The Boston Red Sox continued the process of mending fences with former ace and future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez last week by naming him a Special Assistant to GM Ben Cherington.
Martinez was a key component of the 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox, but that turned out to be his last season in Boston. Martinez’ relationship with the team’s front office soured to the point of no return during the ensuing off-season, as name-calling and finger-pointing from both sides led to his signing a free agent contract with the New York Mets.
The olive branch extended by the Red Sox in this case is pretty transparent. The Red Sox ownership group is clearly trying to repair their public image after a long series of gaffes, none bigger than their recent treatment of former manager Terry Francona and subsequent hiring of Bobby Valentine to replace him. But there’s definitely something else in play here.
The Red Sox invited Martinez back to Boston for the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park last summer and even handed him the microphone and a bottle of champagne, allowing him to interact with the fans. Now they’ve given him a job.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Red Sox don’t need Martinez in their front office. Frankly, they may not even want him there. How exactly will he “assist” Cherington? Let’s face it. Martinez won’t be following Cherington around the park like Jonah Hill tagging along behind Brad Pitt in Money Ball. That just isn’t happening. It’s far more likely that the Red Sox are simply looking to the future—a future that will certainly see Martinez enshrined in Cooperstown.
The Red Sox have a strict policy that has been scrutinized and ridiculed over the years regarding their treatment of retired superstars. The policy in question does not allow for players’ uniform numbers to be honored by the team unless the player either left baseball for good as a member of the Red Sox or was brought back to the team as an employee following his retirement. The player must also be a member of the Hall of Fame. It’s pretty silly actually, but the current ownership group seems to follow this self-imposed rule religiously.
Boston’s front office has cited this policy as the reason why Hall of Famer Wade Boggs’ number 26 has not been retired. To refresh your memory, Boggs spent 11 years in Boston, posting a .338 average and amassing 2,098 of his career 3,010 hits. He was an eight-time all-star with the Red Sox, winning five batting titles and six Silver Slugger awards. To this day, though, the Red Sox refuse to acknowledge Boggs’ career, and they’ve issued number 26 to 12 different players since Boggs left the team via free agency following the 1992 season.
Back in 2000, the Red Sox retired Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk’s number 27 after first hiring him for one day as a—you guessed it—special assistant. Amid an avalanche of mockery following the move, the Red Sox promised to do away with the part of the policy that addresses current team affiliation. Still though, the supposed defunct rule continues to be cited whenever Boggs’ name comes up. Fisk, on the other hand, has since been hired by the Chicago White Sox as a team ambassador.
It’s pure speculation right now as to what any of this means for Pedro Martinez, but it seems that the Red Sox are aware of the writing on the wall when it comes to his Hall of Fame credentials. With the Red Sox alone, Martinez posted a 117-37 record, striking out 1,683 batters in 1,383 innings. He won two Cy Young Awards while with the team, and in 1999 he enjoyed one of the greatest seasons ever by a pitcher (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts).
Bringing Martinez back to the organization is a good move, regardless of the motive. It’s good for the fans, good for the team’s public image, and, at least for now, it keeps Martinez from taking a job somewhere else in MLB. Now, when Martinez eventually gets his Cooperstown ticket punched, the Red Sox won’t have to jump through a bunch of make-believe hoops in order to hang number 45 on the right field façade.
When that day finally comes, it will be a mammoth celebration for the Red Sox and their fans. It will be a day when all eyes are on Fenway Park—none more focused, perhaps, than those of Wade Boggs.