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MICHAEL P. QUINLIN

Pedro runs afoul of Puritan Sox fans

I BLAME the Puritans for creating a certain strain of Red Sox fan. Think about it. The dire fatalists who founded Boston in 1630 were righteous zealots, to put it mildly. Theirs was a devotion gone awry, a lifelong preparation for salvation that never arrived, at least not in this lifetime. Cotton Mather, their chief mouthpiece, was opposed to dancing. He didn't believe in celebrating Christmas. Talk about being out in left field.

Puritans had some good traits, but were mostly ostentatious sourpusses. They couldn't enjoy what they had, and detested "polite amusements" as one pundit wrote. They gave newcomers a hard time, shipping them up to New Hampshire or Maine. Visitors to town were referred to as "strangers" and had to check in upon arrival and departure. If you stayed too long you were run out of town.

Newcomers weren't happy with this treatment, and who could blame them? Many grew tired of the Puritans and moved someplace else, where they usually fared better. They were liberated once they left Boston. Their lives improved, they were happier. They went on to better things.

Roger Williams founded a refuge for toleration in a tiny state called Rhode Island. Roger Clemens found the Promised Land in a kingdom called the Bronx. Both will go down in history for having been driven out of Boston.

When either Roger ventured back to Boston -- particularly in a New York Yankees uniform -- he could be sure of one thing. The Puritans were still there, bellowing in their righteous ways. They booed. They threw things. They complained. Preachers or pitchers, it didn't matter to the Puritans. Anyone with talent was fair game for their scorn.

Augustus Saint Gaudens, America's greatest sculptor in the 19th century, was a case in point. He created the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Chicago, the General Farragut statue in New York City, and the Charles Parnell Statue in Dublin in no time at all. But it took him 14 years to complete his greatest work of art, the Colonel Robert Shaw Memorial in front of the State House on Beacon Hill, finally unveiled in 1897. Why so long?

According to his son, the sculptor's "anxiety was increased by the fact that they were to go to Boston, a city which he regarded as filled with ingrown hyper-criticism."

Ingrown hyper-criticism, now there's a phrase that resonates in any discussion about sports in Boston.

For a short time the Red Sox were even called the Puritans. It's true. After the Boston Pilgrims won the first World Series in 1903, the team was renamed the Puritans in 1905 and 1906.

The name change put an end to any winning streak the Pilgrims hoped to start. You couldn't be a winner if you were a Puritan, because winning involved joy and happiness.

There was an existential crisis between 1915 and 1918, when Babe Ruth led the Sox to three world championships in four years. But the Puritan spirit prevailed, and Ruth was shipped to the New York Yankees the following season. They claimed it was about the money, but we know better. It was about winning.

This brings us to Pedro Martinez, an artist in full command of his craft, the Yo Yo Ma of his instrument. He is gritty and combative, the traits Boston fans admire. He is also a class act, a gentleman, a perfectionist who loves to win. Legions of fans in New England understand and appreciate this.

Martinez was vilified last week for missing a start in the pitching rotation because he was ill, and that is something the Puritans won't tolerate. (For the record, Martinez had a temperature of 101 degrees and spent six or so hours in the hospital). Furthermore, the Puritans are shocked, stunned, and outraged when he dismisses them as a bunch of nasty cranks and threatens to leave town. The talk show lines light up, the scribes are in a snit, and workers are building a stockade on Boston Common now. An inquisition is underway to probe the pitcher's work ethic, his character, his value to the team, and whether he likes dancing and Christmas. The Puritans like nothing more than Judgment Day.

To all the dour sports fans who take Puritan pleasure in the pain and suffering of losing, I tell you this: We need Pedro Martinez. We want him to stay. Do not run him out of town. We want him to pitch the winning game of a World Series, but not for some other team. We want him to go down in Boston history, but not like Roger Williams, or Roger Clemens.

Michael P. Quinlin grew up in Pittsburgh and has lived around Boston since 1979.

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