How beloved is Edgar Martinez in Seattle?
With his No. 11 flying from the Space Needle and strewn throughout Safeco Field, Martinez walked from center field to a raucous applause. Current Mariners players stood and clapped in front of the dugout amid chants of “Edddd-gaaarrrr” humming from the crowd.
To his right off I-5 was exit 164B, or E Martinez Dr. To his left was Edgar’s Cantina past left field, and behind him was an emblem waiting to be unveiled to signify his jersey retirement — alongside Ken Griffey Jr.’s and Jackie Robinson’s numbers.
All 18 years of Martinez’s major league career were spent in this city. To Seattle, Martinez is just as, if not more, revered as Griffey. And to them, just as deserving of a place in Cooperstown.
For now, Martinez’s No. 11 is officially immortalized — unveiled Saturday past left-center field by his children, Alex, Jacqueline and Tessa — on the same day fellow Puerto Rican Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez had his jersey retired by the Texas Rangers.
“Baseball, what a wonderful game,” said Martinez, who is the namesake attached to MLB’s top designated hitter award. “Because in baseball, I met my wife, I have a wonderful family, I have all these awards, a street, number retired, I live in an area that is beautiful — beautiful lakes, mountains and beautiful people.
“I am blessed. When I think baseball has given me everything it had, it gives me more.”
He accepted his place in Mariners history alongside many of his former teammates. There was Alvin Davis, Jamie Moyer, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner and Griffey sitting behind him. Lou Piniella, Raul Ibanez, Randy Johnson, Mike Cameron, Harold Reynolds and Norm Charlton spoke in a video tribute.
So the adopted Seattleite is a favorite. But he was also a heck of a baseball player.
Piniella said there wasn’t a better right-handed hitter in baseball in the 90s.
And you couldn’t pitch him inside.
Mike Piazza and Greg Maddux would know.
Before they were both enshrined into the Hall of Fame, Maddux was the National League starting pitcher and Piazza the catcher at the 1997 All-Star game when Martinez came to bat in the bottom of the second inning. Piazza recalled Maddux attacking with a cutter, changeup, changeup.
“And I’m like, ‘I’m going to sneak one in on Edgar,’ ” Piazza said last year, sitting next to Griffey in Cooperstown a day after both received their Hall of Fame plaques.
“Boom, home run. Greg is like, ‘What did you call that for? And I’m just like, ‘Sorry, man.’ ”
Tim McCarver was the TV analyst for the game.
“The purest hitter in this game from the left side — Tony Gwynn. From the right side — Edgar Martinez,” McCarver said during the broadcast.
And of course, there was that now-seminal inside pitch to Martinez that ended the 1995 American League Divisional Series against the New York Yankees — the one that scored Joey Cora and Griffey and saved baseball in Seattle.
But that never would have happened had Martinez not mashed the ball one day earlier in a do-or-die Game 4, when he went 3-for-4 with a three-run home run and a grand slam, which broke a 6-6 tie in the eighth inning. His seven RBIs set an MLB single-game postseason record (now tied for the most with three others).
ESPN had ranked that as the 10th best postseason performance by an individual in MLB history. And it came after he won the American League batting title, hitting .356 with a .479 on-base percentage. He hit .571 in the series against the Yankees.
Of players with at least six plate appearances against former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, no one had more success against the all-time MLB saves leader than Martinez, who hit .579 against him (11-for-19 with three doubles and two home runs).
“The toughest — and thank God he retired — Edgar Martinez,” Rivera once said about the toughest hitter he’s faced and the seven-time All-Star.
How about Pedro Martinez?
“The toughest guy I faced I think — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez,” Pedro Martinez said. “He had to make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 (each time we faced). I was hard-breathing after that. Edgar was a guy that had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off because I couldn't get the guy out."
And his former teammate, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson?
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much. Having seen him play from ’89 to all the way when I left, I got to see him a lot against great pitchers. Like I said, hands down, he is the best pure hitter that I got to see on a nightly basis. And I hope that his time comes soon, that he gets a phone call stating that he’s a Hall of Fame player, because he is.”
Cal Ripken Jr. thought so, too. A year after Griffey’s jersey was retired here and he entered the Hall — even saying in his induction speech, “Yes, (Martinez) belongs in the Hall” — Ripken narrated a video tribute just before Martinez’s speech.
As Ripken neared the end of the monologue, he concluded it with this:
“Eighteen years with one team, in one city — Seattle. Edgar, your baseball journey is far from over. And we’ll be there with your when that door opens as your name echoes throughout the Hall.”