In Defense of Pedro: Debunking the Media’s Anti-Martinez Slander

Filed in Featured, Headline, Sports by on November 4, 2009 0 Comments

Sports are inherently competitive, with teams battling back and forth to prove who is best. This competition, when inflated by fervency, manifests itself not only as a wish for one team to win, but also as a sadistic desire for the other to fail, to be humiliated, crushed, obliterated, maliciously pantsed in front of the entire world. When competition arouses visceral reactions like this, sports, for me, stops being entertaining, the fun buried beneath irrational hate.

Like any Red Sox fan, I profess to hate the Yankees. In this World Series, I am, naturally, rooting for the Phillies because I dread seeing the Yankees win another championship. Add to that the Yankees $200+ million payroll—along with the seemingly assured championship engendered by that outrageous funding—and rooting for the Yankees to fail is even more fun.

However, this desire for a Yankees collapse does not transcend the game itself and foster loathing of the players’ personal lives.

So it is troubling to me when I see sports commentators—not just everyday fans who offer up unsolicited opinions, but supposed journalists—who abrogate coverage of the actual game in favor of sensational rabblerousing about a player’s character. For them, it is not enough to present the stakes of the game as they actually exist. Rather, they twist words, overanalyze actions, and offer up interpretations of every detail down to a pitcher’s show color to craft self-fulfilling storylines with less density than a corked bat.

Whether it is because these sportswriters lack the fortitude to rely on their writing to sell a story, or because they genuinely suffer from a bizarre judgmental neurosis requiring the victimization and glorification of men who throw and hit a ball for a living, I cannot say. In either case, though, it has no place in sports writing; give me the story as objectively as possible, and get out.

All of this has been boiling in my mind the last week or so in response to the deplorable coverage of Pedro Martinez. Undoubtedly one of the best pitchers of his era, Martinez has always been ridiculed by the media as an eccentric blabbermouth. Anything the man says is bent with glee and shoehorned into a piece about Pedro’s pomposity, hubris, aloofness, or any other adjective some hack feels like inexplicably tagging Martinez with.

In 2004, when Martinez offered up an honest assessment of a tough Yankees lineup that just beat him by calling them his “daddy,” the press went wild. Overlooking Pedro’s at times shaky English, they bleated the comment ad nauseum as proof that Pedro was a big dumb idiot, albeit a very talented one. The New York Post is still beating that horse, running a front page picture this past week of Martinez’s head pasted on a diapered baby.

The manufactured storyline this year with Martinez is his epic return to the Bronx to battle his old foe, the Yankees. Yet Pedro, who spurned the Sox-Yankees rivalry hype while with Boston, still refuses to play the media’s distortion games. He flatly answers questions, downplaying the storylines reporters ask him to comment on, instead talking about his talents and the challenge of pitching to a loaded Yankees lineup.

The response by the press to Martinez’s demureness? Blast him more than ever.

In an interview before his Game 2 start, Martinez responded to one question by calling the press out for its treatment of him.

“I don’t know if you realize this, but because of you guys, in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium,” Martinez said.

He then went further, saying, “I remember quotes in the paper, ‘Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.’ The man? None of you have ever eaten steak with me, or rice and beans with me to understand what I’m all about as a man. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man? You guys have abused my name. You guys have said so many things and have written so many things.”

Frustrated with the way his persona has been appropriated and redefined to serve sensational stories, Martinez stood up for himself. He scolded the media for its shoddy reporting, and, sounding almost hurt, chastised them for their malicious mistreatment of him.

The response, of course was further mockery. Even the New York Times, the determinedly objective newspaper of record, joined in with an article underpinned with haughty scorn.

In particular, it was the above extended quote that garnered the most coverage—and, according to the so-called sportswriters, was Pedro’s way of fanning the flames. Headlines mocked Pedro, teasing him for calling himself the greatest player to ever set foot in Yankee Stadium.

The problem with this, however, is that he never said that.

In his highly qualified response (“in some ways, I might at times…”) Martinez blamed the media for making him into an enormous figure whose inflated importance exceeded his status as a pitcher. How could reporters, all of whom caught that bit about “because of you [shitty reporters searching for an angle to contrive,]” manipulate this quote to turn it against Martinez?

If anything, Martinez exhibited exceeding humility in the interview. It is the same humility of the man who, throughout his career, has opined thankfully on his fortune despite growing up poor in the Dominican, the same pitcher who founded a charity in his native country with his acquired wealth.

Still, though, he is lambasted at every turn, jeered at and reduced to a demon in the contrived plot of someone’s playoff preview.

It’s a shame to see any player treated this way; it’s an even bigger shame when it happens to a classy individual like Martinez.

As Pedro gets ready to take the mound in New York tonight for Game 6, I can only hope he turns in a brilliant performance to silence his critics. Yet whatever the outcome, Pedro’s pitching will be probably still be secondary in tomorrow’s stories to a manufactured subtext: he’ll either be the arrogant menace who slew the Yankees, or the hanger on who failed in his comeback.

I only hope that one day, these sportswriters have someone tagging after them, misinterpreting their every word to slander their character and sell some drivel. It would only be fair.

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