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February 24, 2009

The Kid is back in Seattle...color me nostalgic

In a day when money wins out, I’ll admit it, when a guy remembers his roots and goes back to where it all started to end his career…I grin.

Sure, the situations were different, but Eddie Murray did it. Willie McCovey did it. Even Hank Aaron did it. And proving there is some decency left in baseball, Ken Griffey, Jr. (allegedly having been advised by Aaron) is on his way back to Seattle.

The press conference has come and gone, but seeing that familiar Junior smile reminded me of a day from my youth...June 21, 1991.

You won’t find it in any history books. You won’t even find it over at Wikipedia because there is no significance to it whatsoever.

That being said, look it up at Baseball Reference and you’ll see that on June 21, 1991, Randy Johnson and his Mariners upended Chris Bosio and the Brew Crew 5-1.

You see, for my best friend E (check out his ramblings HERE) and me, one of our favorite summer pastimes was driving up to Milwaukee, hitting County Stadium and watching the Brewers. Immediately following each game, we took part in what would prove to be our second favorite pastime…hanging out OUTSIDE County Stadium for autographs.

As the score indicated, it was a pretty uneventful game. But we knew that once we descended upon the parking lot, it would be a whole different story.

Autograph hounds would swarm the players. Every single one of us knew that with every Dale Sveum and Darryl Hamilton that walked past us, future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount were just around the corner.

On the other side of the parking lot, the Mariners were no different. If you could patiently wait through for Greg Briley and Dave Burba to pass, you’re bound to be greeted by Big Unit or Junior.

Add Seattle’s starting shortstop Omar Vizquel to the list that already included Molitor, Yount, Johnson and Griffey and we can now say that we saw FIVE potential Hall of Famers on the field that day. Outside of an All-Star game, when was the last time you can say that?

But did we see a sixth?

No, I’m not talking about Alvin Davis (even though I was HUGE on the former Rookie of the Year)…I’m talking about Seattle’s then starting third baseman Edgar Martinez.

Edgar Martinez a Hall of Famer? I can hear you scoffing now.

With Harold Baines not able to get more than six percent of the vote, how can “Papi” fair any better? Will he be the guy that forces the writers to forget their perceived bias against full-time designated hitters?

Who knows?

Martinez is eligible to enter Cooperstown in 2010 and regardless of the competition (other notable first-timers include Fred McGriff and Barry Larkin), he’s already getting a ton of support. But is it justified? Did Martinez do enough to garner consideration?

What do I think? I’m on the fence.

I mean, unlike some of the other players that have been chronicled here at The Hall…Martinez doesn’t SMELL like a Hall of Famer to me. He has no “magic numbers”, but should we overlook that in the case of the Martinez? After all, this is the same dude that, in 2004, Major League Baseball named their yearly DH awards after!

After a lengthy stay in the minors, Martinez proved that he was all hit and no field and that’s exactly why the Mariners CAUTIOUSLY took a chance on him.

Prior to the 1993 season, their cautious optimism won out when Martinez tore his hamstring and never fully recovered. Sure…this hindered his ability to be an every day fielder…but not his ability to be a full-time hitter. Two seasons later, he became the first (and to date, only) DH to win a batting title when he led the league with a .356 average.

But again, can a full-time DH find his way to Cooperstown? In the case of Martinez, I suggest you need to look at his qualifications first, then take into account the position he played.

At the forefront of his accomplishments is the fact that Martinez one of only SEVEN players that have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, a career on-base percentage above .400 and a career slugging percentage above .500.

And who are the other six? Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and future Hall member Manny Ramirez…not exactly a bad crowd to be affiliated with.

Martinez retired with a career batting average of .312, seven All-Star game appearances, five Silver Slugger awards and two batting titles. While he never brought home an MVP award, he finished third in 1995 and sixth in 2000.

It is easy to speculate that if Martinez was an every day player…he might have taken home the award in either one of those seasons. In 2000, he batted .324 with a career best 37 home runs and a league leading 145 RBI…and was 37 when he did it!

In what was the best span of his career (1995 to 2001), Martinez had a batting average of .329. More than half (1196) of his career hit total (2247) came during this time.

In 1995 and 1996 Martinez topped 50 doubles, making him only the fifth player to accomplished back-to-back seasons of 50 or more doubles. During the afore mentioned seven year stretch, he averaged 42 two baggers a season.

Apparently batting behind the likes of Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro had their benefits too. From 1995 to 2001, Martinez averaged 110 RBI and six times in those seven years, Martinez topped 100 RBI.

The guy is Seattle’s all-time leader in a number of their major offensive categories. He’s in their top ten in a slew of others. It’s even said that Martinez “saved Seattle baseball” with a series-winning double versus the Yankees in the 1995 American League Division Series.

So does the face of Seattle baseball, full-time designated hitter or not, deserve a plaque in Cooperstown?

Again…I’m on the fence.

We’re talking about a guy who wasn’t an every day player until he was 27 and because of that (and the hamstring injury)…his peak was much later than some of his contemporaries. He hit none of the magical milestones, brought home none of the prominent hardware and since the Mariners didn’t have much post-season success…neither did he.

Edgar Martinez is a guy who will probably stick around on the ballot for the entire 15 years that he’s allowed. After that, I suspect, his fate will be in the hands of the Veteran’s Committee.

Until then, I’ll have to remember that day in 1991 where I was snubbed by Unit (oh well) and E sent a horde of Griffey hungry autograph seekers in the direction of Alonzo Powell. I remember the cry of “hey, kids…there goes Junior” like it was yesterday.

BallHype: hype it up!


Eric B. said...

A case can be made...and you've done a decent job carrying Edgar's flag here, But I just don't think he had enough years as a dominant player to warrant the HOF.

Solid player I would have wanted on my team any day, but not a feared hitter that put up monster numbers for aa sustained period of time.

Buy a ticket like the rest of us Edgar.

Matt said...

"not a feared hitter that put up monster numbers for a sustained period of time. "

I have to disagree with this a bit, as from 1990 to 2004 Edgar had only two seasons ('93 due to injury I think and strike shortened '94) where he had an an OPS+ BELOW 132. Sure he didn't reach all the counting numbers, but I don't think an argument on the basis of longevity is reasonable, since he played until he was 41 and was an above average hitter every year until his last. He just got a late shot at the big leagues.

When you look at the non-counting stats, he holds up great. Career AVG. over .300, OBP over .400, SLG over .500. Great player who got a late career start in the Bigs due to injury concerns.

Finally, if you're going to let relief pitchers in, there should be NO issue with a DH.