Q&A: Pedro Martínez
After hitting the Yankees’ Karim García with a pitch during the 2003 American League Championship Series, Pedro Martínez famously asked, “Who is Karim García?” But nobody’s ever had to ask who Pedro is. One of Boston’s most beloved athletes, he rejoined the Red Sox this season as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. We caught up with him as he was about to head out on a promotion for Good Humor ice cream, handing out treats around town.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but it sort of seems like you were born to give out free ice cream.
This is going to be interesting: Pedro on the loose on the streets, giving out ice cream and sharing the love. If I happen to get a water pistol, it will be great.
It’s been a few years, but how is retirement treating you?
The first two years were really difficult, because I was healthy and very tempted to go back to playing. My family helped me a lot to survive that. Getting to come back here and be part of the team takes care of whatever was left. I missed competing, I missed my teammates. That was really difficult to deal with. Being at home for so much time and not having anything to do was really difficult.
I just read a quote from you saying that it was Mama Juana shots the team took during the ’04 playoffs. Mama Juana?
It’s made of roots. And then you put in gin and some honey and wine. They do it in the Dominican. Ellis Burks was walking by, and Manny’s shaking the Mama Juana. Ellis goes, “Manny, what’s that?” And Manny goes, “This is Mama Juana, bro.” Ellis decided to taste it, so Millar came over, Johnny Damon came over. David, too. We all took a sip and we won the game, so the routine had to continue.
I always thought it was Jack Daniel’s shots.
Anything that we could find! ’Cause we didn’t have any liquor in the clubhouse. We mixed in vodka, gin, rum, Jack Daniel’s—everything! But it wasn’t enough to get you drunk or anything. The starting pitcher wouldn’t take it. We did it to keep the team unity together. You will never find a more unified team than ’04. That team probably leads the history of the game in having dinner together.
Do you ever think back on ’04 or other parts of your career?
All the time. I’m clicking, I’m still clicking in baseball. I was a student of the game, and I continue to study. I see Lester pitching, I see Buchholz, I see anybody pitching and I compare and I look and I think. I still see holes—like I’m praying that Lester will place his pitch right here, instead of right here, because I know he’s going to get hurt.
How often are you in town working with the team? What do you do?
Every two weeks or every three weeks. And I do a little bit of everything. I go share knowledge with some of the coaches, with the players. I get into the clubhouse and start talking, I watch videos. I was just at the academy in the Dominican Republic, which is a big deal for the kids. They’re like, “Wow, that’s Pedro!” I’ve been to Double-A with the prospects, Pawtucket as well.
When you’re working with a guy, what do you tell him, other than have crazy-long fingers and throw history’s best changeup?
You look at his repertoire, and then you look for the things that he needs to correct, because everybody is different. I can’t teach you to have long fingers, but I can see what you have and see the best exit for you going to success. Not everybody is going to be 5-foot-11 and throw close to 100.
Do you think you ever might want to be a full-time coach? Or manage?
No. Every day on the job? No, I already did that. The routine is the worst thing in baseball. You guys are following and watching every one of us, and the day you’re late 10 seconds, it’s in the news.
So it’s the media pressure?
It’s not pressure—it’s so boring! It’s the same thing every day. Today, we’re going to hand out ice cream, have fun. In baseball, you have to be on time—not only on time, precise time. It kills you.
But some guys can’t live without it. Manny went all the way to Taiwan to keep playing.
Yeah, but Manny is a different breed. Manny could not be at home—he couldn’t find what to do. I tried to convince him to go fishing with me, but he did not want to deal with the sea. He chickened out, so he probably chose to go there and play.
Looking back over your career, any regrets?
Things are meant to happen the way they happen. I probably regret some things. Saying the Yankees were my daddy—that was a big mistake. But that was an honest answer. The Zimmer incident. Because I was always told to respect elders. I was really shocked to see his behavior and that’s probably what led to him falling, but I did not want to see that.
Do you know who Karim García is yet?
I know who he is, but I just don’t see any highlights of him. I wish I would see a highlight or something.
9 a.m., August 12: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Manny Ramirez continued his baseball career in Thailand. He played in Taiwan. Boston magazine regrets the error.