Pedro Martinez's ERA dominated baseball's Steroid Era
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
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During his Mets tenure, Pedro Martinez always insisted that he was powered by nothing more than egg and mangu, a Dominican dish of mashed plantains. What prompted the discussion, of course, was the prevalence of PEDs, and Major League Baseball's aggressive movement toward curtailing their use.
So here we are, nearly a decade after mandatory drug testing, and what Martinez managed to do while pitching during the Steroid Era has become even more impressive with the passage of time.
This October has been a showcase of pitching and defense -- a throwback postseason -- and it makes sense after examining where the game likely is headed.
This year, the MLB-wide ERA was 3.87, the lowest since 1992, when it was 3.75. Twice in the past three years, the overall ERA has dipped below 4.00, which is quite a departure from the lofty peak of 4.77 in 2000 -- MLB's highest ERA since 4.81 in 1930.
Another noteworthy aspect of that 2000 season was the stunning contrast between that overall ERA and Martinez's history-making performance, as he finished with a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 217 innings. That followed his 23-4 mark and 2.07 ERA in 1999, which included 313 strikeouts in 213 1/3 innings.
Look at what Martinez was dealing with at the plate. MLB's top slugging percentage skyrocketed with Jeff Bagwell's .750 in 1994 and never dipped below .690 until Derrek Lee's .661 in 2005, the year after the penalty phase of MLB's drug policy kicked in.
In 1999, Larry Walker -- playing in hitter-friendly Coors Field -- led the majors with a .710 slugging percentage. The next season, teammate Todd Helton was tops at .698.
Miguel Cabrera was No. 1 this season with a .636 slugging percentage. The two previous years were led by Giancarlo Stanton (.6080) and Jose Bautista (.6082), respectively. Before 2000, those numbers barely would have made the top 10, and only in the past few years has Martinez been able to fully grasp the magnitude of what he accomplished during his otherworldly years.
"I never thought that the steroid scandal would be such a big deal because all I saw out there was a player that wanted to beat me and I wanted to beat him," Martinez said before Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park. "Now that I know what the effects were and how you could probably recoup so quickly, maybe I was at a little bit of disadvantage.
"Now my numbers -- if they were big, they look bigger. My numbers now look like they took steroids all of a sudden from one year to the other."
Greg Maddux is the only contemporary of Martinez who stood as far apart from the rest of the league. Maddux had a 1.56 ERA in 1994, the lowest for a single season since Dwight Gooden's 1.53 in 1985. That was before drug testing, obviously, and the impact of it on all facets of the game -- both hitting and pitching -- has taken decades to sift through.
"The people that actually never had participated in the steroid use or anything like that can actually today say proudly that they had a career," Martinez said. "Some of those guys I'm pretty sure are dealing with the guilt of knowing that they did something dirty to get some advantage."
While the game itself essentially has stayed the same for more than a century, the way it is played -- and who plays it -- has not, from the Integration Era spurred by Jackie Robinson to a bigger strike zone to lowering the mound to the addition of the designated hitter.
Baseball has not existed in a vacuum, sealed off from any number of external influences, which is why a single-season performance -- or even a career -- has to be measured by the competitive factors impacting it.
How that pertains to cheating, be it PEDs or doctoring the baseball, is a topic that resurfaced this past week with the accusations that Jon Lester appeared to have some mysterious goo on his glove during World Series Game 1. Lester explained that the greenish slick actually was rosin, used to keep his sweaty hand dry. But this being the World Series, his season-long practice was put under the microscope and thoroughly dissected, even the effectiveness of Rule 8.02, which simply states that no foreign substance can be put on the baseball. It's become, well, a sticky subject about what should be allowable, especially in cold weather.
"I don't know how it's not legal, in all seriousness," former pitcher Derek Lowe said. "Everyone has pine tar. Hitters have pine tar. They have it all over themselves. It helps them hold the bat, right? But what's the difference if you have pine tar in your glove . . . or gobs and gobs of hair spray in your hair and do this . You're going to get the same result, and that's legal."
For Martinez, who authored perhaps the best-ever season by a pitcher, it's more of a bottom-line argument.
"I was never fond of doing anything illegal for baseball," Martinez said. "I would burn the rosin bag."