Perhaps my favorite athlete in the years since I crossed the line from boy to man (it's an indistinct line, really), Pedro remains for me one of the most compelling examples of athletic arrogance, that indefinable but obvious quality that separates the greats from the mere goods. Though he stood just 5'11 and weighed less than 190 pounds, he was an intimidating as Randy Johnson in his own way, his countenance and bearing telling hitters that he knew that they knew they had no chance.
In honor of this day, and his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, we're running back something we wrote about him four years ago. Viva Pedro.
April 8, 2011:
April 8, 2011:
I took the kids to the National Portrait Museum last weekend. Ostensibly, the trip was part of our ongoing effort to fight against the perfectly natural urge to completely take for granted the immensely interesting and diverse cultural opportunities in our area. But Daddy had an ulterior motive.
Peter Gammons called it "duende", from the Spanish word that, roughly translated, means having soul, an authentic expression of emotion. I always loved that description as attached to Pedro Martinez, the most remarkable athlete in my experience as a fan. Pedro's duende manifested itself in a loose-limbed, heavy-lidded arrogance, as this slip of a man whipped a baseball from his long fingers towards the artificially-muscled sluggers of his day, besting them again and again.
In 1999, at the height of the steroid era, Pedro was 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts and 37 walks. His ERA in 2000 was a ludicrous 1.74, more than 2.5 runs lower than the league average. From 1997 to 2003, he strung together what Gammons describes as "the most dominant stretch of any pitcher in major league history".
Like many of the greats, Pedro held on long enough for us to watch his gifts diminish. And though he was still more than serviceable in his final years with the Mets and Phillies, he wasn't Pedro. Nobody could be.
Gammons himself donated Susan Miller-Havens' portrait of Pedro to the National Portrait Gallery, where it hangs today in a wing of other new additions to the museum's collection, near Ann Landers and a tribute to Hunter Thompson. In it, Pedro wears a Sox cap with a uniform of indeterminant provenance that features a Dominican flag, combining his U.S. glory days with the work he continues to do in his native country.
Duende, it seems, stays with a man.