The accepted folkways of the big league clubhouse escape me. Even having grown up watching a team whose acknowledged leader — the player whose mere presence was and is universally acknowledged to have transformed the attitude of all those around him — was a pitcher, I’ve been hearing all my life that a pitcher can’t be a team’s leader. Even after watching a team derive its heart and soul from a relief pitcher as it followed his philosophy to nearly ultimate victory, I’ve been hearing all my life that a pitcher can’t be a team’s leader. Even after watching a team rally around another relief pitcher, one who was its seniormost member and clearly its dean, and agree it was right and proper to affix a “C” to his uniform, I’ve been hearing all my life that a pitcher, because he’s not an everyday player, can’t be a team’s leader. Captain, sure. Leader, no way.
All right, then. Tell me somebody besides Gil Hodges led Tom Seaver. Tell me somebody besides Tom Seaver led Tug McGraw. Tell me anybody could have led John Franco. And find me the Met whom Pedro Martinez could or should possibly fall in behind.
Pedro marches at the front of this parade as long as he’s around. To pretend that anybody else does is folly. For these New York Mets, it’s Pedro or it’s nobody. For too long it’s been nobody. For now, let’s say it’s Pedro.
Leading by example, it is universally agreed, is the way to go. Pedro’s examples get your attention. Pedro taking the ball Tuesday night, no matter how cold Phone Company Park was, no matter the wind that blew off the China Basin, got your attention. Pedro bearing down in the fifth got your attention. Pedro coming back for the sixth really got your attention. Pedro singling twice and driving in a run didn’t escape notice either. Pedro is a singular talent. Pedro is a singular presence. Pedro is more than that. Pedro is a magnet. He draws eyeballs, he draws teammates, he draws victories.
Somewhere in the middle of this cathartic and joyous Pedrofest, Ron Darling began to say how good it was for the Mets to have their leader back. But then, realizing of course that teams simply can not be led by a pitcher — I’m guessing Darling’s thought process was intimidated by his former first baseman and captain sitting next to him in the booth — he amended his statement to say the Mets’ pitchers had their leader back.
They sure did. So did the Mets’ catchers, the Mets’ infielders and the Mets’ outfielders. I suspect Mets management will gladly follow where Pedro Martinez leads. He’s got the fans’ support, that’s for sure. Pedro Martinez is pied piper with bulging portfolio. Pedro Martinez backs up his words with pitching and backs up his pitching with personality, with charisma, with a sense of right and wrong and responsibility and with honest-to-goodness leadership.
What the hell is leadership when it comes to baseball? I’m with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he groped to define obscenity: I know it when I see it. For the first third of 2008, leadership was obscenely lacking on the New York Mets. In San Francisco Tuesday night, I knew when I saw it. Now pitching and now leading the New York Mets, number 45, Pedro Martinez.