Throwback Thursday: Edgar Martinez

Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Robert Feels Like Writing About This Week, Unless Baseball is Back and He is Still a Little Salty About Edgar Martinez not Being in the Hall of Fame.” This week’s Throwback: Edgar Martinez.

For Seattle baseball fans it’s hard to be objective about Edgar Martinez. After all, he was the steady presence in the Seattle lineup throughout all of their postseason runs. Other stars — notably Ken Griffey Jr, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez — came and went, but Edgar was always there, anchoring the lineup with that swing honed from a lifetime chasing hitting perfection. He was arguably the definitive designated hitter and even without the Seattle nostalgia, it’s hard to understand why he isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Sure, naysayers will point to the fact that Martinez was a designated hitter for the majority of his career After all, if you remove all the defense from a player’s game they must be a little less valuable, right? That sort of bias sunk Harold Baines’s candidacy when he had a 22-year career and played in 1,643 games as a designated hitter. Edgar played in 1,403 games as a DH, more than anyone besides Baines or David Ortiz (1,889).

But playing DH doesn’t remove all the value from a player, especially when they’re a transcendent batter… and make no mistake, Martinez was transcendent. Over the 18 seasons he played with Seattle he batted .312 — only five right-handed batters in the post-1961 expansion era have done better than that. His counting stats were pretty monstrous too: 2,247 hits, 309 home runs, 514 doubles, 1,283 walks , and 1,261 runs batted in. There are only nine players all-time who recorded a .300 career batting average, 300 home runs, 500 doubles, 1,000 walks and a .400 career on-base percentage. Those guys are Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Todd Helton, Rogers Hornsby, Chipper Jones, Stan Musial, Manny Ramirez, and Babe Ruth. That’s some great company to keep*.

*Seven of those nine men are already in the Hall; Helton (newly eligible) might be by this time next year. Manny’s the lone outsider, held back by scandal, not by numbers.

The real amazing thing about Edgar was that he started pretty late. His first full big league season didn’t come until he was 27. Imagine the numbers that he could have put up if he had made the leap a little sooner, or been switched to DH a little earlier to help preserve his health.

That late start didn’t keep him from racking up awards. His accolades include five Silver Slugger Awards (1992, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2003), seven All-Star games (1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003), and two Batting Titles (1992, 1995). To put those plaudits into perspective, he was the first player to win multiple batting titles since Joe freaking DiMaggio. That puts him in company with some of the best hitters baseball has ever seen.

To be sure, the lack of World Series rings probably hurts his legacy*. But he’s at least got the most famous and important hit in Mariners history. In the 11th inning of Game 5 of the 1995 AL Division Series, immediately after New York had taken a 5-4 lead, Edgar smacked a double into left field, sending Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr to score — in Seattle it’s just called “The Double.” It was Seattle’s first postseason win and is often credited with saving baseball in the Emerald City. It’s hard to imagine a hit that’s had more of an impact on its franchise.

*“Fun” fact: Seattle is one of only two MLB franchises to not make a world series; the other is Washington DC, who used to play in Montreal.

But to properly contextualize Edgar’s status and impact on the game you only need to look at the award given to the outstanding Designated Hitter every year since 1973: it was, after all, named the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitting Award when he retired in 2004. They don’t name awards after you if you weren’t the defining player at your position, and the award was not named at all until Edgar redefined how important a DH could be to a franchise. Incidentally, he also won the award five times.

Martinez may not have won a World Series, but he was vital to the development and legitimization of the designated hitter position. He’s already in the Mariners Hall of Fame, he has a street named after him, and his name is already immortalized in the pantheon of great baseball… but he still deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame. Get on it, Cooperstown.


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