When Pedro wanted to be a Yankee

(Photo via @SI_Vault)
(Photo via @SI_Vault)

Yesterday afternoon four players were elected to the Hall of Fame, including ex-Yankee Randy Johnson and longtime Yankees rival Pedro Martinez. Johnson eventually arrived in New York in 2005 after the Yankees — and George Steinbrenner in particular — had wanted him in pinstripes for years, dating back to his time with the Mariners.

Aside from the whole “he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and would be great on our team” thing, I don’t remember the Yankees longing for Pedro the way they did Johnson all those years. As it turns out though, Martinez wanted to be a Yankee, and the club was close to acquiring him a few times over the years. Here’s what Pedro told Christian Red earlier this week:

“I was almost traded to New York more than once. A lot of people don’t know that. I wanted the trade to happen. I wanted out of Montreal. I wanted to go to the best team out there,” Martinez told the Daily News during a December interview in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, when he attended David Ortiz’s charity golf event. “I saw John Wetteland, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker go to different teams. But the one that ended up winning most of the time was the Yankees.”

“I saw Wetteland become a champion right away. I wanted a team like that. I was in trade talks every year. Every year it seemed like the Yankees were in it,” said Martinez. “So I wanted to go to one of those teams that would give me a legit chance to win.”

Back during the mid-to-late-1990s, the Yankees always seemed to be seeking an ace-caliber starter even though the team was very successful and had solid veterans around a young Andy Pettitte. That search led them to Roger Clemens in 1999 — Clemens had just won back-to-back Cy Youngs with the Blue Jays — but they always seemed to be after guys like Johnson and Chuck Finley. Apparently they were after Pedro too.

The Expos traded Martinez during the 1997-98 offseason because he was a year away from free agency and they wouldn’t be able to afford him, so off to Boston he went for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas (who the Yankees traded to the Sox for Mike Stanley). You laugh now, but Baseball America ranked Pavano as the ninth best prospect in baseball before the 1998 season and Armas was a year away from jumping on top 100 prospects lists as well. They were a big deal back then.

Pedro wanted to come to New York and was disappointed to go to the Red Sox, who were swept in three games by the Indians in the 1995 ALDS, their only postseason appearance from 1991-97. Here’s more from Martinez, via Red:

“When I was traded to Boston, I was shocked. Boston had finished in (fourth) place (in ’97), just like (Montreal). I had asked (Expos manager) Felipe (Alou) and Jim Beattie, the (Expos’) GM at that time, to at least give me the honor to trade me to a team where I would have a legit chance to win, to contend,” said Martinez. “It was the total opposite.”

You folks all know what happened after that. Martinez put together one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history, the Red Sox contended and eventually won their first World Series in nearly a century, thanks in large part to Pedro. He was the centerpiece of those late-1990/early-2000 Red Sox teams and always seemed to be in the middle of something whenever he faced the Yankees.

But imagine if Pedro was on the other side and doing all of that in pinstripes. The Yankees didn’t have the prospect power to match the Pavano/Armas package — according to Baseball America, their top prospects heading into 1998 were Rickey Ledee (ranked 46th in baseball), Mike Lowell (71st), and Jackson Melian (91st), and the Expos didn’t need Lowell because they had a young Shane Andrews — especially since Montreal seemed to focus on pitching, so it wasn’t necessarily a case of not wanting to surrender the prospects. They simply didn’t have them.

Had the Yankees been able to land Martinez though, man everything would be different. He was a true difference-maker, the kind of player who shifts the balance of power within a division, but the Yankees were already atop the AL East anyway. Would the 1998 Yankees have actually been better with had Pedro instead of, say, Hideki Irabu, who they picked up that offseason? Or does it mean they still would have acquired Irabu but passed up Orlando Hernandez in Spring Training?

Trading for Pedro almost certainly means no Clemens during the 1998-99 offseason, which opens another can of worms. As Buster Olney wrote at the time, Clemens had a full no-trade clause and was using it to control his market, with the Yankees or one of the two Texas teams his preferred destinations. Martinez in pinstripes could have meant Clemens with the Rangers, and, in case you forgot, the Yankees and Rangers met in the 1999 ALDS.

And, of course, what in the world happens in 2003 and 2004? There’s no Pedro to blow Game Seven for the Red Sox in 2003 and no Pedro to help the Red Sox come back from down three games to none in 2004. Are the Sox even relevant those years without Martinez? He helped turn that whole franchise around. No Pedro could mean no Manny Ramirez in 2001 because Boston would have been a less desirable destination for trade targets, and geez, no Manny in Boston means a lot more wins for the Yankees from 2001-08. He crushed the Yanks.

In the end, this is all a guessing game. A trade to the Yankees would have changed Pedro’s entire career path — he would have worked with different coaches, with different trainers, with different teammates, in a different ballpark and city, it would have changed everything. And, considering what he turned into, it’s likely he would have been a worse pitcher with the Yankees than he was with the Red Sox. Me? I think Pedro would have been a boss in pinstripes and the team would have been even better in the late-90s/early-00s, winning another World Series or two. But that’s just me.

Pedro getting his wish and coming to New York would have changed everything for everyone, and that’s why it’s so fun to think about. Endless hypotheticals.

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Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz all elected to Hall of Fame

A Hall of Famer, but not because of his time in pinstripes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A Hall of Famer, but not because of his time in pinstripes. (AP)

The Hall of Fame has four new members. On Tuesday, the BBWAA announced Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz have all been inducted into Cooperstown. This is the first time four players have been inducted in one year since 1955 (Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance) and the first time three pitchers were inducted in one year in history.

Biggio fell two votes short of induction last year, and historically when a player misses by that narrow a margin, he gets in comfortably the next year. That’s what happened here — Biggio appeared on 82.7% of the ballots this year, well more than the 75% necessary for induction. The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site.

Johnson is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and appeared on 97.3% of the ballots, the eighth highest voting total of all-time. He spent two seasons with the Yankees and is presumably going into the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback. Arizona signed him to a four-year contract in 1999 and he won four straight Cy Youngs from 1999-2002, so yeah. Pedro and Smoltz appeared on 91.1% and 82.9% of the ballots, respectively.

The Yankees had some pretty great battles against those three over the years, including beating Smoltz’s Braves in the 1996 and 1999 World Series. Johnson bested the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS and 2001 World Series and is simply one of the best pitchers ever, arguably the best lefty ever. Pedro … man did he and the Yankees share some memorable moments. His 17-strikeout one-hitter at Yankee Stadium on September 10th, 1999 is one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve ever seen:

Former Yankees Tim Raines (55.0%), Roger Clemens (37.5%), Mike Mussina (24.6%), Gary Sheffield (11.7%), Aaron Boone (0.4%), Tom Gordon (0.4%), and Tony Clark (0%) all fell well short of induction. Boone, Gordon, and Clark drop off the ballot because they received fewer than 5% of the vote.

In his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility, Don Mattingly received only 9.1% of the vote, so he exhausted his 15 years on the ballot and was not inducted to Cooperstown. He topped out at 28.2% of the vote during his first year of eligibility back in 2001 and has sat closer to 13% over the last decade or so, including only 8.2% last year.

Down the line, Mattingly could be eligible for induction via the Expansion Era Committee, which meets every three years to identify and vote on Hall of Fame candidates who started their careers after 1972. The Expansion Era Committee did not elect anyone this winter and will meet again in 2017. I love Donnie Baseball as much as anyone, but I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer and I don’t think he’ll get in via the Expansion Era Committee either.

Among the first-time-eligible players set to jump on the ballot next year are Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. No notable ex-Yankees though. Jorge Posada is set to appear on the ballot for the first time the year after that, giving me two years to prepare to the mother of all Hall of Fame campaigns.

World Series hangover: Joba, Pedro and feelin’ good

The Hot Stove League will soon heat up, but as a bright November weekend dawns in the City of New York, Yankee fans are still recovering from their collective World Series hangover. To that end, we have a few stories for your Saturday reading pleasure.

A World Series moment with the Chamberlains

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Major League Baseball players are young kids who are struggling to adjust to a world very unfamiliar to them. Subject to more debates over the last 2.5 seasons than any 24-year-old should, Joba Chamberlain has been growing up in the New York spotlight. Starter, reliever, overhyped or not, Joba has heard it all. When the Yankees won the World Series on Wednesday, Joba and his dad shared a moment captured by photographers and Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew author Kevin Kaduk.

The story is a great reminder about how baseball is about families. It’s about how baseball is about the people and how the players we analyze, the players we admire and the players some people criticize are, at heart, just people similar to you and me. At ‘Duk writes, baseball is always about a father having a catch with his son, and Joba and Harlan had the joy of sharing a baseball moment this week that doesn’t come around too often.

Yanks’ son leaves in a huff

While Joba and Harlan had their hug, Pedro Martinez was feeling less than happy about the game. After his Game 6 defeat at the hands of the Yankees, Pedro tried to duck out on reporters. The media throng cornered him in the hallway, but he would speak only in Spanish to them. One fan taunted him with a chant of “Who’s your daddy?” but Pedro was clearly upset about losing the game. Beating Pedro made this World Series victory even sweeter.

A calm in New York

For Tyler Kepner, 2009 marked his eighth season covering the Yanks and their first World Series under his watch. From World Series losses to 0-3 ALCS comebacks, it has been a tumultuous few years in Yankeeland, but as Kepner wrote on Wednesday night, this World Series restored a “peaceful, easy feeling” to the Bronx. No team has won more games in the 21st Century than the Yankees have and now they have their title to go with it. It has indeed been a peaceful time for Yankee fans.

Booing Pedro Martinez

Later tonight, the Yankees and Phillies will take to the field in the Bronx for Game 6 of what has been a very compelling World Series. Tonight’s game will pit Andy Pettitte and his 17 postseason victories against a reinvented Pedro Martinez. During the regular season, these two pitchers have faced each other six times, and the Yankees were 4-2 in those games.

For the Yankees, this will be their second crack against Pedro, and tomorrow’s game should be a bit more serious than the Game 2 pitcher’s duel. During Game 2, the crowd soaked up Pedro Martinez, and Pedro Martinez soaked up the crowd. Chants of “Who’s your daddy?” rang through Yankee Stadium from the first pitch to the last, and as Pedro left the mound, he smirked at adoration from the crowd.

After the game, Pedro’s press conference featured Pedro being Pedro. He talked at length about his relationship with the Yankees and New York. “If I was on the Yankees, I’d probably be like a king over here,” he said after Game 2. “I know they really want to root for me. It’s just that I don’t play for the Yankees. I’ve always been a good competitor and they love that. They love the fact that I compete.”

In addition to these hyperbolic comments, Pedro gave his thoughts on New York parenting. Although FOX replays showed no words coming out of Pedro, the Phillies’ right-hander claims he was shocked at the words spewed forth from the stands. “It’s a new Yankee Stadium, but the fans remain the fans,” Pedro said during a rambling post-game press conference. “I remember one guy sitting right in front, in the front row, with his daughter. He had his daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, ‘Your daughter is right beside you. It’s a little girl. It’s a shame you’re saying all these things.’ I had to stop and tell him because I’m a father myself, and God, how can you be so dumb to do those kinds of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?”

Pedro didn’t stop to tell anyone anything. Instead, he embellished to seem more like an entertainer than a pitcher. We go to the park to see Pedro pitch, win, lose or draw, he thinks.

That has to end tomorrow. As 7:57 p.m. rolls around, Yankee fans can’t let Pedro enjoy himself on the mound. He is expecting a world of “Who’s your daddy?” and he is expecting to be half-loved and half-jeered. Let’s give him a proper Bronx jeer. Let’s just boo and boo and boo. The love-hate relationship should disappear into the meaning of Game 6, and we should remember the Pedro who went head-hunting against Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter, not the Pedro who wishes he could have been a Yankee.

Nearly 11 months ago, I called upon the Yankees to sign Pedro Martinez. At the time, I judged it to be a low-risk, high-reward signing that would have given the Yanks a veteran arm mid-way through the season. Now, with the World Series in the balance, the Yankees will face off against Pedro Martinez. Once, we might have wanted Pedro Martinez. Tonight, we want to beat him. Let’s do it — and show him New York’s tough love. No one deserves it more.

Our son returns to the Bronx

Just in case a World Series match-up with our I-95 neighbors to the south isn’t fun enough, the Phillies announced today that Pedro Martinez will start Game 2 of the World Series in the Bronx. Pedro last made an October start in the Bronx in 2004 when chants of “Who’s Your Daddy?” filled the air. I’m expecting a similar scene on Thursday night.

Yankees not interested in Pedro

I think we can wrap up the ongoing saga of Pedro Martinez. According to GAKIII’s sources, the Yankees will be passing on Pedro. As previously reported, the Yankees were interested in using Pedro for depth if he would take a Minor League contract. Martinez though has stressed his desire for a Major League deal and a spot in a team’s rotation. These were clearly incongruous demands. Meanwhile, if no teams are interested in hiring the one-time flamethrower who now sits at 86-90 with his fastball, he says he will become a swimsuit model. That I would not love to see.

Midday rumor round-up: Pedro, Papelbon

Yesterday afternoon, we examined the news that the Yanks plan to watch Pedro pitch today. The team could always use another arm, and I said yesterday, it doesn’t hurt to kick the tires.

Ken Davidoff and Steve Zipay have a little bit more info on the Yanks’ interesting the former Met hurler. While Pedro wants a prorated $5-million deal, the team would sign Pedro only to a Minor League contract. Odds are slim that the Yanks’ one-time arch-nemesis — and prodigal son — lands in the Bronx.

In other rumor news that’s making its way across the Yankees’ corner of the Internet, when asked about being a free agent, Jonathan Papelbon, a shrewd businessman, did not rule out the Yanks. Speaking on Sirius XM’s MLB Home Plate channel, he expounded on his thoughts on pitching in pinstripes:

“Oh, of course. I mean, I think if we can’t come to an agreement on terms here in a Red Sox uniform, I mean, I think that’s pretty much the writing on the wall. If they can’t come to terms with you they’re letting you know that, ‘Hey you know what? We can go somewhere else.’ And I think it’s the same way on the other side, ‘Hey if ya’ll can’t come to an agreement with me then I can go somewhere else.’ Not only in the Bronx, but anywhere. I think anywhere is a possibility.You always have to keep that in the back of your mind because you can’t just be one-sided and think that, ‘Oh I’m going to be in a Red Sox uniform my entire career.’ Because nowadays that is very, very rare and hopefully we can because there’s no question I would love to stay in a Boston Red Sox uniform but I have to do what’s best for me and play in an atmosphere where I’m wanted and play on a team where I’m wanted and that’s all I can really say about that, you know?”

For Papelbon, as it is with hundreds of other MLB players, it’s all about the money. For him to say he would never pitch in the Bronx is to give up a prime bargaining chip. I doubt though that Yankee fans would ever have to stomach the sight of Papelbon dancing some dumb jig in his Yankee skivvies.