BY Art Thiel 03:39PM 01/22/2019

Thiel: 10 years overdue, Edgar esta caliente

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?

After 10 years, the writers figured it out. / Seattle Mariners

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

  • Edgar Martinez: 1995-00
  • Ted Williams: 1939-49
  • Lou Gehrig: 1930-37
  • Babe Ruth: 1926-32
  • Rogers Hornsby: 1920-25

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

  • 2019: 85.4% (363/425)
  • 2018: 70.4% (297/422)
  • 2017: 58.6% (259/442)
  • 2016: 43.4% (191/440)
  • 2015: 27% (148/549)
  • 2014: 25.2% (144/571)
  • 2013: 35.9% (204/569)
  • 2012: 36.5% (209/573)
  • 2011: 32.9% (191/581)
  • 2010: 36.2% (195/539)

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.”

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.

Edgar Martinez — finally. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest


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YourThoughts

  • Alan Harrison

    One of the best hitters I ever saw. I never saw Ted Williams hit, but I did see Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell (I saw him hit the ball out of Dodger Stadium – I think he’s the only one to have done it…and he did it twice), Roberto Clemente, and more. The only one I enjoyed watching just as much was Manny Mota, who they said could roll out of bed in January and single to center. But Edgar, a wonderful man, a wonderful family, and just a great, great hitter.

    • art thiel

      And he did while managing strabismus, a vision disorder. Amazing.

    • bevdog

      You are right!! I also saw Willie Stargell hit one out at Dodger stadium in the early 70’s. As he rounded third base the stadium announcer said the feat had been done only once before…. by Stargell. A memorable baseball history moment.

  • Steve Buckholdt

    Edgar was and is a class act all the way. His election to the HOF gives Mariner fans one thing this winter to be happy about.

    • art thiel

      True. A shame.

      • Husky73

        It’s just HARD to be a Mariner fan. It really is.

        • Alan Harrison

          Isn’t “Joe Btfsplk” what Jim Bouton wrote that Joe Schultz used to say all the time?

          • Husky73

            No…it was f***s***….and sometimes s***f***

          • Alan Harrison

            Close enough!

        • art thiel

          Lil Abner, right?

          • Husky73

            Yup….Excellent for such a young man.

  • DonMac

    Congratulations Edgar, you so richly deserve this honor. One of the classiest individuals to have ever played the game.

    • art thiel

      The regard in which he is held in this town may be unequaled.

      • Husky73

        Lenny Wilkens? Don James? Non sportos….JP Patches? Ivar Haglund? The Nordstrom family? Bill Gates? Paul Allen? Dan Evans? Jimi Hendrix? The Doghouse Restaurant?

  • Tian Biao

    what a pleasure to see Edgar in the hall. an all time favorite Mariner,
    right up there with Felix. He seems like such a quiet humble decent man.
    Just looking at the voting patterns: 109 voters suddenly retired or
    were purged between 2015 and 2016, causing Edgar’s percentage to jump.
    presumably a lot of old fogies who didn’t like modern stats, didn’t like
    the DH, maybe never saw Edgar play in person. it’s a strange process,
    but still: so happy for Edgar.

    • art thiel

      It is a strange process. The BBWAA doesn’t seem able to see it. Too heavily invested in it.

  • Husky73

    One of your best, Art. Well done.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Edgar Martinez and Roberto Clemente. Life is richer for having watched them.

    • art thiel

      Excellent pairing.

  • Ron

    I’d like to see a local mountain be named Mount Edgar Martinez.

    • art thiel

      In the Bernese Alps, there is The Eiger: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiger

      • Husky73

        Clint Eastwood sanctioned it.

      • Ron

        Hardly local. Whereas The Eiger is a formidable mountain, and Edgar a formidable hitter, it’s unlikely Edgar would approve of an honorary mountain that translates to English as “The Ogre.”

        Peak 6271 which is east of Chinook Pass needs an official name and looks attractive.

        https://www.peakware.com/peaks.php?pk=4590

        Write your congresspersons and petition the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and we can get this done.

        https://geonames.usgs.gov/

        • art thiel

          I like The Ogre. Much menace.

          Perhaps for the hockey team?

          • Ron

            Wow. How quickly you abandoned “Glacier Clams” for The Ogre.

  • Matt Kite

    “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed-garrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

  • Will Ganschow

    And I would personally pair him up with Ernie Banks, life long single team members and men who everyone would want to be associated with. A truly warm glow in the depth of this winter. Thanks Art.

    • art thiel

      Banks played when player movement was exclusively the club’s option. Free agency gave players choices, and Edgar chose to stay.

  • seapilot69

    In an interview with Pedro Martinez he was asked who the most difficult batter was for him to face and without hesitation he said “Edgar Martinez”. “He would make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 (mph). I would be hard-breathing after that. Edgar was a guy who had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off when I had to throw 13 pitches to get a guy out.”

    • art thiel

      That Pedro interview said much about the regard in which he was held by opposing pitchers.

  • Husky73

    I might get myself into trouble here, but I believe Edgar to be the iconic Mariner. I think most folks would say Griffey. But, Griffey left the Mariners in a pique not once, but twice. When Griffey returned the first time, all was forgiven. He was, after all, The Kid. And when he packed his bags, got in his car and drove to Florida (his second exit) it was Ken Being Ken. He is not the first, nor last, player to have done so. I don’t know if I ever saw a greater player, although Ricky Henderson in his prime could change a game with a walk. Junior was also stellar in the community. But, Edgar was a Mariner throughout his entire career and always remained loyal and involved. In the history of that frustrating, star-crossed franchise, Edgar is the beacon.

    • art thiel

      You’re not in trouble. You just place a higher value on loyalty to place. It makes sense; most sports fans are rooted in a place, and players are transient. Players who stay are accorded more affection.

  • jafabian

    I thoroughly enjoyed Dave, Randy and Junior’s speeches and I know Edgar’s speech will be right there with theirs. Just a walk down Mariners memories. They might not be as historic as the Yankees, Red Sox or A’s but still uniquely Seattle. In ten or so years both Ichiro and Felix should be joining them. Slowly but surely the M’s are making their presence known in the Hall.

    With Kenny Easley and Spencer Haywood beating the odds for their respective HOF’s nearly all is alright in the Seattle sports universe though Jack Sikma needs an induction. A story for another day,