Finally, good Mariners news: Edgar Martinez joins the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday. Just when you think you know the story, along comes this book . . .
Just about all that can be said about Edgar Martinez has been said, more than a few times. The 10-year wait for baseball writers to recognize the Mariners star’s Hall of Fame bona fides provided more runway for scientific analysis than President Kennedy gave NASA 59 years ago to get men on the moon.
Imagine if Meryl Streep took 10 years to get from her front row seat in the theater to the podium to accept her latest best actor Oscar. I mean, she wouldn’t have aged, but many in the audience would have dropped.
Still, the Martinez slog provided baseball’s burgeoning analytics cadre the chance to help make its place in the seamhead pantheon by demonstrating that the human eye and memory are a meager match for data. Martinez may be too old-school to be a modern batting coach (which the Mariners bosses recognized), but if it weren’t for the new school, ‘Gar wouldn’t be thar in Cooperstown, N.Y., Sunday.
Not only was the sweep of Martinez’s statistical feats little understood, he would be the last guy to complain, or even clear his throat. Edgar is to salesmanship what Teller is to Penn. Fortunately, others, including the Mariners’ baseball info staff, made his case forcefully to get him in the hall, despite not a single new plate appearance in those 10 years.
Nor is his acceptance speech Sunday expected to throw shade on Winston Churchill. It will be as he is — stoic, serious, methodical, deferential and grateful, likely light on humor and insight.
Despite these entertainment shortfalls, his belated ascension to sporting Valhalla did produce a quality chronicle of Martinez and his Mariners era. In Edgar: An Autobiography, Seattle Times columnist and my friend Larry Stone did an admirable job of finding fresh material and new insights for a story familiar to longtime Seattle sports fans.
I always thought if someone can pull a book out of Edgar, water will find its way uphill. Stone managed the bravura feat.
One passage in particular intrigued me. In explaining his 1995 season when he won the American League batting with a .356 average, Martinez offered some self-awareness of his compulsive work habits that I had not heard before. Nor was I aware of how much anxiety he had about being traded.
Here’s the passage:
. . . If I didn’t hit at least .350 for a season, I felt like I fell short. In some ways, I considered the year a disappointment, even when people were telling me how great I’d done.
That may seem crazy, and it may seem selfish, but that’s what drove me. I was almost obsessive about my batting average and the belief I could hit .350. For me, that’s what it took to be focused 100 percent, to be disciplined, to maximize my work habits, and to avoid distractions. It controlled everything, that goal. And that year, 1995, was the only time I achieved that mark with a .356 average, the highest by a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939, and 23 points higher than the next-best hitter, Minnesota’s Chuck Knoblauch (.333). It was as if, at age 32, everything came together, all the wisdom, strength and perseverance I gained through my struggles and triumphs. My confidence was as high as it had ever been, and for the first time in several years I stayed healthy the whole season. I think every player has a sweet spot in his career, and for me, that was it.
Here’s the funny thing: I could have missed it all. The Mariners were trying to cut payroll, and there were a lot of rumors flying before the season that I was going to be traded — maybe to the Yankees, the team that was was thrown out there most often as a trade partner. I heard talk of me hitting between Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. There was also talk that Randy Johnson might be dealt too. Just imagine how different the fortunes of the Mariners — and my career — would have been had that happened.
I didn’t want to go anywhere, not even to New York, the city where I was born and still had relatives. I felt comfortable in Seattle. Our family, which now included my young son, Alex, was settled there. I was starting to think I could be one of the rare athletes that would play his whole career in one city, like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. That was something that pushed me. At one point, I remember pulling aside our manager, Lou Piniella, and telling him I was aware of the trade rumors, and I wanted to stay in Seattle. I told him I thought we had a very strong team that finally had a legitimate chance to contend, and I wanted to be part of it. Lou listened, but he didn’t offer any assurances.
Yikes. Trading Martinez? I don’t remember those rumors, but that doesn’t matter; it’s the threat to his concentration that counted. Recall that at the time, after the Kingdome’s falling ceiling tiles were fixed but before the public vote on a new stadium, all elements of the franchise except Griffey were in play. And corner-cutting payroll was the only tradition the franchise had. Coulda happened.
Martinez in pinstripes? Ack. And in return, the Mariners would have gotten Jesus Montero, who was six at the time.
Anyway, it didn’t happen, the Mariners made the playoffs, beat the Yankees in a full-tilt screamer of a division series, saved baseball in Seattle, gave the club’s marketers a peg upon which to hang the next 24 years, and Martinez Sunday ascends to the heights.
Happy endings around the Mariners are rare. Feel free to savor the weekend.
To offer a small aid besides the h/t on the book, below is my favorite comparative that emerged during the advocacy campaign for Martinez before the vote. I just enjoy reading the names of Martinez’s company.
ALL HALL OF FAMERS WHO HAD CAREER AVGs of .300, .400, .500
|Ty Cobb (1905-28)||.366||.433||.512|
|Stan Musial (1941-63)||.331||.417||.559|
|Tris Speaker (1907-28)||.345||.428||.500|
|Mel Ott (1926-47)||.304||.414||.533|
|Babe Ruth (1914-35)||.342||.474||.690|
|Rogers Hornsby (1915-37)||.358||.434||.577|
|Jimmie Foxx (1925-45)||.325||.428||.609|
|Lou Gehrig (1923-39)||.340||.447||.632|
|Harry Heilman (1914-32)||.342||.410||.520|
|Ted Williams (1939-60)||.344||.482||.634|
|Ed Delahanty (1888-1903)||.346||.411||.505|
|Dan Brouthers (1879-04)||.342||.423||.519|
|Hank Greenberg (1940-47)||.313||.412||.605|
|NOT IN HALL|
|Joe Jackson (1908-20)||.356||.423||.517|
|Edgar Martinez (1987-2004)||.312||.418||.515|