First, Lance Armstrong admitting to doping, and now this. Remember all those guys Pedro Martinez intimidated with inside fastballs over the years? (He hit 141 hit batters over 18 seasons, finishing in the top three in the category five times; only one man ahead of him on the career HBP list from the modern era, Jamey Wright, hit more batters per nine innings.)
Turns out that he meant almost every one of them.
Yesterday, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweeted that “Pedro just admitted that 90 percent of the guys he hit were on purpose.”
Well, of course they were. During Martinez’s heyday, no American League pitcher was close to him in terms of command. He complemented a darting fastball with the game’s best changeup and an array of devastating breaking pitches—and didn’t stop there. He also took a page from Nolan Ryan’s playbook, turning the brushback, the knockdown and the hit batter into valid parts of his repertoire. As if trying to adjust from a low-90s fastball to a changeup in the mid-70s wasn’t tough enough, hitters also had to deal with the idea of staying light on their feet.
Sometimes, of course, this reputation was detrimental—Martinez engendered no shortage of opponents who much didn’t care for him, as this excerpt from The Baseball Codes will attest:
Take Reggie Sanders, who charged the mound in 1994 after being hit by Pedro Martinez. That the pitcher was trying to protect a 2–0 lead in the eighth inning was one clue it might have been unintentional; that it was an 0-2 count was another. That Martinez was in the middle of throwing a perfect game should have put to rest any lingering doubts. Without a shred of hyperbole, Sanders was the most obviously unintentionally hit batsman in the history of the game.
Still, it wasn’t enough to keep him in the batter’s box. Martinez had been brushing back Cincinnati batters, including Sanders, all afternoon. After one such pitch in the ﬁfth inning, Sanders gave the pitcher a long, angry glare, which Martinez returned in kind. After he plunked Sanders three innings later, Martinez even went so far as to raise his arms in frustration before realizing that it would be a good idea to defend himself.
It takes a special kind of pitcher to pull off something like that. Martinez has just rejoined the Red Sox as a special assistant to General Manager Ben Cherington, where he will hopefully continue to lend insight into the machinations that made him such a force of nature. Welcome back to the big leagues, Pedro.