Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pedro And A Haunting Mound of Dodger Decisions

                  By Ross Newhan

                  The election of Pedro Martinez to the Hall of Fame has spurred unpleasant memories for the Dodgers.

                  Martinez, at 22, was traded by the Dodgers in November 1993, a move prompted by the need for a second baseman and anatomical concerns about the slightly built pitcher that has been well chronicled by this writer and others. With time the judge, all clubs make trades they can savor and others they would prefer to forget, but if pitching is the backbone of the game and young pitching a prized commodity, the trading of Martinez capped a comparatively narrow timeframe the Dodgers would definitely like to forget.

                 Starting in December 1981 with the trading of Rick Sutcliffe, who had won the National League's   Rookie of the Year Award two years before, and ending with Martinez just over a decade later, the Dodgers traded five pitchers--25 and younger--who would go on to establish headline careers that included recognition for each in the voting for both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards.

                  The late Al Campanis traded Sutcliffe, 25, Dave Stewart, 25, and John Franco, 21, in a period of less than three years, and then Fred Claire traded John Wetteland, 25, after the 1991 season and Martinez two years later. I discussed the loss of the five young pitchers with Claire a couple years ago and he said, "with any trade, whether it was made by Al or me or anybody else, the goal is to improve the team. But you look back, and it's pretty easy to judge. Would you classify these trades, whether it was Pedro or Franco or Stewart or Sutcliffe or Wetteland as good trades? No, I don't know how you could."

                 It should be noted that the Dodgers, during the period involved, won the World Series in '81, reached the National League's Championship Series in '83 and '85 and won the World Series in 1988. They were often looking to pick up a piece here and there to assist in sustaining that otherwise successful period,  and the one management constant during it was Tom Lasorda, who was never shy about offering an opinion and who often said that the Dodgers could not afford to operate a developmental camp in the major market that is Los Angeles.

               Those pieces included Jorge Orta, Rick Honeycutt, Rafael Landestoy and Eric Davis. Each made a contribution during relatively short tenures in L.A., but those contributions would have to be classified as modest when measured against the success of the five young pitchers after leaving, and, of course, Delino DeShields was a three year bust in exchange for Martinez in the trade that retrospectively hurt most given Martinez healthy longevity over his Hall of Fame career.

              "All those people who put all those labels on me must be out there (in L.A.) now banging their heads against the wall," Martinez told me before starting the 1999 All-Star game for the American League. "You're talking about some of the biggest people in baseball, but they obviously didn't know anything about the game. I made 65 appearances in '93 and they were still saying I was too small, too weak, certain to break down. I think about it all the time. It's still my motivation. Durability is my whole game. I've proven them wrong. God willing I'll continue to prove them wrong."

             Martinez pitched 18 years in the big leagues, but his tone has changed since receiving the HOF notification, which sends a message of its own. He has thanked the Dodgers for giving him the opportunity to reach the big leagues and trading him to Montreal, where he had the opportunity to become a fulltime starter.

            The ensuing success of those other four young pitchers also speaks for itself.

            Two years after winning the Rookie of the Year award, Sutcliffe was left off the Dodgers' 1981 post-season roster because of a late season injury and reacted by rearranging Lasorda's office during a loud argument and was traded two months later. Over the ensuing six years he finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting three times and won the award in 1984 when he was a combined 20-6 with Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs, including 16-1 with the Cubs.

           Franco and Wetteland went on to become two of baseball's all-time best closers. Franco saved 424 games over 21 years to rank fourth all-time while Wetteland saved 330 over 12 seasons to rank13th. Stewart struggled for a time after leaving before ultimately emerging as one of MLB's most dominant and driven starters during one of Oakland's championship runs, Stewart, now the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, won 84 games in four years, a minimum of 20 each year, and should have won the Cy Young Award at least once except for slanted voting that favored Roger Clemens.

           The past is past, but Pedro has brought it vividly to mind again, painfully for the Dodgers.                                                        


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