11/30/11 2:05 PM EST
Martinez revolutionized DH during fine career
Former Mariners slugger on Hall of Fame ballot for third year
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Edgar Martinez's mark on Seattle baseball is so indelible that you can't attend a game at Safeco Field without driving past, parking next to, crossing or walking down the sidewalk by the street named after him.
From his Major League debut in 1987 to his tearful goodbye at the end of 2004, the Mariner known simply as Edgar plied his perfect right-handed swing in front of adoring Emerald City fans, putting up remarkable numbers and gaining the love and respect of an entire sports community.
The only question remaining for Martinez is whether his body of work in the game is good enough for enshrinement at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. And after two years on the ballot, the answer so far is, "No."
The Mariners' longtime designated hitter finished eighth in the 2011 voting announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January 2011. He was named on 32.9 percent of the 581 Hall of Fame ballots cast, amounted to a 3.3 percent decrease from his debut showing of 36.2 percent in 2010, but there are some positive signs.
For one, he can take encouragement from pitcher Bert Blyleven, who overcame far lower numbers in his first two years on the ballot and a similar second-year slip to earn induction in 2010 in his 14th try.
"You don't want to see the voting percentage go down, but I hope in the next few years it goes up and I can tell where I'm going to end up," Martinez said. "But I'll just have to wait. It looks like it's going to be a while."
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from BBWAA members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Second baseman Roberto Alomar (90 percent) and pitcher Blyleven (79.7 percent) earned their ticket to Cooperstown on the 2011 ballot. Former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1 percent) and starting pitcher Jack Morris (53.5 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. Results of the 2012 election will be announced on Monday, Jan. 9.
Martinez will be watching and hoping that voters come around to a line of thinking that it's OK for a DH to gain entry. In that regard, the two totals above 30 percent hold promise.
"This argument has been going for a while," Martinez said. "It's been years, people talking about the DH, even when I was playing. So yeah, it can be hard. But I think the argument has been for so long that I got used to it. People have their opinions, and it's very hard to change their beliefs. It is what it is."
And so are his numbers.
Martinez's isolated years of pure brilliance -- from 1995-2001, he hit .329 and averaged 28 homers and 110 RBIs per season -- and excellent career statistics in batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.418) and slugging (.515) will continue to get him votes.
Also on the plus side are his seven All-Star teams, five Silver Slugger Awards, two American League batting titles and the fact that he retired with the highest batting average (.315), most homers (243) and most RBIs by a DH (1,043).
Martinez is one of only 11 inactive players to play in 2,000 games and have a career batting average over .300 with a career OBP over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500. The other 10 are already on the wall in Cooperstown. Also, Martinez, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig are the only players in MLB history with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average higher than .300 and a career on-base percentage higher than .400.
"I know it has been debated whether a DH is worthy," future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson said after announcing his retirement, "but during my time, I've never seen a better hitter, a better pure hitter, than Edgar.
"That's no disrespect to other teammates I've had or people I've played against, but anyone from that era who watched Edgar realizes what a good hitter he was. I'll be pulling for him, because I know what he meant when I was on the mound."
One of those hitters, former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon, played against Martinez in the AL West for 13 seasons.
"He was one of those rare guys where you just really stopped what you were doing and watched," Salmon said. "There were a lot of things you could learn from watching the way he hit a baseball, especially for me, being a right-handed hitter. It was great to see him play, even though, unfortunately, he really did a lot of damage against the Angels."
Martinez still will have a few strikes against him when it comes to the Hall vote. For one, his lifetime numbers of 309 homers, 2,247 hits and 1,261 RBIs, while exceptional, are not necessarily slam-dunk Hall worthy. And voters based in the National League might hold his DH status against him.
Commissioner Bud Selig, however, presented what might be the strongest point in Martinez's case -- renaming the honor for the top DH the Edgar Martinez Award a few years ago.
"He's the greatest DH since the rule was put in," Selig said. "That's the easy part of it, and I'll let the writers decide whether he is a Hall of Famer."
Martinez, meanwhile, will keep an eye on the proceedings once again this year with the knowledge that we live in a baseball climate that's evolving in the way it views and prioritizes statistics, and their relation to players' values. Plus, Martinez's 32.9 percent in last year's voting was easily enough to grant him another automatic spot on this year's ballot (players must receive at least 5 percent to remain eligible).
"I don't have high expectations, which helps me not get too high or low," Martinez said. "I'm just sure if it's going to be an opportunity, it's going to be a long process."