Baseball fans grow up hearing about a forever unattainable past, whether it's a generation of New Yorkers sermonizing on Mickey Mantle or, in my case, a neighbor in Maryland dreaming of a new Bob Gibson. Born in Boston and a self-declared Red Sox fan, I pushed my family to move back to Massachusetts at age 11 to chase the ghosts of Sox past. I wanted to live in a place where the names weren't Mantle or Gibson but Williams and Yaz. Shockingly, it worked, and we moved back to Mass., where I studied Sox history and waited.
Pedro was my reward; he was the one I was waiting for. He is the one about whom so much will be written and so much will be said, today and hereafter, and it will never be enough. I can talk about him today as if he was pitching yesterday. The same will be true 40 years from now. On Tuesday, he was officially elected to the Hall of Fame. The stories will reach a fever pitch, but that doesn't mean they will have been told for good and ready to be packed away. They will mature and change over time, until the moment we stop telling them, and only his and our words are left.
He was the best pitcher of his generation, depending on how you measure it. To what has been lovingly called "Gammons Youth" by Bill Simmons -- the generation of sportswriters who reached adulthood in the late 1990s and early 2000s, having feasted on Peter Gammons' full-page Sunday baseball notes column -- he was and remains a singular muse figure. There will never be another like him for me, because we no longer have enough to give to anyone else. He took our love of sports and made it complete, aches and pains and all. He was more real than real life, and we loved him for it.
Pedro Must Reads
Pedro Must Reads
He had skill and style, but there was always a note of fatalism in the air when he took to the mound -- the fear that he'd give up one run, strike out 17 and still lose. I saw him pitch exactly once in Fenway Park, and that's precisely what happened. The opposing pitcher? Steve Trachsel. His only other 17K game was That Game Against The Yankees, which the Sox won, but this one was more typical of pre-Fenway Sports Group Pedro, when he was at the top of his game and still couldn't win. To paraphrase Gisele, he could not throw the ball and hit the ball at the same time, just single-handedly push them into the ALCS with a bad arm. (Okay, Troy O'Leary helped.)
By the time he had real help, in 2003, his velocity had come down a touch, but his personality was bigger than ever. When Grady Little became a pariah for leaving Martinez in versus the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS -- an ALCS that earlier saw Pedro toss Don Zimmer to the ground by his cue-balled head -- Martinez responded by literally letting his hair down, focusing not on the past but enjoying the insane present with which he was presented. Fun fact: I was at that game too. It is the only pre-title-run memory of which I'm willing to let go. It still hurts, even if it shouldn't, because of 2004, 2007 and 2013.
Of course, the Sox won the whole thing the next year in a season that itself will be rehashed ad infinitum; I watched Four Days in October just this weekend, and not a drop of drama has been lost in 10 seasons, especially not Pedro's joy in beating back his daddy on his way out of town. He went to the Mets, and I was a reporter for the Queens Chronicle at the time, and attended the press conference. I didn't say anything, because I was a cub reporter standing before God, but he brushed past me on his way to the podium, and that was good enough and had to be, given that I basically became paralyzed with excitement.
That was not the end, of course: Pedro fought the good fight in his golden years, even taking on the Yankees in the World Series in the playoffs for the Phillies and holding his own, John Olerud be damned. But my favorite Pedro story has nothing to do with baseball. My favorite Pedro story is about lobster rolls.
When I was younger, there was a McDonald's commercial that featured Pedro giving a press conference and fielding fake questions from the audience -- Could he win 30 games? Could the Sox win it all? In the spot, Pedro gave quick answers to the first two. The third question came from a guy dressed in a lobster suit. He asked "Pedro, the lobster roll is back at area McDonald's for a limited time? How does that make you feel?" To which Pedro responded only: "Hungry."
The video isn't available anywhere online that I can find, as a friend and I have searched off and on for years. Google it, and you'll mostly find me swearing about not being able to find anything. I did just find a screenshot, though:
But that's not the story.
A few years ago, Pedro briefly participated in one of those "Hollywood is calling" type services, where he'd record messages. It was called EGraphs, and my cousin got him to make one for me. He said I was a huge fan, which was true, but that I only ate lobster rolls from McDonald's, because of his commercial. This was not true -- I've never had one, and never will -- but it made for a funny message.
Talking into his cellphone, he laughed and talked to me like you'd talk to a simple person. He said I had to go to Revere Beach in Boston to get the real good lobster rolls, and that I should really stop going to McDonald's. He couldn't stop laughing as he did it, because who only eats McDonald's lobster rolls? He really believed that I did. It was a perfectly executed prank, and on the day of his election to the Hall of Fame, it still makes me laugh. That's my Pedro story, but I'll always want more. I'm still hungry. We all are. And that is why he's the best.