NEW YORK -- Pedro Martinez considered the choices: stay with
the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, sign with the NL champion
St. Louis Cardinals or become the cornerstone of a reconstruction
project with the New York Mets.
In the end, he chose the challenge.
Martinez formalized a $53 million, four-year contract with New
York on Thursday and embraced the idea of helping rebuild a team
that has fallen on hard times.
"This is a team that needs a little help. I can supply some of
that help,'' Martinez told a jammed Shea Stadium press conference.
"Boston didn't win for 86 years that seemed like forever. I was
proud to be part of that and I hope to do the same here and pull
one out,'' he said.
It will be no simple matter. The Mets followed two last-place
finishes by finishing next-to-last in the NL East in 2004. They are
starting over with new general manager Omar Minaya, and Martinez
became the first marquee move in his effort to make the franchise
If Martinez has his way, he won't be the last.
Minaya said other high-profile free agents have contacted him,
attracted by the Mets' signing of Martinez, and the pitcher wants
to help recruit them.
"If you expect me to do it alone, it's not going to happen.
Without a doubt, I will talk to other players,'' he said.
Boston remained on Martinez's mind as the Mets celebrated the
"When you talk about Boston, it's important that everybody know
I have all the love and respect for the people and the fans,'' he
said. "I have a lot of people who were good to me. In my heart, I
will always hold the city of Boston.''
Martinez, who turned 33 on Oct. 25, won two of his three Cy
Young awards in seven years with the Red Sox and became one of
baseball's top pitchers. He brings a career 2.71 ERA, lowest among
active major league pitchers, and was 16-9 last season.
There have been some questions raised about his right shoulder
and that apparently was a problem for Boston, which would only
offer a three-year contract. Minaya's offer of a guaranteed fourth
year was decisive.
Martinez said he is ready to convert the sometimes hostile New
York fans, who often targeted him in the heat of the Red
"I have an opportunity to win the fans over,'' he said. "I
don't know if I can, but I will try. I never got a ticket. I never
was in jail. Why would I be in bad shape with the city?''
There was, however, the matter of wrestling 72-year-old Yankees
coach Don Zimmer to the ground during a playoff melee two years ago
and a few hit batsmen along the way. New Mets manager Willie
Randolph, then with the Yankees, remembers Martinez's competitive
edge and their occasional clashes.
"He's passionate and I'm passionate,'' the manager said.
"Things were said but after the game, we were cool.''
Martinez's take-no-prisoners reputation made him a top priority
for Minaya, who went after the pitcher hard and proudly introduced
him as a kind of early Christmas present to New York who might draw
future players from the Dominican.
"It took a lot of hard work, a lot of belief in staff and
ownership to sign what we believe is the best free-agent pitcher in
the marketplace,'' Minaya said. "If you want to win, I'll go to
war with Pedro Martinez on my team.''
If was that kind of sweet talk that lured Martinez to the Mets.
The money, he said, was entirely secondary.
"I was a millionaire at 24,'' Martinez said. "When I got to
Boston, I made millions. You didn't pick up a bum from the street.
It was more of a commitment for a team than it was for money. I
gave Boston every opportunity for three years to keep me. Boston
wouldn't pull the trigger.''
Martinez said the best Red Sox effort to retain him simply came
too late in the free agent process.
"Why did they have to wait until the last minute?'' he asked.
"Omar showed me respect and commitment.''
Minaya traveled to Santo Domingo at Thanksgiving and dined with
Martinez. It was a defining experience for the pitcher.
"He showed up by himself,'' Martinez said. "He said, `If I can
get you, will you play for me?' I told him I was trying to work it
out with Boston but if not, I will play for you.''
"It was a three-horse race with Boston, St. Louis and the
Mets,'' agent Fernando Cuza said. "Omar said, `We really want
you.' He made Pedro feel very welcome. He went after him with
passion and sincerity.''
And with a fourth guaranteed year that sealed the deal.