Pedro Martinez was absolutely and undoubtedly the very best baseball player in the world in 1999. He was not, however, named the Most Valuable Player in his league, proving that pitchers just aren't worthy of winning the award.
So on the day that Justin Verlander became the first starting pitcher in 25 years to win the award, the comparison to Pedro becomes the easiest one to make.
And really, there is no comparison.
Martinez had a 2.07 ERA; Verlander had a 2.40.
Martinez struck out 313 batters, or 13.2 per nine innings pitched; Verlander struck out 250 batters, or 9.0 per nine innings pitched.
Martinez walked just 37 batters, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.46; Verlander walked 57 batters, for a 4.39 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Verlander did have the edge in innings pitched (251 to Pedro's 213 1/3) and WHIP (0.920 to Pedro's 0.923), but Martinez's accomplishments came at the height of the steroid era. To make up for it, Pedro dominated the All-Star Game at Fenway Park, seemingly just for good measure.
Regardless of all of that, Martinez finished second to Ivan Rodriguez, whose numbers weren't even that impressive. The catcher hit .332, belted 35 homers and drove in 113 RBIs. He led the league in exactly zero offensive categories (unless you count grounding into double plays) but finished 13 points ahead of Martinez in the voting.
This season, Jose Bautista (1.056), Miguel Cabrera (1.033), Adrian Gonzalez (.957), David Ortiz (.953), Jacoby Ellsbury (.928) and Curtis Granderon (.916) all posted a higher OPS than Rodriguez did in '99 (.914). There were also eight players in 2011 with a higher WAR than Rodriguez's 6.0 in '99. (By that measure, there were six players in 1999 with a WAR higher than 6.0.)
If all those numbers worked only to confuse you, there's this: Several position players had better seasons in 2011 than Rodriguez in '99, and Pedro's '99 season was better than Verlander's '11 season. Yet Pedro finished second, and Verlander took home the hardware.
None of that is Verlander's fault, and you could argue that a player shouldn't be punished because of a historical mistake made 12 years ago. You also could argue that regardless of any mistakes, it's more important that baseball show progress and the ability to change. That's fine.
What you should argue, though, is that MLB awards exist solely to not make any sense. They are merely catalysts for debate and not an indication of any true superiority over one's peers.
The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham shared his ballot in an informative blog post, including this bit of "instruction" for voters: "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier."
In simpler terms, the rules are that there are no rules at all. Maybe you only consider candidates who are on playoff teams — that's OK. Maybe you strictly vote based on stats — that's cool, too. Maybe you take salary into consideration, or "clutch" performances, or playing well in September rather than May — cool, cool and cool. Hey, it's up to you.
So if you're George King and you want to leave Martinez off your '99 ballot for clearly hypocritical reasons, thereby altering the course of history for the awards, then it's your right as a voter.
Again, none of this is to say that Verlander shouldn't have won this year's award. He was brilliant every fifth day, and he was as big a reason as any that the Tigers made the playoffs (don't believe that he was the only reason though, as Cabrera, Alex Avila and Victor Martinez had incredible seasons in their own right). With no clear-cut favorite, maybe it made the most sense to make a statement that not only can pitchers win the award, but they should win the award.
But that argument should have been made 12 years ago, when Pedro Martinez set the world on fire with two pitches. When the Fenway crowd groaned whenever the Red Sox turned a double play, because that meant one fewer strikeout victim. Back when Martinez led the Red Sox to the playoffs when the second-best hitter on his team was Brian Daubach and the third-best was a 36-year-old Mike Stanley.
Martinez once signed an autograph for someone I know, and it reads, "Pedro Martinez, Cy Young '97, '99, '00, '02." Pedro didn't actually win that '02 award, as Barry Zito was given the honors for essentially pitching 30 more innings.
Now that Verlander's won the 2011 AL MVP Award, Pedro can start adding "MVP '99" to that autograph. Just as there are no guidelines for voting for a winner, there are no rules that say he can't say what's right.