Designated Hall of Famer

By IAN WILSON

Good things come to those who wait.

In the case of former Seattle Mariner and Calgary Cannon Edgar Martinez, he’s become accustomed to waiting.

And not just at the plate either.

After going undrafted and signing with the Mariners in 1982, the third baseman spent the majority of the next seven years in the minor leagues, including 276 games with the Triple-A Cannons.

The rest of his career was spent with the Mariners, mostly as a designated hitter (DH), where Martinez waited for a World Series berth that never came before retiring at the end of the 2004 season.

When his career Major League Baseball (MLB) numbers – 309 home runs, a .312 batting average and a .418 on-base percentage – were deemed worthy of National Baseball Hall of Fame consideration, Martinez would once again be forced to exercise patience as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) deliberated his fate.

But, after his 10th and final year on the ballot, the wait is over and it’s good news for the man who was called “Papi” by his teammates and who simply became known as “Edgar” to Seattle sports fans. Needing a minimum of 75% of the vote from the BBWAA, Martinez punched his ticket to Cooperstown, N.Y. after appearing on 85% of the ballots. He joins Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina as members of the 2019 induction class.

PURE HITTER

“I’d put him up against anybody as a pure hitter at his peak,” said Bret Boone, who played with Martinez in Seattle after graduating from the Cannons in 1993.

“To have that body of work, 15-plus years in the big leagues and you’re career average to be .312, is bigger than people can imagine. To be .312 career and play that long in the big leagues is just off the charts to me. It’s just really remarkable.”

The 56-year-old is one of only nine MLB players to hit over 300 home runs, smack more than 500 doubles, draw over 1,000 walks, post a batting average over .300 and produce an on-base percentage in excess of .400. The Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, awarded annually in the American League, also bears his name.

May7_1987_Edgar
1987 Calgary Herald photo

But the knock on the right-handed hitting slugger has little to do with his productivity at the plate. A segment of the BBWAA voters objected to Martinez’s extensive time spent as a full-time batsman. Of his 2,055 MLB games played, 68% were as the Mariners DH. Many baseball purists prefer position players, arguing designated hitters are one-dimensional and contribute less to the game. The recent election of another DH, however, and the impending inclusion of another helped pave the way for the two-time American League batting champ. Former White Sox outfielder/DH Harold Baines was selected by a veterans committee in December and Red Sox legend David Ortiz is a shoo-in when he becomes eligible in 2022.

Martinez is already a member of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Hall of Fame for his campaigns with the Cannons between 1985 and 1989, which resulted in a .344 batting average, 176 runs, 167 RBI, 21 home runs and 68 doubles over 950 plate appearances.

FIRST CANNON IN COOPERSTOWN

In being selected for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Martinez also becomes the first Calgary Cannon to receive that distinguished honour. Omar Vizquel, a teammate of Martinez’s in Calgary and Seattle, finished with 43% of the vote this year and will be back on the ballot again for a third year of consideration in 2020.

“I’d say Edgar Martinez was the best player to ever play any significant time with the Cannons,” said former Calgary Herald sports reporter Daryl Slade, who covered the Triple-A team for the newspaper.

“As far as his Hall of Fame credentials are concerned, he should be there … I can’t say I thought at the time he was with Calgary, or his first few years with the Mariners, that he was Hall of Fame material but I also believed he would be a very solid starter and a great hitter in the big leagues.”

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Calgary Herald photo from August, 1988

Russ Parker, who brought the Cannons to Calgary in 1985 and owned the team until their final season in 2002, was told by Seattle farm director Bill Haywood that Martinez would bring “a pretty good glove, but he’s not going to hit anything for you.”

The scouting report was half right. Martinez was solid defensively, but his hitting prowess with the Cannons exceeded expectations, earning him back-to-back team MVP honours and a PCL batting title in 1988 when he put up a batting average of .363.

Parker called Martinez a “quality human being” with incredible work ethic.

“It was something to watch him work. He was very humble. He’s not a rah-rah guy, he just did it,” said Parker.

ONE OF THE BEST EVER

Mario Diaz, a shortstop who roomed with Martinez in Cowtown, said his former teammate’s place in Cooperstown is well deserved.

“When it came to hitting, he knew his craft and he perfected it,” said Diaz. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Calgarian Chris Reitsma – a former pitcher with the Reds, Braves and Mariners – described “Gar” as a player with no holes in his game.

“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,” said Reitsma, who saw Martinez play during interleague play before meeting him in Seattle.

“I just think people don’t understand how hard it is to do what he did. Not too many guys can mix power and average like that.”

Steve Springer, an infielder with the Cannons in 1991 who played against Martinez in the minors in the late 1980s, called Martinez a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

“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.

There is another Papi in Boston who may have something to say about that in a few years, but let’s give Martinez his due. He’s waited long enough.

 

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