Let me lay my cards on the table: Edgar Martinez is my all-time favorite baseball player. I love Edgar Martinez in a way that grown men should have grown out of loving baseball players. My dog’s name? Edgar Martinez Friedman. I’ll admit to being utterly blinded by my admiration for Edgar, but there is simply no greater Mariner; there is a pretty solid argument that he is the greatest athlete to play his entire career in Seattle in any professional sport*. So I could not be more thrilled that Edgar Martinez is going to be inducted the Baseball Hall of Fame, after getting elected with 85 percent of the vote in his tenth and final year of eligibility.
I’m pleased with Edgar’s election for a bunch of reasons. But there are two that stick out in particular. I’m going to slide into them now like Ken Griffey Jr. sliding into home after Edgar hit a double.
The first and far less important reason I’m pleased about Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame election: it represents a move towards a smarter Hall of Fame electorate. I know, I know, who really cares about how smart the Hall of Fame electorate is? Well, I do. I think it matters that the true greats of the game get honored for their careers. And Edgar’s greatness was subtle but undeniable.
Edgar was great because he was one of the toughest outs in baseball history. His career on base percentage of .418 sits right between Mickey Mantle, Frank Thomas, Stan Musial and Mike Trout. Those are three first ballot Hall of Famers and the best current players by a wide margin. From ages 32-40 Edgar never had a season with an OBP below .400; he was the savviest hitter of his generation. And it’s not like he didn’t hit for power; even amid the inflated environment in which he played, Edgar’s power was massive. His career slugging percentage is higher than that of Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, and Gary Sheffield. Edgar didn’t do it by roiding up and hitting dongs**; he did it by barreling up pitches and hitting doubles.
Not making outs and hitting doubles are really important things for a baseball player to do. But they do not get you to the sort of massive counting stats that usually get guys into the Hall of Fame. 500 home runs does it. So does 3,000 hits. But 1,283 walks? 514 doubles? Especially when you spent a lot of your career as a designated hitter? The fear was that the answer was no. But in the end, the baseball writers who decide these things came around just in time.
While he didn’t have beautiful counting stats, what I think helped Edgar’s case was the elegance of his career slashline: .312 batting average, .418 on-base percentage, .515 slugging percentage—.300/.400/.500. That line quickly represents how complete of a hitter Edgar was for the duration of his career, and puts him in alarmingly limited company alongside guys like Babe Ruth, Musial, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Now that Edgar is in, every player with that career stat line who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, has not tested positive for steroids, and did not play the bulk of their games in Colorado has made the Hall of Fame. Which is all to say that Edgar is one of the all-time greats, even if that is not immediately apparent with a glance at the back of his baseball card.
The second reason I’m pleased with Edgar’s election: Mariners fans needed this. We really, really did. This year for Mariners fans? It sucked. A lot. The team was on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001, Edgar Martinez’s fourth to last season (remember that he has been retired FOR 15 YEARS), before they were run down by the goddamn Oakland A’s. So instead of a successful season, the Mariners spent 2018 extending their longest streak of not making the playoffs amongst any major professional American sports team. The Mariners are somehow a sadder group of failures than the Cleveland Browns. It sucks.
How did the team respond to this failure? By dealing away most of its interesting players.
Closer Edwin Diaz?
All-star shortstop Jean Segura?
No-hit tossing pitcher James Paxton?
Gone. To the goddamn Yankees.
Hall of Fame second baseman Robbie Cano?
Gone. And also not a Hall of Famer any more after he tested positive for PEDs mid-season.
Somehow so broken that he’s now untradeable? What is even happening?
And the return for all of these trades was… fine? It was fine. It was not overwhelmingly good. It was fine. Which means that on the whole, the last few months of being a fan of the Mariners as a baseball team sucked.
Then layer on top of all of this a sex scandal and a sexism scandal tinged with racism, both of which reach their tendrils to the very top of the organization. In total, you have as bad a year of being a Mariners fan as any in this team’s cursed history.
So we needed this. Frankly given the run this team was on, I was worried Edgar wouldn’t get the boost he needed to make the Hall. But he did, and having a franchise icon who never left the club finally get recognized for his greatness is gratifying in a way that transcends normal fandom. Edgar is the best of the Mariners personified. The best has felt pretty distant over the past fifteen years. Getting to bask in his recognition for the past 48 hours has been a beautiful reminder of why I care about baseball.
I care because hitting Major League pitching is damn near impossible. Watching Edgar hit was watching a man turn the impossible into the routine. That I got to watch him play his entire career on this wretched franchise that I’ve cared about since I was a toddler, that I got to cheer his excellence for the entirety of my childhood and his career is one of the delights of my life. That Edgar is getting recognized at the absolute highest level of the sport despite never winning a World Series or an MVP award, despite being subtly rather than spectacularly great… it all means as much as sports can mean. It’s a reward for the suffering of being a Mariners fan, but it’s also a reminder that human beings can use their brains and their bodies to change the definition of what is possible. Edgar did that for 18 years as a Mariner. Now that won’t be forgotten. And I’m oh so very pleased.
* What is the answer to this? Is it Walter Jones? I think it’s either Edgar Martinez or Walter Jones. Russ is making his case, but he has to never leave to quality. Maybe Felix will get healthy again?
** While he was never directly implicated, we cannot know definitively whether or not Edgar Martinez did steroids. Frankly, I don’t really care. I do know that he hit more doubles than dongs and that Canseco and Palmeiro definitely did do steroids.