On July 26, Pedro Martinez will become the second Dominican-born player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Two days later, the former Red Sox ace will have his No. 45 retired at Fenway Park. He took a break from writing his induction speech to answer a few questions.
Admit it: When you sat under that mango tree as a boy in the Dominican, you knew you’d be a Hall of Famer someday. Absolutely not. I did not expect those things to happen to me. As a matter of fact, it was the opposite. I was too busy taking advantage of every game that I pitched, because the supposed knowledgeable people were saying I was too small, too fragile to throw that hard and not break down. I was busy doing that. I never thought I would have a moment where I could sit down and say, “I’m a Hall of Famer, my number will be retired.” Never thought about any of those things. I just wanted to take every game and savor as much as I could and not even think about what was going to happen tomorrow.
Your first minor-league pitching coach, Guy Conti, calls you a “borderline genius.” What do you think he means? What he means is that I was a great student of everything, not just the game. I remember I had a dictionary that I got as a gift from a Bostonian that was my teacher in the Dominican at the [Dodgers’] academy. I called Guy Conti my “white daddy,” and [his wife] Jan is my “white mom.” I still have the same feel for Guy, the same respect. But he would take that dictionary and he would make me use it for real. He would give me words every day to spell. He would give me opportunities to order food for the whole family. I would sit down at the table with them and eat with them and hang out with them. Guy became someone so influential in my career, probably the base of my career. He knew I was eager to learn, eager to study. It didn’t matter if I got in trouble. I wanted to learn what it was like. I remember being on the bus in Great Falls [Montana], and one of the guys from California goes, “Pedro, let me teach you a new word.” He made me stick my head out the window, and he goes, “Tell those two girls, ‘Nice boobs.’ ” I was like, “Nice boobs, girls,” and they were like, “Thank you, asshole,” and gave me the middle finger. But that was a lesson to learn, you know?
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington once said he heard you put yourself in the bullpen for the famous Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS. True? It is exactly the way he said it. I remember coming to [manager] Jimy [Williams] when I saw Bret Saberhagen, a veteran in probably his last year, just leaving it all out there. He was taking a lot of pills and stuff to try to just pitch one inning or two innings. I got desperate. That day I asked Jimy, “Can I do something?” And he goes, “No, Pedro. My orders are that you’re going to pitch maybe 18 to 20 pitches at the end of the game.” I saw the game was 8-8 in the third inning. I said, “No, Jimy, I need to do something for the team now. Please allow me to do that.” He goes, “No, I’m going to lose my job if I do that.” I said, “I’m sorry, Jimy, for your job, but I’ve got to go.” I went down to the bullpen and I remember Rod Beck warming up, and that guy was really a great teammate. I said, ‘Shooter, I’ve been the ace all year. I’ve been the man that we go to. I know you’re a veteran. Would you please allow me to go in if I’m able to?’ He goes, ‘Hey, if you’re able to pitch, go in and pitch. You’ve been the man that brought us here. You get us out of here.’ That motivated me so much. But that’s the way it was. I had to pretty much overthrow Jimy’s rules. I have respect for whatever decision he had to make, but at that point, I was more committed to my teammates and the people than to my career.
A changeup: Your favorite Boston restaurant? If I say one, they’re going to go bananas. I’m going to have to give you three: Brasserie JO in the Colonnade, Strega and Abe & Louie’s.
In your recently published biography, you admit 90 percent of the batters you hit were on purpose. Really? That’s right. I would say 90 percent were in retaliation because whenever you hit one of mine, I needed to get one of yours. I’m not afraid to say that, and I’m not afraid to teach that either. I’m not suggesting that you need to hit people, but if you have to protect your teammates, do it.