Edgar Martinez falls short in first shot at baseball Hall of Fame
Former Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez received 36.2 percent of vote in his first year on the ballot.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The longest journey begins with a single step — even for a designated hitter with bad wheels.
The way I look at Wednesday's Hall of Fame results, Edgar Martinez took what could well turn out to be a decisive first step toward Cooperstown.
Yes, those of us who advocate for Martinez's enshrinement were disappointed (but hardly surprised) that Edgar landed at 36.2 percent. That's well short of the 75 percent needed to become a Hall of Famer, a status finally reached, in his ninth try, by Andre Dawson and missed by agonizingly small margins by first-timer Roberto Alomar and 13th-timer Bert Blyleven.
But history says that Martinez, from this jumping-off point, has a strong chance of eventually getting to Cooperstown. It might well take awhile — Jim Rice needed all 15 years of eligibility to rise from his first-year total of 29.8 percent in 1995 to the promised land in 2009 — but I'm more encouraged than I expected to be.
Martinez himself is wisely noncommittal about his chances after seeing the results, which he watched on television from his home.
"It's very hard to say. I don't know if I can say I'll make it. I need to see next year, or the following year, how much improvement is there," he said. "But in the near term, this argument about the DH looks like it will be around awhile."
Ah, yes, the dreaded DH curse that will continue to haunt Martinez. I'm hopeful that voters will eventually work around their prejudice against DHs, just as they did with closers. After electing just two relievers between 1936 and 2003 (Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers), the voters selected three closers (Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage) in a five-year span from 2004-08.
Martinez noted this breakthrough.
"(The DH) is like anybody else that contributes to the game," he said. "The DH does. The reliever does, and they get in the Hall of Fame. I think eventually the DH is going to get more credit than they get right now."
Ditto. The fact is that a slow, steady rise in voting is the standard route to Cooperstown. Since the first election by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1936, only 44 of the 109 Hall of Famers (40 percent) selected by the BBWAA have been voted in on the first ballot.
Here's the good news for Edgar: Before this year, 20 players failed to get elected in their first year on the ballot, but received at least the 36.2 percent of the vote that Martinez did. Eighteen are in the Hall of Fame, and 17 of those were voted in by the BBWAA (plus Jim Bunning, selected by the Veterans Committee).
The only two who failed to make the ultimate leap have been Steve Garvey and Lee Smith. Garvey is a curious case; he got 41.6 percent in 1993, his first time out, and never gained any traction. By 2006, his last year of ballot eligibility, Garvey received just 21.1 percent of the vote. Smith started out at 42.3 percent in 2003 and has risen only incrementally to 47.3 this year, his eighth year on the ballot.
I believe Martinez's combination of on-base and slugging percentages will resonate more deeply with voters as time passes, though he will face an influx of statistically (and otherwise) bulging players in coming years, like Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro next year, and the whopper class of 2013 (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza). I'm getting a migraine just thinking about it.
In the best-case scenario, Martinez will follow the path of Billy Williams (23.4 percent his first time on the ballot in 1982, elected in 1987) or Duke Snider, who checked in initially at 17 percent in 1970 and sailed in with 86 percent 10 years later.
"Obviously, I would have loved to have gotten more votes the first time around," Martinez said. "But I don't see it as a terrible thing. I had a pretty good idea it wasn't going to happen the first time. We'll see what happens the next few years, if I can increase some votes."
Edgar was realistic enough not to schedule any celebrations Wednesday.
"I know better than that," he said, laughing.
Not to worry, Edgar. I see a party in your future.
|Hall of Fame voting|
|539 votes cast, 405 needed.|
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.
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