 25 taxis,” apply to this club. With an ownership and a front office determined to follow the model that the New England Patriots football club have created in putting together two NFL champions in three seasons, it is the whole and not the individual that makes up the team and that philosophy must be accepted by each player that walks through that clubhouse door. Pedro Martinez obviously did not fit that model and, despite efforts contrary to this philosophy to bring him back into the fold for perhaps a few more seasons, the organization was quietly thrilled to have the albatross gone.
It cannot be stressed enough that Martinez obviously put every ounce of energy into helping his club finally realize the dream of a World Series championship. To a man, his teammates will tell you that he was all business on the mound, and the fans that loved him could see that in his eyes. Unfortunately, the price of his services was much greater than the value of any contract. All that we, as Red Sox fans, can do now is say thanks and goodbye to Pedro, and look forward to what should be an exciting time for baseball in Boston.