October 8, 1995. 11:19-ish CST. A lifelong New York Yankees fan sitting on pins and needles because his team has real championship aspirations for the first time since 1981. The excitement over Randy Velarde giving the Yankees the lead in the top of the 11th quickly gives way to the realization that Edgar Martinez will have to be dealt with in the bottom half of the inning. And on cue, the nightmare begins. An 0-1 pitch to Edgar lined into left field for a double. Joey Cora scores.
And then this happens: “Here comes Junior”. “They’re gonna wave him in.”
The promise of 1994 ended by a strike. And now 1995 done in by Edgar. The video is still as vivid in my mind as it was 20 years ago.
Edgar Martinez was one of the most-feared hitters in the American League during his seventeen-year career, and not just to Yankee fans. His slash line of .312/.418/.515 does not begin to tell the entire story about his prowess at the plate. ‘Gar won two batting titles and finished a controversial third in the 1995 AL MVP voting. He hit 514 career doubles, and his .418 OBP is twenty-second all time. A career OPS of .933? That’s number 32 in baseball history.
Martinez made his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010. After spending several years hovering around 35-percent of the votes needed for induction, the designated hitter took a dive last year to just over 25-percent. The combination of a now crowded ballot, and the reduction in years of eligibility from 15 to 10 has Martinez on the outside looking in for the moment. These are two factors in Martinez’s candidacy, but the real factor at play here is a refusal on the BBWAA to consider a player that spent the majority of his career at a fully legitimate position that is not recognized with respect by many baseball purists — the designated hitter.
Martinez spent his first six seasons mostly at third base, before becoming a full-time DH in 1995. Hamstring and wrist injuries had limited his playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Mariners decided his bat was far too important not to be in the lineup. This, in spite of the fact that most statistics show he was an above-average fielder at the hot corner. Martinez did not establish himself in the Mariners’ everyday lineup until his age-27 season, thus limiting the number of prime years in the field that would be available.
Designated hitter has been a full, legal and required position in the American League since 1972. Penalizing a player for playing a required position makes no sense. Martinez took 71-percent of his at bats as a DH. Frank Thomas had 57-percent of his at bats as a DH, but made the Hall of Fame quickly based primarily on his career home run total of 521. If the DH had been adopted by both leagues, we may not even be having this discussion. That fact may remain to be seen and is a discussion for another day. The idea that the BBWAA does not induct the best player of all time at his position is a slap in the face.
I could go on and on comparing this stat to that stat, trying to play up the fact that if Player A is in the Hall, then why isn’t Player B. Statistics can be manipulated to make most any argument for any borderline Hall of Famer. The fact remains that Martinez’s numbers stand on their own, he is not a borderline Hall of Famer. Edgar Martinez is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, and his numbers don’t need manipulation. If a poll were taken of pitchers that faced him during his career, Martinez would be one of the first players mentioned that they did not want to face.
There is no need to take a poll if the following quotes from three of the greatest pitchers of all time mean anything. Here’s what Pedro Martinez had to say to MLB Network when asked about the toughest hitter he had to face:
“Believe it or not, the guy that I hated facing the most wasn’t a guy that really did well against me. It was actually a guy that didn’t do that well … The toughest guy I faced I think — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez. He had to make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 (each time we faced). I was hard-breathing after that. Edgar was a guy that had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off because I couldn’t get the guy out.”
Randy Johnson in conversation with the Seattle Times:
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “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. And I hope that his time comes soon, that he gets a phone all stating that he’s a Hall of Fame player, because he is.”
And finally, from the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera:
The toughest – and thank God he retired – (former Mariners DH) Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.”
Rivera had good reason to make this statement as Martinez held a .579/.652/1.053 slashline against him. That’s 11-for-19 with three doubles, two home runs, three walks and four strikeouts. Numbers that I would doubt anyone ever came close to matching against Rivera.
It would seem that Edgar Martinez has the numbers to be put in the Hall of Fame. Opponents and teammates alike all feel like he is a Hall of Famer. Everyone but the BBWAA. It is time for this organization to get over their bias and elect the greatest DH of all time and one of the top hitters that has ever been seen. For now though, he will have wait and see how the vote plays out.
Hopefully, they get it right. The 2016 class, headlined by Junior, is the right time to fix a wrong that has gone on far too long.