Edgar Martinez still isn’t in the Hall of Fame. The greatest designated hitter ever somehow isn’t great enough. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t as tragic or horrific as most of the daily news cycle these days (cause like, wow, there are so many Nazis now), but it still hurts. It hurts even more because he was so close this time. A player must appear on 75 percent of voters’ ballots to make the Hall, and when the votes were announced this afternoon Martinez fell just short at 70.4 percent. While no player who’s received over 70 percent of the vote has failed to eventually make it in, Martinez only has one year of eligibility remaining. It’s all or nothing in 2019.
There has never been any doubt in the minds of Seattle baseball fans that Martinez belongs in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. We may be a touch biased. Martinez is the most universally beloved Mariner ever. And sure, he tops the other superstars in our hearts in large part because he never left for greener pastures (or in the case of Ken Griffey, Jr., Redder ones), but it’s still a feat to stand as the one guy in franchise history with a 100 percent approval rating in an era where the team had Griffey, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro.
But Seattle baseball fans don’t vote on who makes the Hall of Fame. That task goes to baseball writers, many of whom are clustered on the East Coast, far away from our isolated city. If Martinez had played for the Yankees or Red Sox, he would’ve been in years ago. Instead, he played most of his games during hours when most sports journalists were either finishing their nightly game recaps or sleeping. It was easy to understand the baseball brilliance of Martinez when you’re actually watching him play, but it was understandably tougher to gauge his excellence in the pre-internet era if you’re mainly experiencing him by looking at daily newspaper box scores indicating he went 2 for 4 with a walk and a RBI. He didn’t have the most majestic swing or hit the flashiest home runs. He just quietly went about his business terrifying pitchers and getting on base with ruthless efficiency.
One of the main arguments against Martinez is that, as a designated hitter, he simply does not qualify. That has always been a laughable supposition. Frank Thomas started at DH in 57.4 percent of his games. Paul Molitor was a DH for 44 percent of his starts. They’re both in the Hall. Designated hitter is a position in Major League Baseball, so being one shouldn’t disqualify you from the conversation. Oh, and the award MLB gives out every season to the best DH is the Edgar Martinez Award.
More importantly: There are bad defensive players in the Hall of Fame. Infielder Rabbit Maranville once committed 65 errors in one season (he had more than 30 errors in 12 seasons). Isn’t it worse to play a guy in the field when it actively hurts your team’s chance of winning than slotting him as your DH? Furthermore, before suffering a knee injury in 1994, Martinez was actually a good defensive third baseman who added value with his glove (even winning the American League batting title in 1992 while playing the field). The injury forced him into the DH role, but it never should’ve forced him out of Hall of Fame contention.
The numbers just don’t lie when it comes to Martinez. In addition to being a two-time batting champ and seven time All-Star, his career batting line sits at a stellar .312/.418/.515. He ranks 21st all-time in on-base percentage (pretty sure it’s good to get on base in baseball) with more walks than strikeouts. The popular player value stat WAR (wins above replacement) severely penalizes a DH for not playing in the field, yet Martinez still manged to put up 68.3 WAR, more than the average Hall of Famer.
While fellow DH (and probable future Hall of Famer) David Ortiz certainly had more postseason success, baseball is a truly team game and Martinez shouldn’t be penalized for the failure of Mariners GMs to build playoff-caliber teams around him. (Cut to Mike Trout vigorously nodding in agreement.) Despite a comparative lack of opportunities, Martinez delivered an all-time postseason moment with “The Double” in the ‘95 American League Divisional Series versus the Yankees.
For those that decry nerdy advanced-stats driven baseball analysis, Martinez’s contemporaries can also speak to his eye test greatness. Who better to judge Hall of Fame merit than the player’s Hall of Fame peers?
“The toughest guy I faced I think, with all due respect to all of the players in the league, has to be 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.” – Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much. Having seen him play from ’89 to all the way when I left, I got to see him a lot against great pitchers. Like I said, hands down, he is the best pure hitter that I got to see on a nightly basis.” – Hall of Famer Randy Johnson
“The toughest [hitter]—and thank God he retired—[was] Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough.” – Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera
It’s a depressing day to be a Mariners fan. Well … every day is a depressing day to be a Mariners fan. Today is an extra depressing day to be a Mariners fan. Edgar Martinez deserves better. While trends point to him making it in on his final ballot in 2019, it should never have come to this. And if baseball writers somehow snub Martinez one final time, he’ll always be a Hall of Famer in our memories. They can’t deny those entry. (Also, if he’s shut out we may or may not burn down Cooperstown. Just keep that in mind!)