Ex-Mariners Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez joined by history, week's events
Legendary pitcher Randy Johnson, who retired on Tuesday, and his former Mariners teammate Edgar Martinez deserve a place in Cooperstown.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
They are forever enjoined in Mariners history, rising to their greatest heights on that magical October night at the Kingdome.
Randy Johnson striding in from the bullpen. Edgar Martinez lashing the ball into the left-field corner. The human pile of joy at home plate. The images are eternal.
And now they are enjoined again, Johnson and Martinez. Big Unit and Papi. The electric, enigmatic left-hander and the spectacularly steady hit machine.
The one that got away, and the one that never left.
Johnson on Tuesday announced his retirement, starting the clock on a Hall of Fame vote in five years that will be merely ceremonial. He'll be a no-brainer, first-ballot choice. The only mystery is whether he'll be wearing a Diamondbacks or Mariners hat on his plaque.
And today, when the 2010 Hall of Fame vote is announced, Edgar finds out how steep a road he'll have to climb to eventually earn his rightful place in Cooperstown with Johnson (and, eventually, with three other former Seattle teammates: Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro — and perhaps Omar Vizquel as well).
It's unrealistic to expect Martinez to make it on his first try. His cumulative numbers aren't quite eye-popping enough (at least, for those who don't look deeply), given the anti-designated hitter prejudice Edgar is also fighting.
But if Martinez can establish a high-enough base in this initial appearance on the ballot — some Web sites that are monitoring announced votes by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have him at about 40 percent — I'm encouraged he will eventually make it.
I hope it will be sooner, but maybe the magic moment will occur for Edgar in, oh, 2015, when Johnson will sail in, riding the glory of those 303 victories, those five Cy Young awards, those 4,785 strikeouts, the perfect game, the no-hitter, the World Series co-MVP trophy.
Johnson, in his gracious national conference call last night, put in a plug for his old Seattle running mate.
"I know one player coming up (for vote), Edgar Martinez," he said. "I'm hoping he gets a lot of consideration. I know it has been debated whether a DH is worthy of that. During my time, I've never seen a better hitter, a better pure hitter, than him.
"That's no disrespect to other teammates I've had or people I've played against, but anyone from that era who watched Edgar realizes what a good hitter he was. I'll be pulling for him, because I know what he meant when I was on the mound."
And the Mariners knew what it meant when Johnson was on the mound during nine seasons in Seattle that established his place in the game. The Unit was a glowering, intense presence, as intimidating a pitcher as anyone since perhaps Bob Gibson.
"I will miss having an outlet to be that competitive," Johnson said. "Every fifth day it was a process, and I enjoyed and relished that process. Nothing I do the rest of my life will match that."
It was a bumpy ride with the Mariners after he arrived from Montreal on May 25, 1989, in the initially maligned Mark Langston trade. They endured Johnson's coming-of-age journey as he harnessed the mechanical nuances of unleashing that 6-foot-10 frame. They bore the fruits of his exploits as Johnson developed into an elite pitcher — the no-hitter in 1990, the first Cy Young in 1995 (and the playoff superlatives that followed), the nearly unbeatable '97 season, which produced two 19-strikeout games.
But there was also back surgery in '96, and the contract dispute that eventually led to Johnson's trade to Houston in '98. He departed in late July of a season that earned whispers — heatedly disputed by Johnson to this day — that he was not performing his best.
Certainly, Johnson's best was yet to come in Arizona, as he ascended to the stature of legend — retiring as one of the five greatest left-handers in history, and probably one of the 10 greatest pitchers, period.
"In any business, you get to the part you don't like to be part of," he said. "I was 34, 35 years old at the time, in '98, removed from back surgery three years. I felt like maybe the organization didn't think I had many more years ahead of me, so they didn't re-sign me. For the first time in my career, I realized this was a business."
That bitter ending in Seattle was the precursor of a string of superstar departures that would break the hearts of Mariners fans — Junior next, and then A-Rod.
But Edgar never left, which is why he is uniquely beloved.
Edgar and the Big Unit. Mariners legends.
Hall of Famers.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.