I’m really tired of talking about this. This shouldn’t even be a debate. Yet, it rages on, with new fuel in the form of another guy who goes by a ‘Papi’ moniker as well, David Ortiz. But the Papi I’m talking about is more famously known in the Pacific Northwest as ‘Gar. That would be Edgar Martinez. Never heard of him? What hole under what rock in the Mariana Trench have you been inhabiting? But seriously, Edgar Martinez deserves to be in the Hall of Fame near Frank Thomas as two of the best Designated Hitters in all of the 42-year history of the DH. Yes, I’m aware that The Big Hurt played a larger portion of his career with a first baseman’s mitt on (Edgar has 25% more plate appearances at DH than Thomas), but he’s inarguably a DH. I don’t want to pick a fight, but I have to say, in the case of Edgar Martinez, the Baseball Writers Association of America has failed.
There are currently over 700 active members of the BBWAA. It is clear that a majority of those members are blinded by their bias against the DH. I mean, isn’t that really the reason Edgar’s Hall ballot support has been, well, to keep things family friendly, lackluster? Aside from all of my other issues with the Hall or the BBWAA, how players are enshrined seems to be more subject to the whims of those casting ballots than ever before. The so-called Steroid Era looms as an unwavering storm from overhead Cooperstown. And yet, Edgar has never even been mentioned as suspect in bar stool arguments or on sports TV and radio. You’d probably get laughed off of Baseball Tonight for even broaching the subject. On the MLB Network, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harold Reynolds slap you for saying such a thing. The point? It’s a non-issue folks. So, then, why have we seen his ballot results never top 40% (a high of 36.5% in 2012) and slink down last year to a deplorable 27.0%? It’s that stinkin’ Designate Hitter Rule. The BBWAA culture chokes on its repugnance when speaking of the DH. It is a less and less defensible argument every year further away from 1973. Will he be continuously under-appreciated for the remainder of the four years he has left on the ballot? Thanks again to recent rule changes that shrank the ballot time, it seems, unfortunately that he may not get voted in. That’s not going to stop me from getting on my soapbox.
Here’s my plan of attack, beyond the brilliant gauntlet throwing I just issued at the feet of the BBWAA (I’ll certainly never get credentialed with them now). I will lead with the surely anticipated statistical argument with analysis of Martinez’s numbers in comparison to “what it takes to get in” and other players. Then I will provide some of my own anecdotal information, as my status as a baseball fan came through infancy to adulthood watching Martinez. Then I might just remind you, for the 37th time, that he is arguably the best DH in the history of the game (with no offense to my man Ortiz). And lastly, I will illustrate how his permeation into the culture of the Pacific Northwest further cements his deserving to get a plaque, on a wall, in upstate New York. Alright, let’s get to it!
Time to take a look back at Edgar’s career numbers. In 18 big league seasons (15 full, 3 truncated by bouncing back to the minors), Edgar had 2,247 hits to the tune of a very respectable slash line of .312/.418/.515. His 309 homers are pedestrian, but his power was always line drive and to the gaps resulting in 514 doubles (51st on the all-time leader board). He is the proud owner of two batting titles; hitting .343 in 1992 and .356 in 1995. In fact, at the end of that 1995 season, he also led the AL in runs, doubles, OBP, OPS, and OPS+. That translated to a 7.0 WAR season, but somehow he finished third in MVP voting to Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle, which would be his closest brush with an MVP trophy. It could reasonably be argued that Edgar out-hit both Vaughn and Belle that season. Maybe if postseason play affected voting, he might have won for something special he did in ’95 (more on that later).
Every season from ’95 to ’98 Martinez drew 100-plus walks, 46 of those were intentional free passes. Don’t forget who some of the guys hitting around him in the lineup were in that time span. Just some names like Griffey, Buhner, and a skinny kid named Alex at shortstop. When he put the ball in play he was extremely effective, with a career BABIP of .335. To put that in a little more context, that is good enough for 17th place all-time. That’s seven points higher than Ted Williams‘s career BABIP and we all know Teddy Ballgame was a pretty good hitter. If there were runners on, and there were a lot of runners on in the mid- to late-90’s, sauntering around the Kingdome bags, Edgar was gonna make sure they advanced or came home.
Digging even further into his bag of sabermetric diamonds, you’ll find that, among players with a minimum of 6,000 plate appearances, ‘Gar had a career TAv (True Average) of .320. Know what? That’s good, nay, great enough to tie him with Willie Stargell for 15th place on the all-time list. It’s a little known secret that “Pops” Stargell is in the Hall of Fame. As of Tuesday afternoon, earlier this week, Miguel Cabrera is only 2 points better than Edgar for his career TAv. From Bristol, Connecticut to the San Francisco Bay, people seem to think Miggy is a solid hitter. Interesting that a guy with these kinds of numbers is watching the walls close in on his Hall chances like that trash compactor in Star Wars.
To really sock it to you like an Edgar double, I’ll just let Jay Jaffe slap you silly with the JAWS argument. The one problem Jaffe had to circumnavigate in Edgar’s case was, that since he was primarily a DH, he had to run a few different comparisons. Jay lined Edgar up against average HoF third basemen, average HoF corner infielders, and your run-of-the-mill average HoF hitter. In all three instances, Edgar makes the cut. Martinez possesses a career 68.3 WAR (the comparables are: 67.4 for 3B, 66.5 for corner guys, and 67.1 for average hitters). His peak WAR and JAWS numbers of 43.6 and 56.0 clear all three hurdles. Is it time to drop the microphone yet?
No, not at all. It isn’t in my nature. Remember how I said I’d remind you for the 413th time that Edgar might be the best Designated Hitter ever? Yeah, my schedule just alerted me the time slot for that slight hyperbole has arrived. Look, I love David Ortiz. He is truly a hero for anyone who roots for the Red Sox. I’ll leave Frank Thomas out of this argument, because he played many more games in the field than either Martinez or Ortiz. In very similar career lengths – Edgar played in 2,055 games and Ortiz 2,120 (after Friday’s game became official) – there are some interesting comparisons to make. I only do this, because as Ortiz approaches that ‘magical plateau’ of 500 homers, the talk is that he is a lock for the Hall. Edgar has a career OPS 9 points higher than Ortiz at .933, which ranks him 33rd all-time for those who are scoring at home. Ortiz is perceived as the superior slugger, but with a 31-point advantage in slugging percentage, that is clearly due to his 159 extra homers. Edgar bests Ortiz in both average and on-base percentage by 28 and 39 points, respectively. In using baseball-reference’s Play Index, I looked at both players’ go-ahead, game-tying, and walk-off hits. The numbers tilt in Ortiz’s favor with 306 go-ahead, 96 tying, and 19 walk-off to 233, 65, and 5 for Edgar. I would argue Ortiz has just had more chances in high leverage situations since he has played the majority of his career on winning teams. It’s a clear correlation. Though a Seattle native — “Seattleites” for those not in the know — I root for both the Red Sox and the Mariners (check my bio at the bottom of the page). The ’99 All Star Game and Pedro Martinez‘s performance therein stole my heart. It is one particular walk-off hit by Edgar that may color my bias in this particular debate. So, please excuse the historical tangent, but I promise it enriches the context.
I came to appreciate and grow to love baseball later in life. My high school afternoons were spent playing a rough and rugged style of street basketball. It was the peak of Michael Jordan’s career and the Seattle Supersonics were perennial contenders (I was a season ticket holder. There went my allowance!). By my junior year, I had started to spread the love to baseball. Unfortunately, while suffering through a fever of 106 degrees, I watched Sid Bream slide all the way home and spill into my living room via fever hallucinations. It was horrific, to say the least. But then the strike of 1994 delivered a huge blow to baseball fans everywhere, of every level of interest. In Seattle, it was a particularly crushing blow. The Mariners had threatened to move a few times, with meager attendance and a flailing franchise. Voters in King County had also defeated initiatives proposing a new stadium to get the M’s out of the Kingdome, which was kind of like Seattle’s version of O.co Coliseum. It looked as though Seattle would lose its baseball team. The grayest clouds Seattle may have long since seen hung over the beginning of the 1995 season.
At the end of that season, the Mariners had improbably slogged their way into a tie with the [then] California Angels. The American League West would have to be decided in a one game playoff. A wild and fearsome Randy Johnson helped the M’s beat their former ace, Mark Langston, for a ticket to face the hated New York Yankees in the ALDS. In that series, Edgar just demolished Yankee pitching, hitting .571/.667/1.000 and still shares a hold on the record for most hits in a division series. He had twelve hits in the ’95 ALDS, but there’s only one that really matters in the collective memory of Mariners fans. It’s called “The Double,” a hit with a Wikipedia page, and it saved baseball in Seattle. The euphoria is most often captured by the photograph of Ken Griffey Jr. flashing his famous smile from the bottom of a pig pile at home plate. We had our own slide to celebrate now, but Edgar’s ability to take a Jack McDowell offering and shoot it down the left field line for a double is the real piece of magic. It’s like Edgar went on-deck of the Mariners’ ship and single-handedly dropped the anchor to keep the team in Seattle. It was the biggest moment in Seattle sports history since the Sonics won the 1979 NBA championship and would remain so for many years. Cue the video (if you don’t wanna watch the whole video, scroll ahead to about 4:34 for the magic)!
After saving baseball in Seattle, Edgar was teaching me a lot about hitting. I remember a friend and me watching tons of games together and both of us getting really frustrated by Edgar’s reticence to swing at the first pitch (usually a fastball from memory). We’d be yelling at him to swing! Boy, were we ignorant. We didn’t really understand baseball or, more distinctly, hitting. That patience and plate discipline I couldn’t initially understand was exactly the same quality I praised guys like Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis for. Edgar was the one to truly teach me the importance of plate discipline – not as a hitter, mind you, but as a spectator – and he deserves credit for that. Even beyond that, he has changed the landscape of Seattle culture.
One of the main streets edging Safeco Field is now called Edgar Martinez Drive. I even have a friend whose dog was named Edgar. That poor dog would be going nuts every time her family was watching Mariners games and cheering “Eddd-gaarrrrr….Eddd-gaarrrr”.
While that may seem to be human interest fluff, it illustrates how deep he is ensconced in the minds of Seattleites and the culture of the city. That should just be the icing on the cake of all the numbers used to show he deserves that plaque. You have four more ballot years left to correct your mistakes of under-appreciation and oversight.