HE HAS WON Cy Youngs and a World Series. He has played in the country's largest city, and in one of its most fervent baseball markets. He is a hero in his homeland, both for his athletic exploits and his charity work. He once declared that if he ever came face-to-face with Babe Ruth, well, he'd probably drill the Bambino right in the keister.
So it probably should not come as a surprise that, despite a diminished fastball, Pedro Martinez has lost no feel for the spotlight. Walking down 9th Street in Center City early yesterday afternoon, wearing a white T-Shirt and jeans, the future Hall of Famer basked in both the midday sun and the gaggle of media who matched him stride-for-stride.
As lunchtime passers-by became aware of his presence, the moving circle around him grew larger, first one-deep, then two, until the scene took on the feel of a prophet walking the streets, his disciples eagerly awaiting the Good News he would speak.
"Proof is not talking," Martinez said of the doubters. "Proof is in the field."
Martinez will get a chance to prove it here, for a team he spent the past four seasons facing as a member of the New York Mets. According to league sources, a lengthy physical with team doctor Michael Ciccotti yesterday convinced the Phillies that the veteran righthander presented a risk worth taking. The two sides already had agreed on the framework of an incentive-laden 1-year deal, which Martinez has signed, according to the Phillies' Web site. It is expected to be announced at a news conference today.
The signing caps off a hectic couple of weeks in which influential members of the Phillies' front office twice saw Martinez pitch in the Dominican Republic. Although the 37-year-old, whose resume includes a 214-99 record and a 2.91 ERA to go with that World Series title and three Cy Youngs, pitched well for his country in the World Baseball Classic last spring, the Phillies did not consider him a serious option until weeks after they lost Brett Myers for the season with a hip injury.
But the Phillies liked what they saw of Martinez. Although he went just 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA for the Mets last season, while battling groin and shoulder issues, the club thinks he represented a significant improvement over its internal candidates to fill the void left by Myers.
And manager Charlie Manuel said Monday he is not worried about a potential disruption of clubhouse chemistry. While Martinez has been portrayed as a controversial figure, those who know him say his larger-than-life persona is a nonthreatening one.
Yesterday, that persona was on display as he took a break from a battery of medical tests to join agent Fernando Cuza and two Phillies personnel for a walk in Center City.
A reporter asked him in Spanish how his body felt.
"Good," he replied. "Thank God."
An older man in a black T-shirt and a white cap pushed his way to the front. Martinez threw his arm around him and smiled.
"This is my man!" Martinez proclaimed.
Then came two honks, and a pickup truck headed north, as the horde oozed south.
"Pedro!" a voice called as the truck rolled past. Martinez smiled and pointed. The driver, too, is his man.
The expressions on the faces of the members of his entourage relayed their varying familiarity with such situations. Behind the Phillies representatives was Cuza, attempting halfheartedly to wave off questions, yet wearing the smile of a man who has witnessed this scene before.
And then there was Martinez, at ease in his surroundings, smiling and laughing as he jousted with reporters. He gave them no concrete answers, but enough of a show to lead the 6 o'clock news.
"We are going to talk about baseball now, here in the street?" he asked.
He said all the things you would expect him to say.
Cuza brushed off questions, saying there would be plenty of time to talk later. Asked whether the physical involved an MRI exam, he declined to comment. Martinez underwent shoulder surgery in 2006 and was hampered by groin trouble last season. Most physicals are formalities. But for Martinez, that did not appear to be the case.
Nevertheless, he felt confident enough to boast, "We're going to play some ball here."
And so they will.
Pedro Martinez might not be the same pitcher who won three Cy Youngs in 4 years. He might not be one of the 15 highest-paid players in the Phillies clubhouse if and when he signs. But remember Randy Johnson walking through New York City, and the way he scowled and tossed a backpedaling cameraman out of the way?
Well, suffice to say, that isn't Pedro Martinez. When does a star become a superstar? Perhaps when he realizes that there is value in anticipation, that regardless of actual results, what people want most is a show.
And the show begins today. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read
David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.