Edgar Martinez Hall Test Case


If Edgar Martinez cannot be elected to the Hall of Fame, then no designated hitter is going to be inducted any time soon.

Martinez, who spent his entire 18 years in the majors with the Seattle Mariners, and was so popular in Seattle the community named a street after him, is the player who best exemplifies what the designated hitter role is about and since the rule was introduced in 1973 Martinez has been its best practitioner.

That is why it will be telling when the results of the current Baseball Writers Association of America balloting are revealed Jan. 9. The writers have until Dec. 31 to vote for the class of 2012 to be inducted at Cooperstown in July. Even Major League Baseball has been schizophrenic about the DH idea with the American League adapting to it and the National League ignoring it and sticking with the old style game where pitchers bat for themselves. So there is every chance the voters, 75 percent of whom must declare for a player for him to be accepted, will be, too.

The leagues’ dichotomy cannot help Martinez’s (or anyone else’s) DH-driven candidacy. It would be one thing if Martinez spent, say 10 years as a full-time all-around player in the field and at bat, and then switched to DH. However, except for the beginning of his career, Martinez was a full-time DH. He is Exhibit A for the existence of a career that was shaped by the designated hitter rule.

Martinez batted .312 lifetime and won two American League batting crowns. He was selected for seven All-Star teams and won five Silver Slugger awards as the best hitter at his position. Off the field he was the recipient of the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award for his service to the community and charitable work. The guy was beloved in Seattle for his play on the field, his demeanor off the field, and his character and grace.

Revealingly, when Martinez retired in 2004, Major League Baseball named the designated hitter award after him. Now that’s an endorsement given that the only other players in baseball history to have standing awards named for them are Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Cy Young, and Clemente. That is very good company to be mentioned with for Martinez.

Martinez also has been chosen for the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.

Besides his first-rate batting average, Martinez slugged 309 home runs, drove in 1,261 runs, and scored 1,219 runs. He also walked 1,283 times, which partially explains his extraordinary lifetime .418 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage was .515. Known more for his rally-starting doubles than his home-run-finishing prowess, Martinez led the American League in doubles twice. To appreciate Martinez’s contributions it is required to closely review the entire package of his statistics rather than just focusing on a single one.

While ballots do not come with sections for commentary, the votes themselves being viewed as such, there is little doubt that a Martinez candidacy is inextricably mixed up with a referendum on the designated hitter. A voter who disdains the DH rule is not going to reward the man who proved how valuable it can be.  A voter who doesn’t see a DH as a “real player” because he doesn’t play the field is not going to be swayed by Martinez’ superior record.

It’s hard to enough to gain acceptance into the Hall of Fame, but Edgar Martinez has a tougher road to get in than anyone else. He has served a pioneering role for other DHs in years to come. Those who watched Martinez closely during his career know he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. But it might not ever happen.

Be sure to check out Lew’s other Hall of Fame profiles.