Farewell to Pedro Martinez

[In the winter of 2004, the Boston Red Sox refused to grant the aging Pedro Martinez a four year contract so that he could end his career in the City where he made history as the finest pitcher of his generation. I watched Pedro pitch for many years, and from my box seat at first base thrilled to his start in the 1999 All Star Game played in Fenway Park, where he struck out five batters in getting the first six outs of the contest. Pedro left for another team; the young Boston General Manager made the decision and a friend of mine, at the time a bank executive, sent to me a suggestive email, clearly inviting my vitriol over the loss of my favorite pitcher who had played his heart out for the team that had just won its first World Series in over 80 years. The below is the emailed reply I sent to him, with present clarifications interlineated for clarity. At this writing, Pedro is in the Hall of Fame and the General Manager who let him walk, Theo Epstein, is now the adulated General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, whose team he went on to rebuild and to win the 2016 World Series.–posted October 2017]

I got your message, inviting (nay, itching for) vituperative reaction on the subject of Pedro’s departure from the Sox. That is most unbecoming for a banker. I am surprised at you.

And particularly because, though you admonished against a laissez-faire answer, there is nothing I can do about it and it is wholly understandable. You and I would have done the same.

When the world treats you like an economic equivalent, pricing your efforts in the context of a multi-million dollar enterprise and showing you no loyalty whether or not you are young, old, successful, failing, up, down, depressed, happy – treating you like a cog – then you take to cog’s attitude. You are seen as a sucker – and are a sucker – if you show loyalty and flexibility to an organization that does not show you any human respect. After all, if you show loyalty to a large stone rolling down a hill, it is a pathetic exercise in anthropomorphic fantasy.

And Pedro’s decision, just like the Hit Dog and everyone else before him, must be seen solely in short-term economic context. [The Hit Dog, Mo Vaughn, a great Sox player, who also was allowed to leave the Sox over a contract dispute.] Today, one’s 15 minutes of fame may only last for 10. Pedro will work in a place where he will have fewer runs on his side and far worse fielding; he will be thrown at (and hit and injured) by opposing pitchers which will further reduce his numbers and his legacy. [Pedro went to a National League team, where pitchers must hit and run; with the American League Sox, pitchers only pitch and their at-bats are taken by a “designated hitter.”] He may even imperil his Hall of Fame prospects if he fades any more in skills, which I suspect is heavy on his mind and driving him to insist on a committed fourth year rather than letting himself be marked to market.
If any vituperation is due, it is directed at the Sox, who have been getting great press by being particularly cold-blooded about the running of the team. Nomar? [Excellent shortstop callously traded.] Expendable after we made him disgruntled because, after all, the man is – disgruntled. Cabrera [excellent successor shortstop, callously traded], who turned out to be a gem of a team player, and a very human person – we can do better now that we have salary cap freed up. Pedro – although we owe him everything for the last 5 or 6 years, the heart and soul of the team, let’s not give him his fourth year, let’s sweat him in a game of chicken. Or worse yet, let’s position him so he is the bad guy and leaves, taking us off the hook because our 30 year old general manager thinks that a short weak guy of 33 isn’t going to last as a quality pitcher for much longer, and what has he done for us lately?

I rather liked the Sox teams that did not win the Series, they reminded me of the teams of my youth, when you could actually tell your friends who the third baseman of the St. Louis Browns happened to be. [Growing up, as a baseball nut, I could tell you the names of starting players of all sixteen major league teams. The St. Louis Browns were the worst team in baseball.] He was there long enough so you could remember him; he gave the team its character; you could care about your team, you could care about the other team, it gave depth to the game. Sort of like the difference between fighting your own wars, and fighting with mercenaries. When the mercenary dies, you don’t shed a tear even if he is yours.

And there is mostly vituperation for us. Without us, no team, no system, no free market place. Look at hockey. What if Darwin gave a party and no one came? That’s hockey. [Written when hockey players were paid far far less than players in other major sports; no longer the case in 2017.] If we stopped paying more for a baseball seat than for a good Shiraz, the world would be a better place and the President of the United States would make more money than someone who hits .240. Or .340.

The Ken Burns series [a 9-part PBS filmed history of baseball, with a focus on the exploitation of players by team owners] was so affecting because it showed how baseball was just like Soylent Green – it was people. But there has always been a thread of owner-vs-labor. In this arena, American labor has had enough strength to assert itself. The CIO could learn something from Scott Boros [player agent skilled at getting major contracts for better baseball players]. Baseball today is social capitalism run amok.

It is us.

I don’t blame Pedro. I blame Epstein. And you and me.

Have a good week-end.