There’s a pantheon in Boston sports, with a clearly defined roster: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Ted Williams are the definites. People argue for Carl Yastrzemski, and it’s hard to object to that one. It’s players who were the best of the best and who spent their careers with a Boston sports team. Championships matter, but Williams and Yaz are in the club, and they never won one — so maybe things like being the only player ever to win two Triple Crowns, or being part of the 1969 Impossible Dream season, maybe those matter too.
Tom Brady’s got a provisional invitation. He needs to spend a few more years with the Patriots, which he’ll do. He doesn’t really need to win any more titles, not that we’d mind. He needs to keep on being as good as he is. Those outside Boston might never see him as the best quarterback of the era. Us? We know what’s going on. If his skills hold up without Charlie Weis calling plays, it’s gonna be pretty clear.
So, though. What about the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox? Anyone there?
Schilling isn’t. He’s not going to pitch in Boston for more than four years, and I’d honestly be surprised if he gets more than three given his ankle woes. He ended his career prematurely for us, and he never is anything else in this town but a hero. There is no doubt of what he meant. Pantheon, though — that’s a different thing. Maybe if he retires here? Yeah, if he becomes part of the social fabric of the city, I could see it. Bill Russell goes to Celtics games still. I don’t think Schilling’s gonna do that, though.
Manny Ramirez qualifies on skill. Have you noticed how consistently good this guy is? He costs a fortune, but he’s worth a fair chunk of it. If he sticks with Boston for the rest of his career, and keeps being the friendly guy he became last year, he probably makes it in. Probably. Alas, Theo Epstein would love to get out from under his salary. And someone else will pay his demands when he hits free agency in, um, 2008? It’s a shame, though; he’s a stupendous player and it’s fun watching him hit. Frustrating, but fun.
Now. The fun one. I say Pedro’s in the pantheon.
Yeah, he’s an unpleasant asshole. So was Ted Williams. He was also arguably the best pitcher in the world for most of the time he was in Boston. His 2000 season was the kind of thing that is simply implausible — look at the difference between his stats and his competition. His SO/W ratio was literally half again that of the next best starting pitcher that year. Insane. What he did in 1999, against Cleveland, in the ALDS? That thing where he came into a tie game in the fourth inning, injured, and shut Cleveland down — the best bats in the AL — for six straight innings? It gets no more epic than that.
And sure, the 2004 season, he wasn’t the ace. Still. The Red Sox don’t win that World Series if Pedro didn’t pitch for them that season.
Probably I get no agreement on this from anyone. I don’t care. Pedro Martinez was one of the four or five best athletes to ply their trade in Boston; we should recognize him for precisely that thing.