The off-the-mound Martinez was a banquet of emotions, ranging from goofy to petulant, playful to grudge-minded, and hilariously, memorably quotable to needlessly, frustratingly sullen.
But there was always a soulful, spiritual side to Pedro Martinez. This is not a news flash. And it was frequently on display during his 18 seasons in the big leagues, Pedro reflecting on God, on country, on family; it’s just that too often the material ended up on the cutting-room floor.
This is because the mean pitching made for a meatier topic, and because the goofball comments were simply more entertaining. But save for such gems as Pedro reminiscing about sitting under the mango tree back home in the Dominican Republic, the soulful stuff didn’t get a lot of play.
Yesterday, however, we couldn’t help but notice. In taking his place as a newly minted member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Martinez used his acceptance speech to remind us that Cooperstown is not Vegas. And he was not there to entertain us. Not this time.
He made several references to God. Two of those references were breathtaking in their simplicity:
“May God bless every one of you here today,” he said.
And then, a little later, he added, “I don’t know if I’ll find the words, but my God I’m thankful.”
Like a pitcher changing speeds in a big game, Martinez changed languages, from English to Spanish and then back to English. And then some more Spanish. Far from being a diplomatic nicety, it was Pedro’s way of paying homage to America (and to Canada), and to the hundreds of thousands of fans who cheered him throughout his career. But he also wanted to thank the Dominican Republic, where it all began, and he wanted to be respectful to the hundreds of fellow Dominicans who made the trip to the sun-swept field outside the Clark Sports Center, where yesterday’s ceremony was held.
And unlike the aging big-leaguer who became famously hittable after 100 pitches, Martinez yesterday saved the best for last when he asked the great Juan Marichal — a Dominican native, a Hall of Famer — to join him at the dais for a joint closing bow.
Martinez had just become the first Dominican Republic native in 32 years to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He now wanted to re-introduce Juan Marichal, who joined the Hall in 1983.
It wasn’t planned. But yesterday was Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic, and are we agreed that Juan Marichal is his country’s father of baseball?
“It must have been 6:30 in the morning, I was having a hard time catching that last hour or two of sleep,” Martinez told reporters after the ceremony. “It occurred to me that today on Father’s Day, I don’t think the Dominican Republic will have a better image than having me and Marichal clear the way for all of us to Cooperstown.”
Martinez also disclosed that other elements of his speech were delivered without a script.
“There were some bullet points I wanted to get across when I first drafted what I wanted to say,” he said. “But a lot of it was just pure creation. I did expect to say some of the other things I said. They came to me . . . I was going to speak what I felt at that moment.
“And I felt so grateful, and humble. I expressed it in English the best way possible. And I did in Spanish the best way possible.”
He explained the frequent references to God.
“It sounded religious, yes, because I believe in God and I believe God has his own way to work with people,” he said. “And I wanted to say it.
“And I was able to more than anything bring up the message that I want to bring up, especially to the new generation that’s coming next.”
It was not a speech rich in sound bites. He did attempt a knee-slapper regarding 6-foot-10 fellow Hall of Famer Randy Johnson — “I just want to ask Mr. Johnson to explain: How does the weather make you feel when you stand up?” — but otherwise he didn’t much go for laughs.
He mentioned Red Sox fans, but not Red Sox ownership. He had nice things to say about fellow Dominican Felipe Alou, his manager when he played for the Montreal Expos, and about Tommy Harper, a friend and coach from both the Expos and Red Sox. He didn’t mention any of his Red Sox managers, or any other coaches.
He may have planned to do so, but then the heart took over. And the heart led him to the Dominican, and to God.
Pedro Martinez isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be around for many, many years to show us a good time.
But yesterday afternoon, on a Cooperstown pasture, he showed us his soul.