I was hoping to post about this book a couple of weeks ago to kind of coincide with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Well, I didn’t watch the induction ceremony live (though I did DVR it), and I hadn’t finished the book yet either.
I have since finished doing both of those things. The speech Pedro Martinez gave at the Hall of Fame was awesome, as was the suit he wore. He gave the last speech, and his overall joy at getting inducted really kept you interested in what could have otherwise been a long event.
Title/Author/Publisher: “Pedro” by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman (Houghton Mifflin, 2015, 336 pages)
Description: Pedro’s autobiography, co-written by Michael Silverman, gives Pedro’s account of his life in baseball. That’s an important distinction – it’s very much about his baseball career and very little about his personal life. He gives some background about how he grew up, and how the death of his father impacted him – but any piece of his personal life is almost always done to give context to his baseball career (personally, that’s how I want it).
Pedro starts with his days in the DR, from how his older brother Ramon helped him learn baseball to the days when Dodger scouts in the Dominican academy thought Pedro was too small and frail in comparison to the phenom Ramon. He covers his ascent through the Dodger Minor League organization, facing the same kind of questions.
At each stop along the way, Pedro usually had 1 or 2 people who really believed in him. They saw the heart of a lion that overcame his small stature and eventually led him to fly past his peers (including his older brother) on the way to the Hall of Fame. Martinez pays homage to those influences and discusses his feelings as he made his way from a scrawny 16-year old in the DR to an aged veteran signed to help the Phillies to the 2009 World Series. He also gives his side of the story to events like the day Grady Little left him in for Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the brawl in Fenway earlier in that series where he sidestepped Don Zimmer, his relationship with Curt Schilling, and the reasons behind his move from Montreal to Boston and Boston to the Mets.
My review: In short, this book was phenomenal. I’ve never liked the Red Sox, so when Pedro was atop the baseball world I wasn’t a fan of him. But when he came back to pitch for Philadelphia at the end of the 2009 season, I was paying more attention. And he’s been on MLB Network and some playoff broadcasts since then, and his gregarious personality has made it hard not to like him. This book is no different.
I like the focus of the book – he really keeps it on baseball. There are snippets of his personal life. He starts off describing his “la finca” (home) today, in Manoguayabo, and how he can look up a hill and see the mango tree outside of the shack he lived in as a youngster. Anecdotes about, like Pedro’s first flight to America. He was almost late because he couldn’t find someone who knew how to knot a tie. He talked about late in his career, how he his impoverished beginnings and how the death of his dad sapped his desire to pitch toward the end of his career. But it’s always in a baseball context (he hardly talks about his own children and wife at all), and the privacy he kept as a player mostly remains in the book. For a guy like Babe Ruth or even Mickey Mantle – I might want something different. But for Pedro this is perfect.
He really delves into it. He talks about his strategy against hitters, how he pitched inside to establish that part of the plate and how he stuck up for his teammates by hitting opposing players as retaliation. Much of baseball didn’t like this, and he discusses the controversies that ensued. I also really liked his perspective when he was in contract negotiations. It all gives great insight into Pedro’s mindset. In short, he’s an ultimate competitor who seems a lot like Michael Jordan to me – he wasn’t the most talented guy out there but his belief in himself drove him to success. And he really remembers the detractors. He remembers the Dodgers keeping him as a reliever and then trading him – he felt that they turned their back on him. But he also remembers the guys who spoke up for him when his career was more of a question mark. Guys like Eleodoro Arias, who sensed the fearlessness was an incredible quality for this 130 pound 16 year-old.
He is also a jovial, fun-loving guy; that really comes out in the book and you can see it now that he’s giving his opinions on TV. It really came out in his Hall of Fame speech, too. It’s easy to like the guy after reading this book.
Other Notable nuggets: This book has many. They’re all form Pedro’s perspective, naturally. So you have to take that with a grain of salt, but like I said, I loved the book!
- In his first year in America, Sandy Koufax became an early mentor to him at Dodger spring training. Koufax taught him how to toe the rubber, a strategy that gave him a few more miles on his fastball and that he used the rest of his career. Later, Pedro showed that trick to Curt Schilling and it helped him add a few miles to his fastball. However he also believes it led to Curt’s “bloody sock” injury.
- Similarly, Don Drysdale realized Pedro was tipping pitches and showed him how – the day before Drysdale unfortunately passed away. Pedro pays a small bit of homage to him in the book.
- Pedro’s career started with Raul Mondesi as his minor league teammate on a few stops along the way. Pedro’s attitude as focused and an ultra competitor was a foil to that of Mondesi.
- In September 1990, Pedro’s minor league season ended and he went to LA to see his brother Ramon pitch. After the game, there was an autograph session and a silent auction. He saw a Reggie Jackson signed ball for $250 and paid all he had for it. Later, his brother Ramon chided him, saying he could have met Mr. October and gotten a ball for free if he had just asked!
- The biggest success of Pedro’s career was when he came out of the bullpen in the deciding game of 1999 ALDS. Injured and unable to throw his fastball, he came in and shut down the highest scoring offense of the past 70 years without a hit over 6 innings. At some point, Scott Hatteberg was talking about the bonus money they’d get if they won the game. When Pedro got back from his first inning of work, Hatteberg proclaimed “I’m going to get that shed I want”.
Finally – there is a baseball card connection with this book! In the middle of the book, there are a number of pictures of Pedro – from his life in the Dominican Republic to all the stops of his baseball career. There is one baseball card in these pictures – it’s his 1995 Pinnacle card when he was with the Expos. I’ve written out the caption in the book below. Honestly, I miss the days when baseball cards had pictures like this.