After 10 long years — 10 years too many, in my opinion — Tuesday is Edgar Martinez’s big day.
Martinez, a Mariner his entire career, was rightfully elected to the Hall of Fame Tuesday, finally overcoming the silly and antiquated bias against designated hitters.
When Martinez first got on the Hall of Fame ballot 10 years ago and was only getting 20 or 30 percent of the vote, I didn’t really hold out much hope the writers would ever buy a clue and put him in.
Back in the mid-90s when everyone in Seattle was idolizing Ken Griffey Jr., my favorite all along was Martinez. I think it was that sweet, compact swing of his. A perfect swing. And I used to wonder how the heck he did it while holding his bat in his stance directly at the pitcher. He didn’t have the raw power of Griffey or even Jay Buhner, but man, he could put it in the gap in the opposite field like no one I’ve ever seen.
I think the other reason I zeroed in on Martinez as my favorite Mariner was the way he would limp down the baseline. I actually didn’t know this part of his story until I moved to Washington. Martinez was a serviceable third baseman for the Mariners until he ruptured his hamstring in 1993.
That injury never fully healed. He rarely if ever played third base again. If the injury had happened 30 years earlier, he might have been converted to a first baseman, but more likely, his career would have been over.
DH saved his career
So the DH saved Edgar’s career. It also cursed him. Because if he hadn’t been a DH, he would have been in the Hall of Fame 10 years ago with the numbers he put up.
It’s interesting to me that after 45 years, there is still a deeply entrenched bias against designated hitters. Honestly, I’m not a young man, and I can’t remember baseball without the DH. But, in my online baseball discussion group, there’s a lot of old-timers who complain about players’ hair being too long and there’s too many players who can’t speak English and how they all make too much money today.
Among their Get Off My Lawn complaints is almost daily complaining about the DH. “He was half a player!” “He didn’t play the entire game.” “In my day, players played the field! And they liked it!”
Well, guess what? Mariano Rivera pitched 70 to 80 innings a year — out of about 1,450 innings his team played every year. That’s roughly 5 percent of his team’s innings each year. Talk about a “part-time player.”
And Rivera got in the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. With 100 percent of the vote. And no one will bat an eye. Including me. I’m just making a point that the “part-time player” argument is weak at best.
Martinez is also a triumph for sabremetrics. It’s interesting to see the same old-timers get hung up on what us whippersnappers call “counting stats.”
Counting stats are basic stats: Hits, HRs and RBIs.
Martinez’s “counting stats” are not that strong — for a couple of reasons. He only ended up with 2,247 hits, which old-timers will be very eager to tell you “is fewer than Bert Campaneris.”
Well, those Guardians of the Lawn are completely ignoring that Martinez also had 1,283 walks. He was outstanding at drawing walks. Combining his hits and walk and HBP, he got on base 3,619 times … which is more than Roberto Clemente, who had 3,000 hits.
You can’t just look at hits. Batting average is now known as an overrated stat, the real stat that matters is on-base percentage.
And Martinez’s on-base percentage and his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), were spectacular. His OBP was .418, the 21st highest in the entire 150-year history of baseball stats. His OPS was .933, the 32nd highest in history. He is right up there with people like Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Willie Mays when it comes to OBP and OPS. These are the numbers that have a lot more meaning than 2,247 hits.
This is one somewhat — and I stress “somewhat” — valid criticism of Martinez’s Hall of Fame bona fides. He did have a relatively short career. He didn’t become a full-time player until he was 27 and then missed the equivalent of two full seasons — the biggest injury being that torn hamstring. So, he only played in 2,100 games, but in my opinion in that relatively short career, he did more than enough.
A lot of old-timer baseball writers have been removed as Hall of Fame voters, replaced by younger writers embracing more advanced baseball metrics. And slowly, Martinez’ vote total has been building the past five years or so, up to 40 percent, 50 percent and last year 70 percent.
And now over the magical 75 percent. The day has come. A day I’ve been waiting for 10 years. My favorite Mariner is in.