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El Presidente Takes A Bow

September 26, 1996

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Dennis Martinez only spent three years in Cleveland. They had a farewell party for him anyway, because he was royalty on the mound for all of them.

In the ballpark Martinez christened with the first pitch in 1994, the Cleveland Indians said good-bye to ``El Presidente″ on Wednesday night.

``It was what it was meant to be,″ manager Mike Hargrove said. ``To honor one of the good guys.″

Martinez, 42, whose ailing elbow dashed his hopes of returning to the playoffs, received autographed baseballs, a donation to his favorite charity and other gifts in a brief ceremony led my general manager John Hart, Hargrove and catcher Tony Pena.

In attendance were Martinez’s wife Luz and four children, including Dennis Jr., who pitches in the Indians organization.

``I want to thank the organization for allowing me to be part of this,″ Martinez said. ``And I want to thank the best fans in baseball.″

They called it ``Dennis Martinez Night,″ but no night could truly be that unless Martinez were pacing the mound, rubbing the ball, then rocking into that familiar motion, his knee nearly touching his tobacco-filled cheek.

Martinez did that at the first game at Jacobs Field three seasons ago, unleashing one of those cut fastballs with a mind of its own. Called strike, outside corner. They showed it on the big screen with his other Indians highlights _ quite a few for a guy who’s only been in town for three years.

Martinez was the Indians’ Opening Day starter each of the last three seasons. He beat Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series last season, sending Cleveland to its first World Series in 41 years.

``That is one of the highlights of my baseball career,″ Martinez said.

A few hours before the tribute, Martinez had asked that a news conference be held in the Indians’ interview room, down the hall from the clubhouse. They had Martinez sit in a chair in his uniform and tennis shoes _ no cap _ in front of a charcoal gray background, good for the cameras.

Martinez enjoys the attention, and this is not a knock on him. The kind of recognition that he understands hardly ever happens in sports anymore. Now it’s about endorsement deals and big contracts. For Martinez, it was always about the applause.

``If I get a chance to get credit for what I did, fine,″ Martinez said. ``But I know the numbers are going to be there. I think I’ve been treated real fair.″

Martinez broke into the majors in 1976 as a hard-throwing phenom with the Baltimore Orioles. But his lifestyle was as fast as his best pitches, and Martinez nearly succumbed to alcoholism. The Orioles traded Martinez to the Montreal Expos in 1986 for a player to be named. In 1991, Martinez pitched a perfect game for the Expos against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

``I started a new life,″ Martinez said. ``That was my second career, when I became sober.″

Martinez was 9-6 with a 4.50 ERA in this, his 19th season in the big leagues. He hopes there will be a 20th, with a new team in another city. With four more victories, Martinez will break Juan Marichal’s record for the most wins in the majors by a Latin pitcher.

``It feels like retirement,″ Martinez said, ``but I’m not retiring yet.″

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