Pedro Martínez’s Hall of Fame election will open door for Dominicans

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This article by Jorge L. Ortiz appeared in USA Today.

A large Dominican contingent has been a staple of the All-Star Game for years now. There were 12 natives of the Dominican Republic at last July’s showcase, and at least eight of their countrymen have played in the Midsummer Classic since 2010.

At one point last year, the Toronto Blue Jays started six representatives of the small Caribbean nation, which produced nearly 10% of the players on major league rosters at the beginning of last season.

And yet, until Tuesday, former San Francisco Giants ace Juan Marichal was the only Dominican in the Hall of Fame, with a gap of more than 30 years since his induction in 1983.

Pedro Martinez’s election has changed that, and his admission likely signifies just the beginning of a wave of his compatriots getting similar recognition.

The likes of Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre will get serious consideration when they become eligible, more accurately reflecting the impact Dominicans have had in the game, especially in recent decades.

Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award recipient whose career winning percentage of .687 ranks as the sixth highest of all time and the best for pitchers since 1950, got in with 91.1% of the vote on his first year in the ballot. Martinez said his selection will resonate widely back home because he performed at a time when fans could watch him regularly on TV.

“The importance of having someone from the young era go in, you can’t describe it, because every young kid who’s 20 or maybe close to 20 got to see me pitch,” Martinez said.

Martinez mentioned former teammates Guerrero and Ortiz as countrymen who are likely to follow him into Cooperstown, with Alfonso Soriano â?? who just retired with 412 career home runs â?? not far behind in his estimation.

“I don’t think we’re going to spend another 33 or 34 years without having another companion,” Martinez said.

The list of likely Dominican candidates for Hall enshrinement would be even longer were it not for the links to steroid use by Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez.

The former appeared a certain Hall of Famer when he was slugging at least 63 home runs three times in a four-year span from 1998-2001 on the way to 609 for his career, the eighth highest total ever. Ramirez ranks 14th on that list with 555, just ahead of Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, but was twice suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Sosa has failed to garner more than 12.5% of the votes in his three tries and was down to 6.6% this year, a powerful indication of the voters’ distaste for players with strong ties to PEDs.

No such suspicions were raised about Martinez, whose peak years compared favorably with Sandy Koufax’s.

From 1997-2003, pitching in the steroid era, Martinez finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting six out of seven times, going 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA, averaging 5.6 strikeouts per walk and registering an 0.94 WHIP. By comparison, in his six-year prime from 1961-66, Koufax went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA, 4.16 strikeouts per walk and a 0.97 WHIP.

Like so many young Dominican pitchers, Martinez grew up idolizing Marichal, a six-time 20-game winner and nine-time All-Star who finished with 243 career victories and a 2.89 ERA.

Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson alluded to that when he switched into Spanish to introduce Martinez as one of the four new members of the Hall, along with fellow pitchers Randy Johnson and John Smoltz and Houston Astros great Craig Biggio.

“Like Juan Marichal, he’s one of the great prides of the Dominican Republic,” Idelson said in Spanish. “Pedro Martinez, welcome to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.”

While Marichal pitched with a flair highlighted by his impossibly high leg kick, Martinez had a swagger that belied his smallish frame â?? 5-11 and 164-170 pounds for most of his career.

Martinez, often regarded as a head-hunter in his younger days, said the slights and doubts he encountered early on because of his size fueled his desire to prove he belonged. On the mound, with a wicked repertoire that featured a high-90s fastball with a deceptive changeup and slider, he felt like he towered above everyone.

“I saw everybody as an enemy,” Martinez said. “I saw everybody like in the jungle; you just kill to survive. That’s the kind of intensity and focus I had to keep to do it on an everyday basis. That’s the chip on the shoulder that people thought I had.”

Perhaps his size was the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed Martinez as a 16-year-old in 1988, didn’t think he was as good as his older brother Ramon and traded him to the Montreal Expos after his rookie season, which prompted him to break down in tears.

Pedro Martinez made a name for himself and won his first Cy Young with the Expos, in 1997. Then he became a legend during a seven-year tenure with the Boston Red Sox that culminated with the club winning its first World Series championship after an 86-year drought, in 2004. In those seven seasons, Martinez ruled as the American League’s premier pitcher, going 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA.

These days, it’s Martinez who most young pitchers from the Dominican and other Latin countries want to emulate.

“I hope they see me as an example of faith and hope that, yes, we can,” Martinez said, “and that they see this honor as proof that we as Latin people have the same capabilities as anybody else.”

For the original report go to http://archive.rgj.com/usatoday/article/21335209

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