Pedro a portrait of wisdom, emotion, goodwill
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- So Pedro Martinez's portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery at The Smithsonian. Pedro: Certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, sixth all-time in winning percentage (.687: 219-100), third in strikeout-to-walk ratio, three-time Cy Young Award winner, five-time league ERA champion, who in the height of the steroid era was 23-4, 2.07 with 313 strikeouts and 37 walks in 1999.
He was the one of the most electrifying athletes who ever lived. When he pitched at Fenway, Bobby Cox noted that fans only went to the concession stands when the Red Sox were batting, fearing they might miss something from Pedro that they'd never seen before.
But his portrait was unveiled Friday morning because, as much as any recent athlete, the man had duende. Hemingway and the late writer George Frazier loved that Spanish word, which means having soul, a heightened sense of emotion, a state of emotion and an expression of authenticity. It hangs because he has devoted his life in his country, the Dominican Republic, to helping those less fortunate, children and the elderly. He has built churches, a recreational park with daycare facilities to assist working mothers, and he and his wife, Carolina, are raising capital for the Pedro Youth Academy and Ballpark (which will be called "Little Fenway").
"I know who I am and where I came from," he said at a dinner in his honor Thursday night. "I will never forget."
He will never forget that his father, Paulino, could not try out with the Giants in the late 1950s because he couldn't afford a pair of spikes. Never forget that twice he could not go to the Little League World Series regionals in Puerto Rico because it would have cost two-thirds of his mother's monthly income. Never forget that his brother Ramon was once called up to the Major Leagues in September and never pitched, which is why he gave his final 2002 start to a Red Sox rookie Josh Hancock, so he could appear in a game. Martinez was then accused of sitting on his numbers and lost the Cy Young to Barry Zito, thus becoming the only pitcher ever to lead a league in ERA, strikeouts and lowest batting average against and not win the award, something today he still remembers as "not wanting Josh Hancock to endure what Ramon endured."
Older brother Ramon, Juan Marichal, the Martinezes' favorite pitching coach Dave Wallace and longtime Dodgers Latin American icon Ralph Avila (who signed Pedro) were among those who flew into Washington for the events. For two days, Pedro reiterated his Youth Academy mantra: "I want children in the Dominican to have the educational opportunities that people in the United States are afforded, so someday college teams from the Dominican Republic can play against the great colleges and universities in the United States. In the end, education means opportunity."
I remember trips to Martinez's hometown of Manoguayabo. We would walk the streets and see the church that was built with his money, because "the people are too poor to build one themselves." We'd wander the complex he, Ramon and Juan Guzman built, with baseball fields and the daycare center. We looked at houses he built for neighbors, and a school he built because his town could not raise enough tax revenue.
For all his flamboyance and mound persona, there is an evangelical sense to Pedro Martinez, hence the inscription below the painting in the NPG.
"He is one of the most brilliant persons I have ever known," says Jason Varitek. "How many people were colloquial in two languages in their early 20s? In games, he saw things no one else saw."
In the third game of the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees, Martinez pitched in pain from a strain in the back of his shoulder, which had forced him out of the first game of the Division Series against the Indians. He came back in Game 5 to throw six no-hit innings in Cleveland, then faced Roger Clemens in the Game 3 of the ALCS. Throwing 85-87 mph, Martinez made it through the first inning. Then to start the second, he threw four straight changeups to strike out Tino Martinez, followed by four straight curveballs to whiff David Justice. Seven innings, two hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts, Clemens routed.
After the game, Varitek was asked to explain the thought process in facing Tino and Justice. "It was simply Pedro being Pedro," Varitek said. "He wanted to start Tino with a changeup. He said after the inning that if Tino is uncomfortable, he'll touch his wrist band after every pitch, so he was going to go changeup until he was comfortable. He noticed Justice squinting getting into the box because it was so bright, and threw him four curveballs he knew David couldn't see because of the light. There never is a game plan for Pedro; it's about what he sees."
Martinez clearly was taken aback by Friday's ceremony. When he was introduced by Martin E. Sullivan of the NPG, he broke down several times in his thank-you speech.
"I pitched a lot of big games," he said, "but nothing like this." He beamed as photographers took pictures of him and his family in front of the painting, then when it was taken upstairs and put up on the wall, tears came to his eyes. "I think about where I'm from," he said. Down the hall was a portrait of John F. Kennedy. Marichal went up to the third floor to see his own portrait.
"This is about baseball and what it means to the Dominican Republic," said ambassador Dr. Roberto B. Saladin. "But it's more about what Pedro Martinez has tried to do for the people of his country."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.