Sports

Is this finally the year Edgar Martinez gets his Hall call?

Seattle Mariners Edgar Martinez high fives Mariner fans as he runs the track surrounding the infield during Edgar Martinez Day on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jim Bryant)
Seattle Mariners Edgar Martinez high fives Mariner fans as he runs the track surrounding the infield during Edgar Martinez Day on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jim Bryant) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Edgar Martinez wasn’t quite in danger of falling off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

But gaining entry into the Hall didn’t look promising, either.

When the Seattle Mariners’ iconic designated hitter was first listed on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010, he got 36.2 percent of votes, well below the 75 percent needed for enshrinement. That percentage dipped to 25.2 percent in 2014, making Martinez wonder if he was among the very good, but certainly not all-time great, players in baseball history in Hall voters’ eyes.

Since that low point, Martinez has surged. He registered over 70 percent in last year’s balloting, setting the stage for what could be inclusion to the Hall of Fame in his 10th and final year on the ballot. The announcement is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday on MLB Network.

He’s never expressed any frustration over his candidacy, but accepted the years of prodding, examining and debate over seemingly every detail of his baseball credentials and resume.

“I have no control over it,” Martinez said recently. “Not much I can do but wait.

“Hopefully it goes the right direction, but I’m a realist. I know that there is a chance it happens. For the last few years it’s been a reminder.”

As of Monday afternoon, Martinez was polling at 90.8 percent in the latest results from 217 known ballots, collected by tireless tracker Ryan Thibodeaux. Those numbers always dip once all the ballots are counted, but Martinez shouldn’t lose enough to fall below 75 percent. Last year Martinez had 76.3 percent of the public votes before falling to 70.4 percent.

How has he vaulted from ballot bottom feeder to seemingly spot in the Hall of Fame? It has required deep dives into his career, the reputation of “specialists” and an appreciation for all things beyond 3,000 hits or 500 home runs.

AP_928566968629.jpg
Seattle Mariners Ken Griffey Jr., rear, and Jay Buhner, right, tease a ticklish Edgar Martinez following a team batting practice Monday, March 24, 1997 in Peoria, Ariz. The Mariners are thinking about the possibility of going to their first World Series this season. ‘I think it’s our best team,’ Martinez said. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) ELAINE THOMPSON AP

Swaying doubters

Very good, but not great.

That’s the opinion of some who, yet again, have left Martinez off of their ballots.

Others have dug their heels into the ground regarding designated hitters. Since Martinez spent 72 percent of his plate appearances as a DH, they say his production wasn’t exceptional enough to overlook how little he contributed defensively – no matter if MLB named its annual DH award after him.

“Choosing to drop Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, all of whom appeared on my ballot last year, was difficult,” wrote David Lennon of Newsday. “But in re-thinking my own evaluation process, as borderline candidates who sat atop a gray area – but still resided slightly below Olympus – they no longer fit.”

There was this from another voter:

“Every year I wrestle with the Edgar Martinez issue, and every year I do not check his box,” Rob Biertempfel of Trib Live wrote last year. “I cannot deny he was a great hitter. His stats trended up when he became a full-time designated hitter; I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s difficult to compare his numbers against other players who spent at least half the game on the field, chasing fly balls and grounders and staying focused on the action.”

Or, for others, it was just a feeling, or he wasn’t famous enough.

“The DH thing doesn’t even bother me,” wrote David Borges of New Haven Register. “I side with hitting savants like Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Ichiro. Somehow, I feel Edgar just falls a little short of that level.”

The good news for Martinez is far fewer voters share that sentiment now compared to 10 years ago.

More respect the plethora of statistical metrics now available, most of which seem to speak favorably to Martinez’s case than a simple scan over his career stats might.

And older voters who are grinchy over WAR and OPS+ have probably been weeded out of the process. There were 539 total voters in Martinez’s first year on the ballot; that’s dipped to what’s expected to be about 420 voters this year, with younger writers entering the fray by surpassing the 10-year criteria by the Baseball Writers Association of America to qualify for Hall of Fame voting.

Others have cited the works of Jay Jaffe, Ryan Spaeder (which have already been referenced in this) and others, saying their detailed dives into Martinez’s career production persuaded them to change their votes.

The Mariners have campaigned the most diligently. They distributed a 15-page program about his career to potential voters and have posted relentlessly on their website and social media. Some of the nuggets:

Martinez’s career on-base percentage (.418) was better than Stan Musial’s (.417).

His career OPS (.933) is better than Frank Robinson’s (.926).

His career slugging percentage (.515) is equal to Willie McCovey’s (.515).

“We now have tools to evaluate players that we didn’t have even 10 years ago, and it’s easy now to compare Edgar, not just to other DHs but to other hitters, both of his era and all eras,” said Jayson Stark, who is now a columnist for The Athletic.

Tim Kawakami, then of the San Jose Mercury News, was among those who changed his mind about Martinez.

This article by Jay Jaffe on SI.com specifically is what really got me to reassess my thinking on Martinez,” Kawakami wrote, “who I’d skipped over mainly because he spent so much of his career as DH and I didn’t think he was dominant enough as a hitter to off-set all the outs for which his own team decided he should not be on the field to play defense.

“But as Jaffe reinforced, DHs are penalized about 17 runs a year in the WAR calculations, and Martinez still is 112th in all-time WAR, tied with HOF-er Eddie Murray and right behind HOF-er Tony Gwynn.”

AP_040922017682.jpg
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS SEPT. 25-26 ** Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez warms up with a weighted bat at the bottom of the dugout stairs at Safeco Field Friday, Sept. 17, 2004 during a game against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field in Seattle. The first weekend in October, the beloved 41-year-old seven-time All-Star, will play his last game in the majors, a retirement that is sure to re-ignite the debate as to whether there’s a place in Cooperstown for a career designated hitter. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) TED S. WARREN AP

DH effect

Paul Molitor is in the Hall of Fame and so is Frank Thomas.

Both spent much a chunk of their careers as DHs because their offensive production transcended their lack of defensive contributions. Same could be said of Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Murray and Jim Thome.

So why not Edgar Martinez?

His defense was held against him early, but as he’s approached the 10-year ballot cutoff, it’s forced voters to take a closer consideration over whether an offensive specialist belongs.

Enter David Ortiz.

If there’s someone for Martinez to thank in his induction speech this summer, he should consider Big Papi, who retired after the 2016 season. It seems like little coincidence that Martinez’s voter support spiked during Ortiz’s final seasons. Ortiz played far more of his career in a DH role (88 percent of his plate appearances) than Martinez, yet more consider Ortiz a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

It’s not the full story, but compare their career slash lines:

Edgar Martinez: .312/.418/.515, 68.4 career WAR

David Ortiz: .290/.380/.552, 55.3 career WAR

If Ortiz will be a Hall of Famer, a discussion spurred during Ortiz’s farewell tour, then shouldn’t Martinez, too?

As Spaeder put it, Ortiz has the kind of numbers that are hard to ignore, while Martinez has the kind that many, for some reason, refuse to see.

And just a few months ago the Today’s Game Era Committee inducted Harold Baines into the Hall. Baines’ career WAR is 38.7 (about half of what Martinez’s is), and he, too, spent the majority of his career as a DH.

“One thing that may have changed was I think the DH is getting more respect now than it used to,” White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, one of 16 members of the committee, said in December. “People recognize that David Ortiz will have to go in, and almost his whole career was as a DH. Frank (Thomas) was regarded most of his career as a DH. Edgar Martinez will probably get in, so I think that attitude of people toward the DH changed quite a lot.”

And what about other “specialists”?

Closers are certainly accepted, with Mariano Rivera trending toward being the first to receive 100 percent of the votes this year.

Rivera faced 5,103 batters in his career, while Martinez had 8,674 career plate appearances. Rivera pitched 1,283 2/3 innings, while Martinez fielded 4,829 1/3 career innings.

Wouldn’t it be only fitting that the best closer in baseball history was inducted the same year the best DH in history was? The AL’s top closer award is named after Rivera, the top DH honor is named after Martinez.

Specialists forever.

It’s even more fitting when you consider how much Rivera has already gushed about Martinez. Martinez hit .579/.652/1.053 in 23 plate appearances against Mo.

“The only guy that I didn’t want to face, when a tough situation comes, was Edgar Martinez,” Rivera said in 2003. “It didn’t matter how well I threw the ball. I couldn’t get him out. Oh my God, he had more than my number. He had my breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

But Martinez wasn’t the liability defensively that most assume.

He actually won his first batting title as a third baseman for the Mariners in 1992. He played 103 games in the field and hit .343.

Harold Reynolds won his final of three Gold Gloves as a second baseman with the Mariners in 1990, the same year Martinez played 143 games at third base. He raved about Martinez’s glove work before he was sidelined with right shoulder surgery.

“Well, he would have been a Gold Glover had he stayed healthy,” said Reynolds, who is now an MLB Network analyst. “He had such great range, got rid of the ball quick, had a good arm and tremendous instincts.

“Unfortunately he got injured. And what happens to most guys when they get injured is they can’t hit well enough to DH like he did. That to me is a testament to his ability that he was able to make the transition. Edgar worked his tail off.”

Reynolds isn’t alone in that sentiment.

Mark Langston was asked about Martinez’s defensive abilities. They were teammates from 1987-89.

“He was a really good third baseman before he got hurt,” Langston said. “He was a guy that could really play third base for you. You could see a future at third base for him.”

Martinez also didn’t play a full major league season until he was 27, even though he raked at what was then-Triple-A Calgary to the tune of a .344/.450/.495 slash line in 276 games. He was blocked at third base by Jim Presley and he didn’t succeed in his initial limited big-league opportunities, either.

Then Martinez required shoulder surgery after his 1992 batting title before he also faced hamstring and wrist injuries. Combine those with the 1994 players strike and he was limited to 131 games over two seasons.

Martinez converted to full-time DH duties in 1995 to keep him healthy, and also allow Mike Blowers to take over at third base. The Mariners won the AL West title and Martinez won his second batting title, hitting .356/.479/.628.

Reynolds said he remembers former Mariners scout and roving infield instructor Marty Martinez raving about Martinez defensively.

“I remember when Edgar was younger and coming through the organization there were conversations about him a lot,” Reynolds said. “I was really close to Marty Martinez and there were two guys I remember Marty raving about when I was in the major leagues. He kept telling me, ‘You wait until you see this Omar Vizquel. You wait. I’m telling you — he will embarrass you.”

Vizquel, of course, won 11 Gold Gloves, including his first as the Mariners’ shortstop in 1993.

“The other guy, he says, ‘And we got a kid named Edgar Martinez. This kid can pick it — and he can hit. Omar can’t hit. But Edgar can hit,’ ” Reynolds recalled with a laugh. “I’ll never forget those words coming from Marty, rest his soul. But those are the two guys. Of all the talent that came through the organization, Marty raved about Edgar and Omar.”

Edgar led the AL with a 1.107 OPS that first full DH season in 1995. How dominant was that? Mitch Haniger led the Mariners this year with a .859 OPS, while Mike Trout had the highest OPS in the AL this year at 1.088.

Martinez was the first right-handed-hitting, two-time American League batting champ since Joe DiMaggio.

The last player with at least 7,000 player appearances to equal each leg of Martinez’s career .312/.418/.515 slash line was Ted Williams. Only five others have done that, and they’re all Hall of Famers: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Dan Brouthers.

Martinez did all of that while barely ever playing defensively from that 1995 season on. But players are penalized in WAR ratings for not playing the field. It’s incorporated into the formula.

Yet, from 1995-2001, when Martinez was playing from his age 32-38 seasons, Martinez’s WAR was 40.7, which ranked just behind Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Griffey Jr. (41.1) and just ahead of Sammy Sosa (40.6).

So, yeah, just barely behind Griffey, who won an MVP and four Gold Gloves in that stretch, and hit 56 home runs in two seasons. That’s how valuable Martinez was, even without any defensive production.

“Edgar deserves to be in (the Hall of Fame),” said Griffey, who was inducted in 2016 to become the first to enter as a Mariner. “He was one of the most feared hitters in the game for 10-plus years.”

“One of the best right-handed hitters I’ve seen,” said his former manager, Lou Piniella.

Randy Johnson entered the Hall with the Diamondbacks, but he, too, has campaigned heavily for Martinez.

“I’ve faced a lot of Hall of Fame hitters, and my gosh, Edgar is the best hitter that I ever saw,” Johnson said. “I loved him and he did so much for Seattle and made me look good during my career there. The first person on my ballot who would get my vote is Edgar.

“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 is a Hall of Fame player, because he is.”

That call should come, finally, sometime Tuesday afternoon.

Edgar’s Hall call?

Edgar Martinez was within 20 votes of Hall of Fame enshrinement last year. In his 10th and final year on the ballot he’s trending toward, finally, induction among the game’s greats. Here’s how his votes have trended since he became eligible in 2010:

2010: 36.2 percent (539 total voters)

2011: 32.9 percent (581 total voters)

2012: 36.5 percent (573 total voters)

2013: 35.9 percent (569 total voters

2014: 25.2 percent (571 total voters)

2015: 27 percent (549 total voters)

2016: 43.4 percent (440 total voters)

2017: 58.6 percent (442 total voters

2018: 70.4 percent (422 total voters)

2019: 90.8 percent (217 public ballots)*

*Full results will be released at 3 p.m. Tuesday on MLB Network. 2019 percentage is according to ballots collected by Ryan Thibodeaux (@NotMrTibbs) and are updated as of Monday.

Related stories from The Olympian

TJ Cotterill is the Seattle Mariners and MLB writer for The News Tribune. He started covering MLB full-time in 2018, but before that covered Ken Griffey Jr.’s Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and spent seven years writing about high schools, including four as TNT’s prep sports coordinator. Born and raised in Washington.
  Comments