Pedro Martinez was one of the greatest pitchers of the generation and is up there on the all-time list as well, and I was honored to be able to interview the Boston Red Sox great. A flame-throwing hurler even at just 170 pounds, Pedro won 219 games in his career with only 100 losses. He was an eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award winner, a four-time ERA Champ in the AL, and most importantly, was an ace on the 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox. I talked with Pedro about his career, steroids, beaning batters, who he thought was the greatest of all time, and more.
- Q: Pedro, I’ll start with this: Who is the greatest player ever?
- PM: To me, it’s Hank Aaron.
- Q: You’re putting him over Babe Ruth?
- PM: Absolutely. Ruth was a great power hitter, but he did it in an era where he had no competition. If hitters hit five homers in a season back then they were considered great hitters. Hank Aaron played when there were great power hitters to give him competition, and he was the best. 755 homers, all hit cleanly and fairly.
- Q: When you say cleanly and fairly it gives a great segue to the steroid issue. You were obviously clean; you had one of the smallest frames in the game. What’s your opinion on players who used steroids?
- PM: They cheated, plain and simple. If you take steroids, you don’t have respect for the game and for the ones who went before you. If I had used steroids, I could still be pitching at an elite level. Heck, I would’ve 300 games. I would’ve won three more Cy Youngs. I’m not even blowing smoke to everyone, it’s the truth. That’s why I don’t have that much respect for a guy who used steroids to keep his career going.
- Q: A lot of players were juicing during your career. Were David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez two of those players taking steroids in their prime?
- PM: I don’t think so. Not naming names, but I saw guys take steroids in my career. Papi is the last guy in the league who needed them. He’s just naturally big. He worked out so hard in the weight room and he was just so darn strong. He had no reason to take any substances. Did Manny take those banned substances in his last few years? Maybe, but that’s mostly rumors. What he tested positive for, he sure didn’t take in his prime. Manny was a great hitter because of hours of practice. That man would take batting practice for hours, whether outside with the team or inside off the tee. He had a batting cage in his house, he never went too long without hitting. And he was automatic. His hand-eye coordination is amazing; only Ted Williams and Ichiro Suzuki had better contact. Those guys had no reason to take steroids, but imagine them on them.
- Q: So no one on the 2004 Red Sox was on steroids?
- PM: If they did, I sure didn’t see it.
- Q: When did you see teammates taking them?
- PM: Before testing became strict, guys were taking them in the bathroom, their lockers, in the clubhouse, everywhere. But then testing came and around 2003 you saw some guys backing off while others kept going. There were some crazy scenes when testing became official.
- Q: Would you ever name names like Canseco?
- PM: Never. I didn’t do steroids, so I had no reason to take everyone down like that. What he did didn’t sit right with me.
- Q: One hotly-contested issue in baseball is beaning and bench-clearing brawls, and you were front and center in many incidents during your career. When you watch this, 10 years later, what do you think?
PM: That was an ugly scene. Zim was yelling at me from the Garcia at-bat on, so I knew he was going to come say something. He said something about my mom and then tried to grab my neck. I had no choice but self-defense, and so I pushed him off me and he fell. Since then, New York has made me seem like the biggest villain for that, but the brawl wasn’t my fault. I would’ve shoved anyone down if they ran at me and went for my neck; it just happened to be the oldest guy in their dugout. To me, the situation has been over and done with for a long time, but Zimmer keeps bringing it up. Why would I have intentionally hit Karim Garcia with the bases loaded, no outs, and down by one? The whole thing made no sense.
- Q: You told reporters a while ago that 92% of batters you hit, you hit them intentionally. Is that an accurate percentage?
- PM: Definitely; if anything, it’s higher. The ones I didn’t hit on purpose, I meant to dust off the plate; the ball rarely just slipped out of my hand. If you’re a power pitcher, you have to have the intimidation factor early; you can’t be afraid to take their best hitter and plunk them, or you’re not going to last in the big leagues. Don’t let any pitcher lie to you and tell you they never hit anybody on purpose; that’s a monster lie. If they never have, you probably never heard of them.
- Q: So beaning and plunking people is never going to end in baseball?
- PM: If it does, you’ll see more homers again. Or you’ll see a bunch on knuckleballers like Tim (Wakefield) pop up out of nowhere. It’s all about intimidation.
- Q: You’re a special assistant to the GM now. What exactly does the job entail?
- PM: I’m basically a mentor to the young guys, the young pitchers. I give them tips, help them with their pitches, and I’m like another pair of eyes out there. The pitching this year has impressed me, with Clay (Buchholz), Jon Lester, (John) Lackey, and a bunch of guys in the minors who could be ready soon. The rotation reminds me of 2004, they’re that good.
- Q: So are the Sox your World Series pick right now?
- PM: Detroit is good, the Yankees are good, Oakland is good. But if the Sox can keep it up, they have just as good a chance as anybody.
Pedro Martinez everybody! Great insight from one of the best.