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Where have you gone,
Dennis Martinez?
09/12/2002 4:41 AM ET
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles are proud of their history and often pay tribute to former players and past heroes who led the franchise to baseball prominence during better times.

On the video screen before each home game, the club displays photos of some former standouts, including one of a handsome, smiling Nicaraguan who played an important role in the team's success in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dennis Martinez reminisces on the 1983 World Series title with special memories. But in his mind, the team championship pales in comparison to his personal triumph.

That year, Martinez endured the worst statistical season of his career. He did not pitch in the 1983 playoffs as the Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies en route to their third title.

Martinez, however, proudly wears his 1983 title ring, primarily because it marks his first step toward recovery from alcoholism.

"This is special to me," he said recently after being inducted into the Orioles' Hall of Fame. "This was the year I got help for my alcohol problem. It was a bad year, but I got a new start."

Martinez's array of pitches and pinpoint control garnered him the nickname "El Presidente." He earned an even more meaningful title as winningest Latin American pitcher when he won his 244th game in 1998 with the Atlanta Braves. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal has 243 wins.

Perhaps Martinez's most amazing accomplishment was pitching 15 more years after battling alcoholism.

"I never did," he said when asked if he thought he would pitch for 23 years. "I think after recovery I had more of an effort to live life. And the competitor in me wanted to keep going. I did everything that God allowed me to do."

Martinez was key to the Orioles' success but after winning 13 games in 1985, he was dealt to Montreal early in the next season. He quickly emerged as an ace on a strong Expos staff and accomplished a rare feat sporting one of those bright blue Montreal uniforms on a hot summer day at Dodger Stadium.

A 36-year-old Martinez was "perfecto" on July 28, 1991, tossing his only perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the pinnacle of a consistent if not spectacular career.

With 245 wins, Martinez definitely deserves Hall of Fame consideration. Although he never won 20 games in a season, he won 10 or more in 15 seasons, including 12 as a 40-year-old for Cleveland in 1995.

"I think the key to my longevity was staying in shape and changing my life after my addiction," he said. "Before that, I did not take good care of myself. I was running around a lot. But I had my family and I had a lot to play for."

Martinez's longevity reached from starter on those dominant Orioles' teams to a middle relief role for Atlanta in his final season in 1998. "El Presidente" was not relegated to mop-up work during the 1998 playoffs -- he pitched in four of the six games in the National League Championship Series and won Game 4 with a scoreless inning against San Diego.

After flirting with the idea of returning for a 24th season, Martinez retired in Spring Training in 1999, wrapping up a sparkling career (245-193, 3.92 ERA).

Martinez does not think that 1983 club was the most talented Orioles' team in his tenure. He points to the 1979 team, which led the Pittsburgh Pirates three games to one in the World Series before losing the series in seven.

"Even though we didn't win the series, we were a determined team," he said. "Because of the inexperience, we lost the series. But that was a fun season, from Day One of Spring Training to the final day."

Martinez still looks as if he could hurl a wicked curveball or two. He was very emotional during his acceptance speech, pointing to his recovery and support from family as the foremost reasons for his success.

Today, Martinez works for the Nicaraguan government, trying to attract vacationers to the small country adjacent to Costa Rica. He also is pitching coach at Westminster Christian High School in Miami, the same school that produced All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

Martinez said he yearns to return to the Major Leagues as a coach, but he is deciding whether he wants to take the minor-league route to get there. He has four children, including 14-year-old son Ricky.

"I think I have a lot I can teach about the game off and on the field," he said. "I can help some pitchers who may be having trouble. I would be happy to do it."

How long will Martinez remain as the winningest Latin pitcher? There is a fiery right-hander in Boston who may soon threaten his record.

"I think Pedro (Martinez) has a chance and also Vicente Padilla, who is from my country," he said. "Records are made to be broken. The key is to stay healthy like I did in my career. And I have that 1983 championship ring to remind me of that."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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