Ten pitchers have won the MVP award. That number should be eleven and it would have been if had two voters not allowed personal feelings to overcome professional judgment. Pedro Martinez was robbed and the year he enjoyed for the Boston Red Sox in 1999 should have culminated with the AL MVP award.
The man who actually won the award was Texas Rangers’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez. If you look at his production in a vacuum, there’s no problem—Ivan finished with a .356 on-base percentage, slugged .558, hit 35 home runs, drove in 113 runs and scored 116 more for a team that won the AL West. Not a bad resume.
But not nearly as impressive as what Pedro did. Pitching in the heart of the steroid era against loaded AL East lineups in hitter-friendly Fenway Park, Pedro posted the following numbers—he went 23-4 with a dazzling ERA of 2.07 and worked over 200 innings. He carried a thin Red Sox rotation to a wild-card playoff berth.
Do you want any statistical bonuses? How about 313 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.92? Do you want a magical moment on the national stage? Let me put forward the All-Star Game at Fenway, when Pedro stepped into an atmosphere that was already electric after the introduction of Ted Williams in a wheelchair. He struck out the first five batters, including Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.
From a historical perspective, do you value after-the-fact validation in the postseason? Pedro’s finest hour came in October. He wasn’t supposed to pitch the decisive fifth game of the Division Series in Cleveland due to a sore shoulder. Both lineups came out swinging and it was an 8-8 game in the fourth inning. Pedro came out of the bullpen, in spite of pundit warnings that it wasn’t worth jeopardizing his career.
He responded with six no-hit innings against an potent lineup and Boston won 12-8. Pedro followed it up by dominating the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS, his only start (and the only Red Sox win) of that series.
The 1999 performance was good enough for Pedro to get a plurality of the first-place votes. Eight ballots had him in the top spot, compared to seven for Rodriguez, with the other thirteen split up among four candidates. But two writers left Pedro off their ballot entirely. Both writers said starting pitchers shouldn’t qualify for the award. Both writers had previously voted for for pitchers on their ballots.
The most notorious was George King of The New York Post, a Yankee fan who gave Derek Jeter his lone first-place place vote. King’s response to the criticism? He responded by citing a near-tragedy his family had endured on a tropical vacation and saying there were more important things in life than the MVP award. Completely true—and completely irrelevant.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—players’ legacies matter. There’s a whole host of things in this life and the next one that matter a lot more, but if one accepts the honor of an MVP ballot, one should take it seriously and professionally. It’s not a place to grind an axe against a player from a rival team. If we don’t believe legacies matter, then let’s shut down Hall of Fames and sports museums everywhere.
Pedro Martinez’ legacy is already brilliant—a Hall of Fame plaque and a core part of the historic 2004 Red Sox team that won the World Series. It should be even brighter and include the 1999 AL MVP.