Thursday, August 13, 2009

Welcome Back Pedro*

- This way, at least, he won't blow out his arm in July. -


I want to root for Pedro Martinez.

Is that so wrong? Is that too much to ask?

From the moment Dan Duquette traded Tony Armas Jr and Carl Pavano for him back in the winter of 1997, I always loved watching him pitch. And for years he never let me down, outdueling everyone he went up against, posting video game-like statistics and even helping the team finally win a World Series.

Sure, I wasn't happy when he signed with the Mets that offseason, but I knew from a business standpoint, it didn't make sense to guarantee Pedro a fourth year; that everyone knew he had maybe three good years in him before he broke down. Still, I was a little disappointed when everyone turned out to be right and he opened the spring without a contract, pitching his heart out for the Dominican in the World Baseball Classic.

But now he's back, pitching for the Phillies in the same number 45 he's worn his whole career, and picking up his first win last night against the Cubs with a lot of help from the offense. His line was a pedestrian three runs and seven hits over five innings, but two of those runs and three of those hits came in the fifth. For a first start, it's not terrible, especially given his five strikeouts and one walk. His fastball even showed signs of life, hitting 94 at one point.

It's a good pickup for Philly, really, since he'll serve as a decent fifth starter as the regular season winds down, and provide some important long relief in the playoffs. Besides, his press conferences are already up to his usual high comic standard. So there's a real possibility he'll play a key role in determining how deep the Phillies go into the playoffs, and in all likelihood will be interesting to watch and root for.

The real problem with rooting for Pedro is the same problem that comes with rooting for David Ortiz or Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols. A pitcher who performed at such a high level -- until testing started -- is going to raise questions, fair or unfair. If the worst should happen and Pedro's name is leaked, expect no brotherly love from the Philadelphia media, and the usual talk of "clubhouse cancer" to follow someone who (by and large) has avoided that charge throughout his career.

Which brings me back to my main point: I don't want to start following Pedro now, knowing that this huge specter looms over everything he accomplished in Boston, everything I respected him for. And it's not fair to Pedro, really, because no one who knows what they're talking about has ever hinted Martinez took steroids or failed a drug test.

The steroid era has made it nearly impossible to enjoy the performances of individual players anymore. If that means that, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, fans are really just rooting for laundry, it's going to make me reconsider some things.

Because the road jerseys and alternates the Sox are wearing this year are brutal.



  2. Man, I really hope he didn't use steroids. I really loved watching him growing up and it would be a huge disappointment to me.

    (Does this article fall under the too-long-didn't-read category? There, I summarized it for you in 24 words.)