Who knows how Pedro Martinez will fare tonight when he takes the mound for the Phillies in Game Two of the World Series, but judging by his press conference Wednesday, he’s still performing at his Hall of Fame peak in front of the microphones.
Former Boston Herald beat writer Jeff Horrigan was right: This guy is the best quote in any language. I understand when fans roll their eyes at reporters gushing over the quote-ability of players, and I’ll freely admit my Martinez bias eight days a week after he provided me the best interview of my career virtually sight unseen in 2005, but I think everyone understands Martinez is a once-in-a-generation guy when it comes to filling notebooks—and that he really stands out in a world in which players are coached to say a lot without saying anything at all *cough* looking at you Derek Jeter *cough cough*.
His post-game press conference after Game Two of the 2004 ALCS was the stuff of legend—so much so that when a reporter thanked Martinez for his “mango tree” answer, such deference actually almost felt warranted. Martinez was almost as captivating at the new Yankee Stadium Wednesday, during which he gave a pretty revealing glimpse into his brilliant mind during an 11-question session.
Martinez gets the complexities of baseball (he made sure to point out that while the convenient storyline is the Mets choked the previous two seasons, the Phillies and Marlins—the latter of whom beat the Mets in the season finale in both 2007 and 2008 to knock the Mets out of the playoffs—played tremendously down the stretch as well as the coverage of the game and the emotions of the fans watching it.
Unlike so many of his peers, he gets that it’s not really personal when the back pages and those in the stands are shouting at him and calling him the bad guy. Yet he still expects—demands—people to separate the competitor from the person and is offended by being characterized as a bad man or a devil. He can lecture the media about his unfair portrayal, yet instead of sounding overly sensitive, he provides so much evidence for his case that it should give headline writers and cartoonists everywhere pause.
He can put into eloquent terms the power a player feels when an entire stadium is either rooting for or against him and how it fills him with equal parts arrogance and humility. And he can explain why he could feel bad over what happened with Don Zimmer during Game Three of the 2003 ALCS yet not apologize for reacting naturally to the sight of Zimmer charging at him.
Martinez turns 38 in less than a month and has hinted he could retire after the season. Let’s hope he sticks around for a while longer and continues providing an increasingly vanilla game some much-needed personality. But just in case he’s serious, tune in tonight, when I imagine Martinez will be at his charismatic best both on and off the field.