Mariners great Edgar Martinez finally makes baseball’s Hall of Fame
Edgar Martinez’ frustrating wait to join the Hall of Fame is over.
Edgar’s liberation from baseball purgatory figures to be among the highlights of a 2019 season that’s not promising an abundance of them in Seattle. Elsewhere, those millions of fans without an emotional investment in Martinez’s saga can also celebrate, as the induction announcement forever will silence the torpid debate about the worthiness of designating full-time hitters as all-time greats.
Between the congratulatory phone call on Tuesday and the enshrinement ceremony in July, the writer responsible for the inscription on the bronze plaque will have six months to condense an 18-year career into a few words.
Given that baseball is the ultimate numbers game, and the fact Martinez produced jaw-dropping numbers, it’s certain his plaque inscription will be loaded with statistics such as this: One of nine players to retire with a .300 career batting average, 500 doubles, 300 home runs, 1,000 walks and a .400 on-base percentage.
(Specifically, the on-base percentage was .418, better than Stan Musial’s .417 — a stat the plaque writer likely will determine as, ahem, too much information.)
My hope is that inscription will contain a word that describes Martinez’ odyssey from graveyard-shift laborer in a Puerto Rican pharmaceutical plant to one of the most accomplished right-handed hitters in history.
Martinez brought many skills to the plate: timing, confidence, an exquisite coordination between two hands on the bat and slightly elevated left foot that preceded each swing. But no component of his game — or his life, for that matter — was more essential than an unwavering trust in the big picture.
Martinez, who didn’t play a full season in the big leagues until he was 27, would seem to fulfill the definition of “late bloomer.”
Actually, he was wholly bloomed at the age of 24, when he led the Calgary Cannons — the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in 1987 —in virtually every offensive category.
His defense at third base was solid. Nobody saw him accumulating Gold Glove awards at the next level, but he had reactions and the arm required at a hot corner.
One problem: The Mariners, who had many needs as a franchise entering its second decade of futility, were not yearning for a third baseman. Jim Presley was selected to the 1986 AL All-Star team. Presley had power and, at 24, his prime years were in front of him, so Martinez was confined in Calgary.
When Presley’s career stalled after his breakout season, former general manager Woody Woodward identified Martinez as the team’s starting third baseman in 1989. He struggled with the transition, and after 35 games, a player who had nothing left to prove in Triple-A was sent back to Triple-A.
As the Harry Chapin song goes, “another man might have been angry, another man might have been hurt.” Martinez took the plane ticket to Calgary and stuffed it in his shirt.
Martinez got another shot at starting in 1990 and was off and running, winning the first of his two league batting championships in 1992. The bumpy road to the bigs was over, but more bumps awaited. He tore a hamstring tripping on a seam of artificial turf during a 1993 exhibition game in Vancouver, B.C.
Limited by the injury to 42 games in ‘93, all systems were go for Edgar the following spring. In his first at-bat, he got hit by a pitch that broke his wrist.
Upon recovering, he played 89 games in the infamous season cut short by a labor lockout. Edgar Martinez at this point was 31, a one-time batting champion whose career had been derailed by misguided roster decisions, fluke injuries, and a general perception that prosperity on the diamond wasn’t in the cards.
Polite and professional as an interview subject, Martinez never delivered candid quotes at the rapid rate of, say, All-Pro motormouth Richard Sherman. But he knew, deep down, the best was yet to come.
He raked in 1995, keeping the Mariners in contention after Ken Griffey Jr. suffered the wrist injury that presumably doomed them. The best-of-five playoff shootout against the Yankees turned into the Edgar Martinez Show.
The show earned enough boffo reviews to build the ballpark that saved Seattle’s franchise.
A pro athlete’s prime is thought to be between the ages of 27 and 30. Martinez put together most of the best years of his career after he turned 32.
By the time he was done, he had put together a Hall of Fame candidacy that was legitimate, if slowly developed.
Martinez was selected by 36.2 percent of the baseball writers in 2010, his first year on a ballot that sets its inclusion bar at 75 percent. Four years later, he fell to 25.2 percent.
Not a promising trend, but then, finally breaking into the majors at 27 is not a promising trend either. Edgar Martinez defied trends.
As voters began applying advanced metrics to traditional numbers, and concluding that such specialists as closers and designated hitters are as integral to a baseball team’s success as third-down edge rushers are in football, Martinez’ Hall candidacy has achieved the momentum of a four-locomotive freight train.
May he bask in the promised land that all too often proffered no promises.
As for the rest of us?
Savor the memories of an athlete who embodied the life skill that can make us healthier and happier, the skill that can solidify friendships and reunite families and make the world a better place.
Edgar’s Hall call
In his 10th and final year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Edgar Martinez finally gained the 75 percent need to earn induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Here’s a look at his totals over the years:
2019: 85.4 percent (425 total voters)*
2018: 70.4 percent (422 total voters)
2017: 58.6 percent (442 total voters)
2016: 43.4 percent (440 total voters)
2015: 27 percent (549 total voters)
2014: 25.2 percent (571 total voters)
2013: 35.9 percent (569 total voters)
2012: 36.5 percent (573 total voters)
2011: 32.9 percent (581 total voters)
2010: 36.2 percent (539 total voters)