Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez is pretty interesting off the mound, too. Photo from this site.

As spring turned into summer and Pedro Martinez remained unsigned, I began to think there wouldn’t be a natural opportunity to post the Martinez interview I conducted for Fighting Words. Fortunately, Martinez signed with the Phillies during the All-Star Break and makes his debut tonight against the Cubs, so I am quite pleased this morning to unveil what ranks as perhaps the most memorable interview in which I've ever participated.

I could have written a book off of and about this interview alone. The Cliffs Notes version goes something like this: I traveled to Port St. Lucie at the beginning of spring training in 2005, months after Martinez left the Red Sox for a four-year deal with the Mets, with no idea if Martinez would be willing to talk about his fascinating relationship with the media in Boston but knowing it was essential to make the attempt.

Fortunately, on my first day in Port St. Lucie, I was among a group of reporters with whom Martinez was casually chatting. He started talking about how he’ll sometimes exhibit less control during his first run through a batting order so that he can set the opponent up for the middle and later innings. I said that sounded like something he’d done in a start against the Mariners in 2004 and he smiled and remembered the game to which I was referring. As the group dispersed, I hung back, introduced myself to Martinez and told him what I was doing and that I’d love to talk to him for the project. He said he’d talk to me late the next day.

Martinez kept his word, despite a distraction-filled day highlighted by a Mets employee who tried numerous times to sabotage the interview, and provided 25 incredible minutes in which he was equal parts brilliant, prideful and insightful about his career and his relationship with and observations of the press. I only used a fraction of what he said, but every word was interesting.

Enough out of me. Hope you enjoy this—I really think this will be worth your time. Sometime soon—I’m thinking Monday since I’ll be away for the weekend—I’ll have the Dan Shaughnessy interview in which I ask him about his relationship with Martinez.

What was it like going from Montreal to Boston?

Different. It was different. Montreal was very easygoing, very quiet. Very friendly. You will hear very little knowledge. And then, if you flip-flop that, you can hear everything else in Boston. I’m not saying anything bad, but it was so fast compared to Montreal.

How did you help out Orlando Cabrera when he was acquired from the Expos by the Red Sox last year?

He was lucky. He had people like me and Manny to protect him and keep some of the media members away from him. Because if you make a habit of giving them time whenever they ask, you will never work. And the same thing happens here in New York, as far as I can see so far. You just have to choose the time and the right time for you and for them [to] actually give them time, because the attention is always going to be there.

You weren’t seen a lot in the locker room last year…

I have a long regiment of work and it takes a lot of time. But my locker was also in the back. I had another locker in the back. I was always in the back room and that’s why you guys didn’t see me.

Do you think it’s part of your job to talk to the media?

Yes. It is part of my job. But I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. But I understand it’s part of my job.

You went several months without speaking to the press in 2003. What happened?

Yeah, there were a few things, some lies that flew, some things that were said out of, I guess, jealousy from some of the media members. Speculation and stuff like that. I don’t know really the reason, but they were very unfair and I didn’t feel like I needed to be treated that way after I had helped so many members of the media and been so helpful to them. Because I understand, as much as it is a part of my job to speak to the media, I understand that that’s their job, to make me talk and get some quotes. And I was always there to do that. And I can tell you some names that I believe were really, really good persons and gentlemen and good reporters as well. I cannot tell you everyone was the same though. But I must tell you, there were a lot of things that happened.

There are some good reporters in Boston, very good gentlemen. As much as I had bad people sometimes chase me around, the same way those people stood up for me. I remember Sean McAdam, Tony Massarotti, Michael Silverman, Bob Hohler. I remember Joe Castiglione. People like that, those were excellent people and those are the people that made my life easier in those seven years in Boston, because those people know me. They were good reporters and wrote what they saw, good or bad, but also were people that respect the game and the players and their personal lives and everything.

And that’s one thing I must tell you about the Boston media: They did respect our private life, especially mine. They were very, very professional about that.

What happened in Toronto in April 2003 when you talked about the Red Sox exercising your contract option?

I said I’m really happy and thankful that the Red Sox chose to pick up my option and kept the doors open for further negotiations. And somebody took it out of context and wrote it the way they wanted and said ‘Well, Pedro’s not happy with the fact that they picked up his option and he expects them to sign him to another extension.’ I never said that. I never mentioned that. I never mentioned that I wasn’t happy. I always said I was happy and I was very thankful. I don’t know what I said wrong there. Those were my exact words. And I remember Sean McAdam standing up and saying ‘This is exactly what he said and everybody has written it.’ But they called me greedy. I didn’t like that because it was never in my mind, it was never in my heart. We kept the doors open to further negotiations and we did negotiate in spring training [2004]. We negotiated all the way.

Why do you think Boston athletes often leave the city on bad terms?

I know Ted Williams was one person that hated to go to Boston because of the way he was treated by the media. Mo Vaughn left mostly because of that. Nomar wasn’t really happy when he left because of the treatment that they were giving him. And people like Shaughnessy, they keep on giving him the power of the pen without holding accountable for anything that he writes. I thought he was totally personal against Nomar. What he wrote after the trade, I didn’t think he was professional, what he did. And I don’t agree with it. And the same way I’m being treated right now by him.

It’s not all of them. I gave you some good names, good people, and there’s a lot more people that deserve respect over there. But there are some others that really don’t have my respect whatsoever.

What did you think about the coverage of your arrivals to spring training as well as your departures for and return from the All-Star Break?

The thing is I’ve always been very private with the way I do things. Things that are important to the media, I don’t need to relay to them. And sometimes they felt like I probably didn’t tell them enough and I guess they wanted to know every time I went out to eat or had a beer or something. I don’t think that has anything to do with baseball.

I was so upset [at the beginning of] last year [2004]. I was in a hospital in a room watching through the TV on the monitors and people [are] speculating about me being in a party. I was in the toughest situation I’ve probably ever been in. I’m not gonna go into details why, but that was probably the worst moment in my life. It wasn’t because I wanted to be there or because I wanted one more day away from spring training. It was because I couldn’t [leave]. And I would never do it, and I would have never gone to spring training until that problem was taken care of. I didn’t like it and I’m not going to like it. I will never hold a grudge, but I just think it was so unfair. A lot of those comments that came before were out of ignorance because people didn’t know. They didn’t know. They just wrote it in the papers and they knew they could sell papers.

Another thing—and I know it belongs to the Boston Red Sox—that WEEI radio station, it’s a station that’s there to just rip apart players. Those guys are, pardon me the word, [jerks], those two guys on WEEI. That station is 24 hours. And I know Curt Schilling has gotten on them a few times, called them up and stuff like that. That is something I never did, but I can really relate to some of the things and some of the frustrations that some of the players [had]. I ended up not reading the papers and not ever listening to them, but when my family has to call from the Dominican and say ‘This is what’s happening and this is on the Internet, people are saying this and I thought you were in Boston in the hospital and they’re saying that you’re here in the party.’ When my mom calls from the farm and says that, it really pisses me off. That’s different.

How did you end up as the spokesperson for Manny Ramirez for a few years?

I was the one that would get a quote from Manny to try to help them out. I did it more for the guys that really deserved it, like those guys I mentioned, guys that were gentlemen, because there were some bad ones that were out there. Manny would not speak to any of them, so I had to go and get quotes. Sometimes I bring [quotes from] Urbina, Urbina never talks either. So I go and get quotes and help them out. But those are things they would never write about or specify—‘Pedro was the one trying to help us out.’

Did you have anything to do with Manny’s more talkative demeanor last year? And why did he change?

A lot, a lot. Manny, at first when he saw what it was like in Boston, he sometimes felt uncomfortable. But I told him ‘You still have five more years to go, you might as well just settle down and understand this is going to be the way it’s going to be.’

Why did you decide to speak after games last year?

Because of those good people [in the press]. Once they opened the media room, where they could all go there and ask their questions one by one, I didn’t see why not. I could really be responsible for what I had to say. I talked Manny into being a little bit more helpful and I have to lead by example, so I was trying to do as much as I could. I decided to speak [after] every game, but not do it in between my workouts, the days I was working out. So I tried not to miss any interview [room sessions], and if I did, I would leave a quote.

Did you ever feel as if people were trying to get you to say something inflammatory whenever the Red Sox played the Yankees?

Yeah, because I made news. When you have a star player like me or Jeter or somebody like that, they want to make everything more interesting than it is. And Jeter goes about his business, Bernie and those guys are very professional, and I am the same way. But they wanted to set something up before we got there, they wanted to touch a trigger where somebody could get pissed off and say something. And I can understand that. If you didn’t get personal, it didn’t matter.

You made a lot of back pages in New York…

They wrote about the man. [The New York Post] wrote ‘The man New York loves to hate.’ Nobody knows the man. People know the player. It didn’t offend me, I just wanted [reporters] to understand that the man is a different thing that the player New York loves to hate the most. That would be a totally different phrase than the man New York loves to hate. The man—nobody knows, very few people know him. I’m a totally different human being once I take my uniform off. Even if I’m in uniform and I’m not competing, I’m totally different.

Did you sense the relationship between the Sox and the media was more tense when the Yankees were a topic?

Boston is so small—so many members of the media, so much competitiveness between the reporters that they sometimes have to speculate or say something negative or something to be in the spotlight. I don’t blame them, because there’s so much competition between them. It has to come out somehow. Most of the time, the good guys are ignored in Boston. Sometimes their quotes, when they write it the way that we say it, they don’t run it. They run the quotes where we snap and say whatever.

Along those lines, were you upset with the attention you received for the “daddy” quote?

See, that’s what I’m talking about. If anybody thought that my mind or my approach to the game changed because of that, it’s totally wrong. The thing is, it was a good quote, so people loved it. Now, what I said when I was in New York one time and I pitched a great game and everybody was yelling and screaming, I said I feel so lucky, but nobody plays that one. I feel so lucky because they took me out of a mango tree and made me a center of attention. They gave me so much respect by just putting all of their attention to me, to one single man. I used to be under a mango tree and they didn’t pay attention to that one. But “The Yankees are my daddy”—that was a great one. Pretty big. That was a pretty big one.

Do you think people misunderstood what you meant with that quote?

I was just frustrated and I said that out of anger, for doing my job and still not winning. And you know what, the Yankees can’t say they’re my daddy either, because if you take the box scores—like they say, it’s pretty even. No one remembers anything positive. It seems like the good things will never get the chance. That can tell you who’s evil and who’s not. Whoever writes the right things, whoever writes it the way it is, is the one that’s thinking more like a person, like a person that understands good and bad. But the ones that only write ‘Oh, Pedro hasn’t beaten the Yankees in, what, five outings’—only ones whose negativity comes out. I might not beat the Yankees, but the Yankees haven’t beaten me either.

(Note: Martinez went 10-10 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 28 regular season starts for the Sox against the Yankees)

Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, how do you think the relationship between the Sox and the media will change?

What I wondered is what is the media going to write about? Because all they wrote was negative—not all of them, like I said before. But the people that really wanted to write negative now they don’t have anything to complain about. I’m wondering what are they going to complain about now? Now they’ve got a championship from the Red Sox, another one from the Patriots. Now we need the Celtics to win. That might be the next complaint.

Did you ever talk to Ted Williams about his relationship with the press?

No, I did not. I never spoke to him about anything else other than baseball and pitching. He asked me a couple of questions, I answered. He gave me a great compliment by saying that I was one of the best pitchers he had ever seen and signing a program for me. That I will never forget and [will] keep forever.

Did the Sox want to win in spite of the media, to prove it wrong?

That was our mentality. We knew from spring training. We were always holding a meeting. We will always tell the rookies: ‘If you don’t know what you’re going to say, you better not say it, because they make everything big out of everything we say.’ So you were better off not saying anything if you were a rookie. And we knew that we were fighting an uphill battle with the media, regardless of how good we did. If we were in first place in June, they were going to say ‘Oh, in July, they’re gonna die.’ If we made it to the playoffs, ‘they’re gonna go [out] in the first round.’ And that’s how they always felt.

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