Like Other Greats Before Him, Pedro Just Can't Walk Away
It's tough seeing great athletes get old.
To see a legend in any sport become faded and ineffective is sad, and it's a reminder that we too are getting older. For so many years the elite players seem eternally youthful, vigorous and mighty. At times they can appear almost superhuman.
But, inevitably, age sets in, injuries take their toll, and performance declines.
For many premier athletes, it's difficult to know when to hang 'em up and say goodbye. When retirement appears to be the obvious choice to the rest of us, the player is still relatively young and still possesses the fire to play.
It's got to be tough to be told you're old and over the hill when you're not even halfway through your projected life span.
Many athletes are unprepared to give up their true passion – the thing that gave them fame, wealth, glory and even their identity. Most have been playing since childhood, have known no other life, held no other job, and just can't imagine living without the game.
Obviously this describes Pedro Martinez. He is a true competitor who loves a challenge.
However, over the last three seasons, Pedro's record is 17-15. In 2006 his ERA reached 4.48 and last season it leapt to 5.61, almost twice has career ERA.
Despite posting a 5-6 record and only 87 strikeouts through 109 innings in 20 starts last season, apparently Pedro can't let go and wants to prove that he's still got it.
After letting it be known that he wanted to pitch again this year, a few teams were intrigued enough to take a look. All but one said, "No thanks."
This week, the Phillies signed the future Hall of Famer to a one-year, $1 million deal. It was quite a come down for a player who was seeking a pro-rated $5 million dollar pact. Pedro had previously been playing under a four-year, $53 million contract that expired during the offseason.
After telling reportes this spring that he wouldn't accept the one-year, $1 million offer that his former Mets teammate Tom Glavine signed with the Braves, Pedro ultimately did just that.
Apparently, reality got in the way of other plans. But reality clearly isn't dictating any of Pedro's actions these days.
We've seen this movie before. Too many great athlestes have stayed around too long, embarrassing themselves and diminishing their great legacies in the process: Willie Mays, OJ Simpson, Joe Namath, Emmitt Smith, Mario Lemieux, Muhammed Ali, and Evander Holyfield all come to mind. Nobody likes to see former greats look feeble and humbled.
It will be unfortunate if Pedro blemishes his stellar career by continuing to pitch the way he did last year, or the past few years, when his shoulder was toast.
The 37-year-old has a career record of 214-99, and a .684 winning percentage – the third highest of the modern, Post WW II era, behind only Whitey Ford’s .690 and Don Gullett’s .686. He entered 2008 tied with Ford, but fell behind due to his poor and ineffective play.
No matter, Pedro has the second highest winning percentage in Major League history for pitchers with at least 200 career victories.
Despite his injuries and diminished performance over the past three seasons, Pedro has nothing left to prove. Despite his comparatively small stature, he was a giant of the game and reached the pinnacle of the sport on many levels.
If he didn't pitch again, Pedro would have joined Bob Caruthers and Al Spaulding as the only pitchers with more than 200 wins and fewer than 100 losses in their careers. So much for that distinction.
Yet Pedro is one of 21 pitchers who has a career record 100+ games over .500.
He also has the best ever career adjusted ERA, which measures the pitcher’s career ERA against his league’s ERA over the pitcher’s entire career. On average, throughout his career, Pedro’s ERA has been 1.68 points below the league average.
He is also just the 15th pitcher in MLB history with 3,000 strikeouts, and just the fourth to reach the milestone with fewer than 1000 walks (752). In addition, he is just one of three pitchers (Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson) to record 3000 Ks in fewer than 3000 innings.
When you consider that he pitched during the greatest offensive period in baseball history, it's all quite amazing.
But he is not that same pitcher anymore, and never again will be. Many of us will choose to remember Pedro for what he was during his prime, rather than what he is now. It's too bad he can't do the same.
It's so much better to remember the Pedro who was so dominant from 1997-2005, rather than the worn out, broken down pitcher we witnessed over the last three years.
As Perdro himself noted, "I gave it up the last few years. I wasn't the same Pedro Martinez that you're accustomed to seeing. . . . I think I was too brave sometimes. I was stupid sometimes for pitching and knowing that I wasn't in the regular health that you should be in. . . . The last few years have been horrible."
True, true, and true.
Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.