As baseball fans in The Bronx fondly remember, Pedro Martinez once spontaneously remarked that he must tip his hat and call the Yankees “my daddy.” But on July 26, which happens to be Fathers Day in the Dominican Republic, Martinez was officially inducted in the game’s Hall of Fame, the first Latino to be honored since Roberto Alomar in 2011. So now, Pedro, it’s our turn to tip our hats to you. And for every daddy in the D.R., you have given a gift that will long be remembered.
I watched in amazement as Martinez, the final speaker in this year’s class, never seemed out of his element as he dazzled the crowd with an inspirational speech in both English and Spanish. Then for an encore, Pedro summoned Juan Marichal to the podium and the pair waved the Dominican flag in a display of patriotism. It had been 32 years since Marichal, 77, had been elected to the Cooperstown fraternity, and Pedro admitted it was a change in protocol to bring one of his mentors on stage. Perhaps that’s true, although neither legend could be blamed for seizing the moment.
To be honest, I was never a die-hard follower of Pedro Martinez. I thought he was a bit too cocky, seemingly all over himself and causing trouble. Admittedly, I was ticked off when Martinez threw 70-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground during the infamous brawl that took place between the Yankees and Red Sox during the 2003 ALCS. I was later able to forgive and forget, but I’m not sure about Tim McCarver, who expressed his dismay in the Fox broadcast booth.
Pedro Martinez compiled some incredible numbers during his 18 year career, stats that couldn’t be ignored even though he was generally disliked by the media. What impressed me most about Martinez, however, was his ability to set up hitters. Never afraid to pitch inside, he would use pinpoint control to bust a batter off the plate and then paint the outside corner. It almost wasn’t fair. While the fastball and slider were excellent, Pedro would rely a lot on a filthy circle change later on in his career, using courage and cunning to create outs. That’s why it upset me the other day when former ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd made an absurd statement on the air that sped up his eventual dismissal.
“I never bought into that baseball is too complex,” Cowherd popped off. “Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”
While this fool was obviously stereotyping, Martinez took exception and had the perfect retort when asked to comment.
“I’m sorry. He needs to get to my level to answer him,” said Pedro sarcastically. “I’m in the Hall of Fame.”
Another thing that bothers me is the increasing presence of discrimination in the Spanish-speaking countries of our region. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor and a cultural expert of sorts in our hemisphere, says that “color categories are on steroids in Latin America.” He has written several essays on the subject and says that prejudice is a growing problem in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with the latter three nations leading the ugly parade. I can tell you that such observations are no joke because, as a former scout in the region, I’ve seen this type of behavior with my own eyes. The Dominican administration of Danilo Medina Sanchez denies these allegations, of course, and a wildly cheering government delegation was present at the Cooperstown ceremonies. So I will simply say that baseball’s ultimate achievement has been bestowed on Pedro Martinez, who is black, and that has to be a huge lift for talented prospects on the island who look up to this man as their hero.
Indeed, Martinez mentioned during his speech that he wanted to be a symbol of pride and hope for young Dominican players. And Marichal, who won 20 or more games six times with the San Francisco Giants, said he was glad to finally have company in Cooperstown.
“It’s been too long,” says the high-kicking right-hander regarding the recognition of Dominican players. “Maybe in a couple of years, we’ll get some more.”
I believe that will happen, at least when it comes to Hispanic players in general. I think it’s a shame that Mexico’s Fernando Valenzuela has been overlooked, as well as Venezuela’s Andres Galarraga and Davey Concepcion from the Big Red Machine. I don’t know if Vladimir Guerrero or Puerto Rico’s Ivan Rodriguez will ever get the call, although they are definitely deserving. But you can bet that Omar Vizquel and Mariano Rivera are no-brainers to be enshrined, and when the current generation of greats like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Miguel Cabrera decide to retire, the domino effect will begin.
I know that kind of progress will please Pedro Martinez because,
despite being a Dominican patriot, he is keenly aware that his fame now belongs to all of Latin America to savor.