The 1999 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Fenway Park painted the perfect picture.
In what technically was the least important start of Pedro Martinez’s 18-year career, the flamboyant right-hander showed exactly why he’s now going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame with flying colors.
Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell — one Hall of Famer and four Cooperstown hopefuls — all struck out against Martinez, whose complete and utter dominance earned him MVP honors at the Midsummer Classic played in front of his home crowd in Boston. The only batter to reach against the Dominican Dominator was Matt Williams, who reached on an error before subsequently being erased on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play.
But you know the story by now. Martinez, working off a lethal mix of adrenaline and precision, reached back for a little extra while making his All-Star counterparts look foolish. He undoubtedly was the best player on the field that night, which was a frequent occurrence during the late 1990s and 2000s — an era in which offensive production reached video game-like levels.
Martinez’s numbers are impressive in any context. He’s a three-time Cy Young, an eight-time All-Star, a five-time ERA champion and a three-time strikeout champion. He owns the fifth-best WHIP of all time (1.05) and the sixth-best winning percentage (219-100, .687). Few pitchers — perhaps only Sandy Koufax — have had a run of excellence like the one Pedro did from 1997 through 2003.
For that, Martinez is a surefire Hall of Famer. But in order to fully appreciate Martinez’s career, one must consider the period in which he dominated.
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark pointed out in his recent Hall of Fame column that the ERA of the average starting pitcher during Martinez’s career (1992-2009) was 4.49. Martinez, meanwhile, posted a career 2.93 ERA, including a 2.20 mark during his peak years (1997-2003).
In a time when certain juiced-up sluggers played pepper with the outfield bleachers, Martinez elevated his game to otherworldly levels. It was if the 5-foot-11, 170-pound hurler fed off overcoming the inherent disadvantage that came with pitching during the Steroid Era.
In fact, Martinez admitted Tuesday he felt like he was 10 feet tall on the mound.
“Some of the umpires, like Joe West, would tell me, ‘Pedro, we know you have a chip on your shoulder. Keep it clean. Keep it clean,’ ” Martinez said Tuesday on MLB Network after being elected into the Hall of Fame. “… That’s the feeling I had, especially in that 1999 season, when I got a hold of the American League and I knew I could do what I was doing.
“I felt right on top. And every time I stepped on the mound, I don’t know if you realize that, but from the top of the mound, I was higher than anybody. With that demeanor, I took the mound and I wanted to make sure I came across that way — I came across like I was the taller one. Believe it or not, my nickname in the Dominican is ‘El Grande.’ ”
Martinez received 91.1 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, easily making him one of four players elected to Cooperstown for 2015. The only real question left to ponder is how anyone could leave Pedro off his or her ballot.
Martinez was one of the best pitchers of his generation. He took the league by storm with an immeasurable amount of flair, charisma, confidence and passion. He checks every box as far as Hall of Famers are concerned.
Welcome to Cooperstown, Pedro. You earned it.
Thumbnail photo via The Associated Press