For Edgar Martinez, patience was always a weapon. You don't amass a career .418 on-base percentage -- one of his prime Hall-of-Fame calling cards -- by swinging wildly at the first pitch that comes along.
Retired from the Seattle Mariners for eight years, and a Hall of Fame candidate for three, Martinez is going to need every ounce of patience he can muster. Because if Martinez is going to get to Cooperstown, it's likely to be a long, slow, maddening process.
The big difference, of course, between Martinez the player and Martinez the candidate is that this time, success is largely out of his control. He has already made his case during an 18-year career that left him as one of 20 players in major league history with a career batting average over .300, on-base percentage over .400 and slugging percentage over .500.
The only ones on that list who are eligible for the Hall and haven't yet made it are Lefty O'Doul (an inexplicable omission, considering his .349 career average and trailblazing role in Japan), Larry Walker and Martinez.
On Monday, Martinez took a modest step forward in that Cooperstown quest. In the latest Hall of Fame voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Martinez tallied 209 out of 573 votes, 36.5 percent.
That's his highest total yet in three tries, but just barely. Martinez received 36.2 percent in his first try in 2010 (195 of 539), then dropped to 32.9 percent last year (191 of 581). Basically, he got back to where he started on Monday.
To get to the necessary 75 percent for enshrinement (achieved Monday, and deservedly so, by former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin), Martinez will have to keep making incremental increases over his remaining 12 years on the ballot. And Martinez knows it.
"I wanted to see a bigger percentage, but it's positive I moved up a little bit, and not the other way," he said in a phone interview.
Martinez knew he wouldn't get in Monday, and he recognizes he's likely in it for the long haul.
"I don't know what to think. What I understand is it's going to take a long time," he said. "With my case, being a DH, there's still a lot of arguments about whether I deserve to be in or not. I don't know what to think because of the DH issue. If I played a lot of third base or first base in my career, I'd say I have a good hope of eventually getting in. But there's so much of an argument about DH, I don't know what to think.
"I can't do anything about it. I have no control. So I'll just wait and see."
Walker, in his second year on the ballot, has even farther to go, receiving just 22.9 percent Monday -- up slightly from 20.3 percent in 2011. He faces his own source of hesitance from many voters -- the fact that he accumulated a large portion of his offensive statistics in the rarefied air of Denver.
But I believe Walker's skills transcend a ballpark bias, and I voted for him for the second straight year. His career OPS plus of 140, which adjusts for ballpark, was higher than Hall of Famers like Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett. And that doesn't even take into account Walker's brilliant defense and baserunning.
I believe that voters will eventually come to terms with the anti-DH bias that remains Martinez's biggest obstacle. I get it, but I don't buy it. If you can vote for a closer like Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers or Bruce Sutter (and eventually Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman), why can't you vote for an everyday player whose statistics, when separated from the DH question, are pretty clearly of Hall of Fame stature?
It's a question Martinez ponders as well.
"I think the DH contributes to the team in a big way, like relievers contribute to the team," he said. "The DH is in the lineup daily; a reliever or pitcher is not in the lineup every day. I understand the argument from some of the writers about the DH, but hopefully, eventually, people will get more comfortable with the idea that the DH is part of the team and deserves to be in. I guess that remains to be seen."
Martinez is also well aware of the onslaught of huge names coming to the ballot in the next three years, starting with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling next year; Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina in 2014; and Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield in 2015.
With the steroids implications of some of those names, it's going to be a chaotic, controversial stretch. Martinez and other candidates like Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell -- all of whom finished ahead of Martinez on Monday -- are hoping they don't get lost in the shuffle.
"These guys have amazing numbers in their career," Martinez said of the names about to enter the ballot. "I don't know how it will affect me, if a lot of my votes go to them. It will be interesting to see the results the next three years."
Interesting, indeed. But Martinez is prepared for another long at-bat.