With 85.4 percent of the vote, Edgar Martinez had one of the great rallies in history to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. Writers, where have you been?
The custom in Seattle sports for projects taking years, if not decades, to complete, usually is reserved for the building of venues and the pursuit of franchises.
The Kingdome was funded in 1968 and opened in 1976. The Pilots were lost in 1970 and Major League Baseball didn’t return until 1977. Efforts to draw the NFL to Seattle began in the 1960s, and didn’t pay off until 1976. The NBA was lost in 2008 and still hasn’t returned. Top-tier pro hockey ended in 1924 is booked to return in 2021.
Rarely does a long ordeal in sports here include the pursuit of sports justice for a single individual.
Yet to get Edgar Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it took a decade of lobbying, informing, cajoling, analyzing, tweeting and probably a bit of dying — a reference to the expiring lifespans of some baseball writers, especially those who covered the National League and believed the designated hitter was not a legitimate position in baseball.
The lengthy pleadings paid off Tuesday.
With a plurality of 85.4 percent, 10.4 percent more than the minimum required, the Baseball Writers Association of America selected the most beloved of Seattle Mariners for the game’s highest honor. Joining him in the class of 2019 were three pitchers: Mariano Rivera — the first player in hall history named on every ballot — Roy Halladay (85.4 percent) and Mike Mussina (76.7 percent).
Here’s the dagger number about this gang of four: Martinez’s batting average against the two aces and the best reliever in history was .375 (slash line .375/.416/.714/1.130 — h/t to Shannon Drayer, ESPN 710).
Finally, Martinez is fixed in the firmament of baseball and Seattle even more firmly than buildings or franchises. His legacy can be neither hijacked to Milwaukee nor Oklahoma City, nor touched by a wrecking ball.
Martinez’s enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July follows that of Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016 as the only Mariners so honored. But even even though Griffey’s selection was a no-doubter, capturing a then-record 99.3 percent of the vote (437 of 440 ballots) in his first year of eligibility, Martinez accomplished something Griffey didn’t — he spent his entire career, 18 years, in one place.
For that, the longtime sentimentalists in the tortured Mariners constituency will hug Martinez harder than Griffey.
The constancy doesn’t register for writers. Their job is to compare and contrast his feats against ball’s immortals, irrespective of geography. Many fans, however, do care. To them, Martinez is their guy. He stayed and suffered with them. As with strangers who together abruptly and narrowly survive a travel accident, there’s a bond like no other.
Put simply, Griffey was the better player; Martinez the better guy.
Where Griffey flitted between gregariousness and truculence, Martinez was metronomic in his earnestness and humility. Little boys wanted to be Griffey; everybody else wanted Martinez as husband, brother, father, uncle and pal.
It was the absence of spectacle that hindered Martinez’s ascension in the balloting. For most of his career, he was “only” a DH, meaning no memorable defensive plays. If he uttered a provocative or lyrical quote, archivists have yet to unearth it. He played a position that didn’t exist for half of baseball. He played on a team that had no real national cachet until making the playoffs for the first time in 1995.
And he played ahead of the widespread acceptance of analytics, which provide a deeper understanding of how his career accomplishments compared favorably with many Hall of Fame members. Even Martinez was blown away by the discoveries made since his 2004 retirement and the beginning in 2010 of his HOF odyssey.
“I think it’s amazing that some of my numbers compared to some of the greatest players that I admired,” Martinez said in a teleconference with area reporters from his hotel room in New York, where he was on a family vacation. “It’s unreal to me to even think about it.
“You concentrate day-by-day, at-bat by at-bat, and the end of your career, you look back and have big numbers.”
But it was never the counting numbers that helped Martinez, because he wasn’t a regular in the lineup until he was 27. It was the quality of his play during the heart of his MLB career begun in 1987 that belatedly came to broad awareness.
Here’s my favorite comparative stat, because of the company in which it places Martinez (batting average/on-base/slugging):
Players with at least six straight seasons batting .320/.420/.550 or better
I mean . . . fercripesakes.
If it took 10 years to figure out whether Martinez belonged, let’s all be happy my fellow scribes chose sports journalism as a career path instead of NASA’s Apollo moon program. We’d still be test-flying kites.
A big part of the news Tuesday came as a result of dedicated work by the Mariners’ public relations and marketing people, headed by Tim Hevly and Kevin Martinez (no relation). After the paltry vote counts in the first three years of Edgar’s 10-year window of eligibility, the Mariners’ staff set out to demonstrate the worthiness of his candidacy with a data blizzard that was admired throughout baseball for its effectiveness.
YEAR BY YEAR VOTE TOTALS, EDGAR MARTINEZ
The inside joke in baseball is that whenever a player rockets up in the annual voting, it is said he must have had a great year on ESPN Classic. Martinez is acutely aware that it was others who stepped up to the plate for him.
“I think it was really a big part part of why I was elected,” he said. “They have done an amazing job sharing information about my career over the last seven years or so. The work they did is one of the big reasons why I’m talking to you today.”
To reach Cooperstown, Edgar Martinez had to make four consecutive double-digit percentage jumps.
This year: up 15%
2018: up 12%
2017: up 15%
2016: up 16%
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 23, 2019
However the deed came to be done, the annual January letdown story is over, replaced by a 10-year saga of patience and grace, celebrated by an entire community where baseball success has been exasperatingly elusive.
“It’s been a great relationship,” he said of his Seattle experience so far from his native Puerto Rico. “I stayed there, and felt supported through all those years, even the last years when I’ve been waiting for the call.
“I think I enjoy it more at this point. My (three) kids are older. It has more meaning now.”
Even though it took a comparable amount of time, the joy is different than getting a new venue or a new team. It’s the sublime satisfaction of seeing a good thing happen to a good man.