Reconsidering Edgar Martinez and the Hall of Fame
Arne Christensen lives in Ballard and runs two baseball blogs - about the 1995 Mariners and baseball history - as well as a blog about Northwest earthquakes. In this Take 2 post, he writes about former Mariner Edgar Martinez before Wednesday's announcement of Hall of Fame voting.
The case that Edgar Martinez fans have cumulatively assembled to argue for him as a Baseball Hall of Famer almost exclusively mentions only his statistical accomplishments as a hitter, gauged by both traditional metrics and the advanced, sabermetric kind. But, of course, people, not assemblages of statistics, stand as candidates for the Hall of Fame, and that seems to be part of Edgar’s problem.
As an unassuming player who never reached the World Series and played far from any media hothouse, in the most remote major-league city, Edgar’s a deep underdog in the charisma category of Hall of Fame qualifications. (I think it’s obvious that personality and a résumé of myth-making material help any player make it to Cooperstown: see Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter, Bobby Grich, and Bob Johnson for four examples on both sides.) Even in the Seattle area, Edgar didn’t attain the heights of fame (or notoriety) that Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, and Ichiro did.
Mario Lanza, a friend who’s written a long story about being a Mariners fan in the 1980s and early ‘90s, saw Edgar's anonymity firsthand.
“Even in Seattle people didn’t really know who he was," Lanza said. "I saw him in Crossroads Mall (in Bellevue) with his family, just sitting there eating dinner outside of the food court. Here he was, one of the greatest players in Mariners history, and people just walked by him like he was nobody special.
“He used to go there with his family, and I’d see him reading newspapers right outside the Daily Planet newsstand. I must have seen him five times there and nobody ever recognized him. Even in Seattle he was anonymous. How are the writers in Boston or New York supposed to feel any differently about him?”
To remedy the mistaken impression that Edgar was a routinely, even boringly, efficient player, I’ve gathered some anecdotes, lore, and oddball trivia about his career, presented in chronological order. Most are taken from the Mariners’ 2002 media guide. You’ll be surprised by some of the pure heroism this compilation reveals:
Edgar began his pro career in Bellingham in 1983, hitting .173 in 32 games, which gave him some early adversity to overcome.
In 1985, he led Southern League third basemen in putouts, 94, assists, 247, double plays, 34, and chances.
In 1986, he led Southern League third basemen in fielding percentage, .960.
In 1987, The Seattle Times said “he is regarded a brilliant fielder” with the Calgary Cannons, the Mariners' Class AAA team. Edgar said: “I think I can play utility, third, second, wherever they want to play me, I try to do it.”
Edgar’s first major-league hit was a triple. It was hit off Reggie Ritter of the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 14, 1987. The Times reported that in the second inning of that game, “on consecutive plays, he dived to his left to take base hits away from Jay Bell and Andy Allanson.” The triple came in the bottom of the second.
Despite the fine glove and hitting .372 in 43 Mariner at-bats in ’87, in 1988 he was back with Calgary, was named the player of the year, and led the Pacific Coast League with a .363 average.
He spent the offseason after ’89 by hitting .424, or (56 for 132), in Puerto Rican League winter ball: it was good enough to outpace the second leading hitter by 82 points.
In 1990, Edgar stole home on August 25 as part of a double steal with Ken Griffey Jr. It was his only steal of the season, which was his first, at age 27, spent entirely with the big-league team.
Despite playing with a sore right shoulder throughout 1992, Edgar was the American League Player of Month for July and August. He was the third player to record that feat in back-to-back months: the Yankees' Don Mattingly in August and September of ‘85 and the Twins' Kirby Puckett in May and June of ’92 preceded him.
Edgar hit .343 to lead the AL in batting average in ’92. He was the first Mariner to win a batting crown, only the second AL player to do it for a last-place team, and the first right-handed hitter since Harvey Kuenn in 1959 to lead the AL in that category. Edgar also stole 14 bases in ’92, out of 18 tries.
After missing most of 1993 with three different left hamstring injuries - which helps explain his lack of mobility in later seasons - Edgar started ’94 by getting hit on the right wrist by the Indians’ Dennis Martinez in his first at bat, at the first game at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.
In 1995, Edgar became the first AL right-hander since Luke Appling to win two batting titles, and his .356 was the highest average for an AL righty since Joe DiMaggio in 1939. He was the first Latino with 100 walks, hit .433 vs. lefties, and reached base in 137 of the Mariners’ 145 games. His .479 on-base percentage (OPB) ranks 48th all-time in a season, and he's one of 12 right-handers in the top 50 for season OBP. The .479 ranks second-best for a season from 1963 to 2000.
Edgar’s AL Division Series performance against the Yankees included a playoff-record seven runs batted in in Game 4, hitting .571 for the five games, with an OBP of .667, and hitting “The Double” to win Game 5 and the series and, according to some, keep the Mariners in Seattle.
After doing all this in ‘95, he still made time to play Puerto Rican League winter ball for San Juan.
Before suffering four fractured ribs when catcher John Marzano ran into him chasing a pop-up on July 20, 1996, Edgar was on pace to hit 75 doubles, which would have been the MLB record by eight. The injury stopped his streak of 293 straight games played, a Mariners record.
Despite playing only 139 games in 1996, Edgar still hit 52 doubles for the second straight year (he’d only played 145 games in ’95 because of the strike-shortened season). He was the fifth hitter to get 50-plus doubles in back-to-back seasons.
In 1997, he had to get stitches twice within five days in September. The first time was on Sept. 8 in Kansas City, when Royals DH Chili Davis swung his bat in the sixth and it landed on Edgar’s head inside the dugout for a five-stitch cut. Edgar stayed in the game and went 2 for 4 with two singles, getting his 100th RBI along the way. A quote from Edgar: “I lost sight of it in the lights. I knew it was coming, and I ducked to the left. I must have ducked right into it. It was scary, lots worse than having a pitch come at your head.”
Then, on Sept. 12, came the coup de grace: playing Toronto at the Kingdome, Edgar slid into home, and into catcher Charlie O’Brien’s mask, trying to score in the sixth inning. He got eight more stitches on his chin. Of course, he stayed in the game, and of course, he hit the game-winning, three-run homer in the eighth, breaking up a 3-3 tie. Edgar hit it off Roger Clemens, who was 21-5 at the time, and on his way to the ’97 AL Cy Young and a 2.05 earned-run average while giving up nine homers in all of 1997. Here’s the kicker: Edgar also had two infield singles, for a 3-for-4 night, with two runs scored to go with his three RBI.
Edgar’s quote: “I never have been to a hockey game. But I’ve watched and seen the fights and the cuts. I guess you could say my week has been like a hockey game.” Lou Piniella called Martinez “a tough kid, a professional. It was his night.” Over the seven games that began with getting five stitches on the 8th, Edgar hit .400, with four walks and a .483 OBP.
After right knee surgery following the ’98 season, Edgar managed to hit .394 in 41 games at Safeco Field in 1999. His five homers in two games, on May 17 and 18 of ‘99, tied the MLB record and set a Mariners record for two straight games. The homers were capped by three in a row on the 18th vs. the Twins. Edgar’s 1,500th hit came on August 14 at Fenway, off Pedro Martinez.
On the night of July 29, 2000, Edgar was scheduled to be grand marshal of Seattle’s Seafair Torchlight Parade, but first there was a game to play. It ran late: 13 innings, and 5 hours, 4 minutes. But Edgar had a parade to catch. So he hit a walk-off single for a 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, showered, dressed, didn’t say a word to the press – too busy – and went off to the day’s second job. The Torchlight Parade’s theme: “Heroes of Our Hearts.”
His 145 RBI in 2000 was the best ever in the majors for a player 37 or older.
In 2001, Edgar reached base in 43 straight games in May and the first half of June. He was ejected on Oct. 1 in Anaheim when he charged Lou Pote after the pitcher hit him. The Seattle Times reported:
“Angels reliever Lou Pote was struggling in the sixth, with two on and one out when a fastball rode in on Martinez, hitting him in the right arm before ricocheting up and hitting him on the bill of the helmet. The DH fell hard, as if hurt or stunned.
“Then suddenly Martinez got up, seemingly much faster than he usually moves, and headed for Pote, who seemed stunned in turn. The young pitcher backed away from the angry veteran as players converged en masse.
“Anaheim catcher Bengie Molina and third baseman Glaus grabbed Martinez. Jay Buhner came out of the dugout and grabbed Pote, who had been entirely non-threatening.
“Benches and bullpens emptied, but the only one showing emotion was Martinez, who had to be held by teammates, including Javier and Piniella. ... Martinez declined to comment after the game.”
On Oct. 4, after he was suspended for two games for charging Pote, The Times added:
“‘It hit him in the chin, then the eye, then the forehead,’” trainer Rick Griffin said. ‘He was pretty upset.’
“Martinez reportedly was upset after being hit several times this year by Angels pitchers and having several other pitches just miss him.
“Asked if he wanted to talk yesterday, he smiled and shook his head and said, ‘No comment.’”
Edgar ended 2001 with 116 RBI, matching the Mariners' win total for the year. At the time, he had a .425 career OBP, second among active players with at least 2,000 at-bats, behind only Frank Thomas’ .438. For the seven years from 1995 through 2001, he never dropped below 93 walks in a season, a .306 batting average, a .423 OBP, or a .543 slugging percentage. For 2000 and 2001, he had 261 RBI in 285 games.
He was named AL Player of the Month, for the fifth and final time, for May 2003, and made the All-Star team that year for the seventh and final time. The 2003 season was the last in his nine-year streak of on-base percentages above .400.
Finally, here are a few items from his overall career:
Edgar hit .579, 11 for 19, off Mariano Rivera, with three doubles, two homers, six RBI and three walks. He hit .444, 8 for 18, off Roy Halladay; hit .571, 8 for 14, off Rick Sutcliffe, .480; hit 12 for 25, off Dave Stewart; hit .370, 20 for 54, off Andy Pettitte; hit .429, 6 for 14, off Dennis Eckersley. ... Edgar hit four homers each off Roger Clemens, Erik Hanson, and David Wells, and five homers and two triples off Mike Mussina. Edgar hit at least .500 off 243 different pitchers, and 1.000 off 75 different pitchers. He had the third most doubles in the majors in the 1990s, with 358, six behind Mark Grace, the MLB leader for the decade. He had at least a .400 OBP in 11 of his 13 full seasons.