Dan Duquette was informed about the upcoming Boston-based holiday, July 13.
He started laughing out loud.
He got the joke. Technically speaking, July 13 isn’t a “holiday.” But around here it probably should be. Thanks, in part, to him.
A lot happened that night, the date of the 1999 MLB All-Star Game, including the honoring of living baseball legends as part of the All-Century Team, including Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and Hank Aaron.
Then there was the Ted Williams’ segment, sitting in a golf cart next to the pitcher’s mound, soon-to-be surrounded by all of the current All-Stars. The Splendid Splinter chatted it up several players.
It was moving.
“One of the greatest nights in Fenway Park’s history,” said the former Red Sox general manager.
But that night also belonged to another person, who probably represents Duquette’s greatest work as a general manager:
It was Pedro’s second season, an eventual Cy Young Award-winning season, and he was probably at the pinnacle of his game. On that night.
With his fastball touching 100 mph on a few occurrences, Pedro struck out the game’s first three batters — Barry Larkin, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa — something that had never happened before or after.
In the second inning, Pedro sandwiched strikeouts of Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell around an error, which later was a caught stealing.
“I remember Sammy Sosa doing some trash-talking leading into the game about Pedro’s dominance in the American League, and that it wouldn’t happen in the National League,” recalled Duquette. “I think Pedro took it personally.”
Duquette’s heist of Pedro from the Montreal Expos was easily his best work as a general manager. Ever.
Coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season with the Expos, Pedro had one more year remaining on his contract.
Coincidentally, Duquette’s second-best acquisition was acquiring Pedro when he was the Expos GM, dealing Delino DeShields straight up to the Dodgers.
For Pedro, Duquette gave up two of the Sox top two pitching prospects in Carl Pavano (108-107 over his career) and Tony Armas Jr. (53-65).
“Acquiring Pedro (from the Expos) was one thing, but re-signing him was another. When we got Pedro we were not assured he would sign with the Red Sox,” said Duquette.
In fact, Duquette claimed that the guy he replaced in Boston, Lou Gorman, still a consultant with the Red Sox, played a minute role in getting Pedro to sign long-term here.
“Lou said that Pedro’s idol growing up, Juan Marichal, had pitched here at the end of his career and had a very good experience, and that we should have him talk to Pedro about playing in Boston,” said Duquette.
That’s exactly what Duquette did. Marichal was the first Dominican-born player in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He ends up telling Pedro that he needs to be in a place like Boston to be appreciated,” said Duquette. “Juan told Pedro the fans in Boston will love him.”
Instead of playing out the 1997 season, Pedro signed the largest contract ever awarded to a pitcher, six years and $75 million.
“We took a chance. It was a lot of money,” said Duquette. “But it was more than worth the risk. He was a special talent. He not only headed our pitching staff but eventually helped get the Red Sox their first World Series championship.”
As for that incredible night 20 years ago, Duquette recalled after the game in the owner’s suite, Ted Williams wanted to speak with Pedro. So they brought him down to the clubhouse and chatted for several minutes.
“I remember thinking how special it was that night,” said Duquette. “What a way to end a century, at Fenway Park, with maybe the greatest hitter of all-time and maybe the greatest pitcher, together.”
Home Run contest special too
While July 13, 1999 will forever be etched in the minds of many baseball fans, particularly from Boston, the night before was a pretty good show, too.
It proved to be one of the most popular Home Run Derbys the MLB had ever put on, highlighted by appearances of the game’s home run kings, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Sosa flopped, hitting only one homer in the first round, which is amazing seeing the dozens of balls traveling 400-foot-plus from Monday night, but McGwire’s 13 home runs, most flying over The Green Monster, were epic.
There were thousands of people in the street behind the wall, which wasn’t yet fitted with the Monster seats.
In the end, it was Ken Griffey Jr. outhitting Jeremy Burnitz to win the famed competition, three homers to two.
Talk about a dud Derby finale.