An Associated Press story on ESPN.com is reporting that Pedro Martinez is eager to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies next season.
Martinez is no stranger to this space. I wrote in July that any team considering signing the veteran three-time Cy Young award winner should proceed with caution. Martinez proved me wrong, going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in the regular season and pitching effectively in the National League Championship Series (though he went 0-2 in the World Series and helped the Phillies lose to the Yankees.)
Regardless of whether the Phillies want Martinez back — and I’m guessing they probably do — the question I’m wondering is whether Martinez has adequate credentials for the Hall of Fame. It may be a close call, and if he does get in, I doubt it will come on the first ballot. At 219-100 with 2.93 ERA lifetime, he has more career wins than Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax or Dizzy Dean, but then, so does David Wells (read: Not a Hall of Famer. Sorry, Boomer.) Most other Hall of Fame pitchers have more wins and stronger cases.
Martinez probably garners the strongest ammunition for his future candidacy with his seven-year run of dominance from 1997 to 2003. Were I a general manager assembling a contender between those years, Martinez would be my first pitcher, if not the first player I would want. In that span, he captured his three Cy Youngs and was pretty much a lock year in, year out to win 17-18 games, record 250 strikeouts or more and maintain a sub-2.50 ERA. Few other pitchers in baseball history have been in a class all their own for such a stretch. Not to mention Martinez probably accomplished everything he did at the height of the Steroid Era.
From there, Martinez’s bid gets a little murkier. He left the Boston Red Sox after a back-to-earth year in 2004, when he went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. Since then, he has had just one full season and has looked mortal, broken down and just plain old. It seemed as if no team would sign him last year, before the Phillies mercifully gave him a chance (the city of Philadelphia seems to take some kind of abject pity on unwanted veterans– look what’s happened for Allen Iverson, not to mention Michael Vick.) Of course, Martinez is hardly the first great pitcher to follow this path. Dean, Drysdale and Koufax were all effectively done around age 30, as was another Hall of Famer, Catfish Hunter. Even Juan Marichal did nothing special past 33.
If the 38-year-old Martinez succeeds in pitching for a couple more years and gets his career win total in the 230-250 range, he’ll probably have no problem getting inducted into Cooperstown. That being said, I’d probably vote for him regardless, perhaps not first ballot, but at least at some point and definitely before guys like Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris.