By IAN WILSON and JOE McFARLAND
EDGAR IS GOOD.
If you went to a Seattle Mariners home game in 2000, that’s what flashed on the big screen in left field when Edgar Martinez stepped to the plate.
It would often flash again right after his at-bat, when he ended up either on base or touching home plate.
By that point of his career, every fan at Safeco Field knew that Edgar was good – that year in particular, it was a massive understatement. The designated hitter put together a monster campaign, launching a career-high 37 home runs, establishing a personal best with 145 runs batted in, scoring 100 runs, batting .324 and getting on base at a .423 clip.
So, yeah, Edgar really was good.
But we will have to wait at least another year to answer the question of just how good. More specifically, we’ll have to wait to find out if one of the Calgary Cannons best exports is National Baseball Hall of Fame good.
Four new MLB players – Chipper Jones, Vlad Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman – have been voted into the Hall, but Martinez fell short, garnering 70.4% of the votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). The cutoff is 75%.
Despite the near miss, Martinez will be well-positioned to enter Cooperstown next year when he enters his final year of eligibility.
Ex-teammates and opponents of the right-handed slugger have no doubts about his place in the game, and the word “good” is rarely enough to describe his achievements.
Bret Boone – a Calgary Cannon alum who played with Martinez in Seattle – called Edgar’s career .312 batting average and .418 on-base percentage “off the charts” numbers.
“He helped me a lot in the hitting aspect. Just talking hitting. I always wanted to pick his brain because in his heyday I used to watch him and it was like, he was so good,” said the All-Star second baseman, who won four Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards.
“I’d watch Edgar and I remember telling people you could start him with two strikes, and he was kind of like the right-handed Tony Gwynn … just such a student of hitting and such a good hitter. Dominant.”
‘THEY DON’T LET PEOPLE IN THAT SHOULD BE IN’
During a 2017 interview with Alberta Dugout Stories, Boone admitted he’s not a big fan of the Hall of Fame (HOF) induction process, but there is no question that Martinez belongs in Cooperstown.
“I think that it’s ridiculous that they don’t let people in that should be in. There are fifty guys sitting outside the Hall of Fame that should be in the Hall of Fame. They’re so stingy,” he said.
“I think it’s a bunch of BS … and I really don’t give it that much credence anymore. Obviously, it’s an honour and a privilege to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, but I see so many guys that should be in that aren’t so I don’t rank it as high as I used to.”
Martinez – who wore No. 11 in Seattle and No. 17 in Calgary – is already a member of the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame and his time with the Cannons earned him a spot in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Hall of Fame.
Between 1985 and 1989, he played 276 games for the Cannons, hitting 21 home runs, collecting 167 RBI and scoring 176 runs. His PCL career batting average was .344, and his .363 average in 1988 made him the league batting champion and Cannons MVP.
In 1989, the New Yorker made the transition from Triple-A to the major leagues for good, spending 18 productive seasons in Seattle. But he never forgot about his time with the Cannons and the role it played in his development.
“In Calgary I got a chance to play every day. I got a good feeling about myself and carried that same feeling over here,” Martinez told the Canadian Press on June 18, 1989.
HARD-WORKING AND HUMBLE
Russ Parker, who brought the Cannons to Calgary in 1985 and owned the team until their final season in 2002, said he never would have predicted a Hall of Fame career out of Edgar, but he was amazed by his tenacity.
“I don’t think we had a player that was so dedicated to the work ethic of knowing what he had to do to stay at the big leagues,” Parker told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“Edgar is just a quality human being and I’m not surprised he’s now getting considered (for the Hall of Fame) …. It was something to watch him work. He was very humble. He’s not a rah-rah guy, he just did it.”
Parker, who also owned the Calgary Cardinals and Calgary Expos of the Pioneer League, said Martinez’s commitment was evident on the rare occasions he was sent back down to the Cannons from Seattle.
“When you got sent down from the major leagues, it was 72 hours that you had to report. Most guys when they came down, they took at least 72 hours to report back to Triple-A. Edgar would be there the next day. It was unbelievable what he would do. You’d come in the next day and there’s Edgar in the batting cages … just loved being in the ballpark,” recalled Parker.
Jamie Moyer – who is also on this year’s HOF ballot – made mention of Edgar’s hard work in the batting cages in his book Just Tell Me I Can’t, which he co-wrote with Larry Platt.
“Edgar Martinez would spend hours every day in the batting cage – but not hitting baseballs. Instead, he’d fill the hitting machine with tennis balls, on which he would have written numbers with a black felt-tip pen,” wrote Moyer, a veteran of 25 MLB seasons, including 10 with Martinez and the Mariners.
“He’d hit each ball while simultaneously yelling out the number on it – a daily exercise in concentration and focus.”
While Parker isn’t surprised now that Martinez could soon be headed for Cooperstown, he said “nobody would have ever thought he was a guy who would go to the Hall” back in the 1980s.
Bill Haywood, farm director for the Mariners, told Parker: “I got you a third baseman. He’s a pretty good glove, but he’s not going to hit anything for you.”
Mario Diaz, a Cannons shortstop who roomed with Martinez in Calgary, remembers Edgar’s ability at the plate and at third base.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen … when it came to hitting, he knew his craft and he perfected it,” said Diaz.
“I always believed if he was a third baseman everyday he could’ve made the Hall of Fame also as a third baseman.”
Infielder Steve Springer, who suited up for the Cannons in 1991 after Martinez had established himself in Seattle, played against “Gar” in the PCL in the late 1980s. He called the humble hitter’s Hall of Fame induction a no-brainer.
“He’s obviously one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time. Give me another DH that was better than Edgar Martinez?” said Springer, who now trains players of all ages.
If David Ortiz makes the HOF, Springer said Martinez has to be there, too.
Martinez – who earned the nickname “Papi” before Ortiz became known as “Big Papi” – is in the Cooperstown conversation because of what he did at the plate. But critics say he spent too much time playing as a designated hitter (68%), and not enough at third base (27%). Although the DH has been in effect in the American League since 1973 and MLB’s Outstanding Designated Hitter Award was named after Martinez in 2004, many baseball purists don’t value players in that role as highly as players who take the field game in, game out.
In his 2017 book Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball, Edgar’s long-time manager Lou Piniella dubbed his former DH as “most worthy of the Hall of Fame” and hoped that the case for Ortiz might help sway HOF voters in Martinez’s favour.
“Hopefully, what David Ortiz has accomplished as a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee has put the DH in a new light with the voters, and Edgar will get his due,” wrote Piniella.
Knowing just how good Edgar is, we suspect he’ll get his due, too – it will just take a bit longer than expected.
Martinez wasn’t the only former Alberta player to be disappointed by the Hall of Fame voting results. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) – the gatekeepers of the Hall who vote on inductees – determined that former Medicine Hat Blue Jays Chris Carpenter and Orlando Hudson were not up to snuff. Appearing in their first year on the ballot, former Cy Young winner Carpenter received two votes while Hudson had zero, meaning they will not appear on future ballots.
Former Edmonton Trapper Johan Santana performed better with 2.4% of the votes, but still fell short of the 5% required to stay on the ballot, so he too is one and done. Unlike Carpenter and Hudson, he may have a shot at being elected by a Hall of Fame committee in the future.
The news, however, was more optimistic for defensive wizard Omar Vizquel. The former Calgary Cannon shortstop had a decent showing – receiving 37% of the vote. He will be back in the hunt when voting resumes later this year.