By JOE McFARLAND
Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees.
In the era of free agency and big-money contracts, it’s become increasingly rare to see players spend their entire careers with one team. Some stars, like the ones above, were able to accomplish that feat which makes it hard to imagine them in another team’s uniform.
The same can be said for Edgar Martinez, who spent his entire 18-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career with one team: the Seattle Mariners.
Widely-considered one of the best to ever suit up in the Emerald City, there were actually a few times where he could have ended up going somewhere else.
Had those chips fallen some other way, it makes one wonder about how it would have affected Martinez and if we would be talking about him being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.
READ MORE: Designated Hall of Famer
We will obviously never know, but it is always fascinating to look at the “what if” scenarios.
FREQUENT FLYER MILES
In his first few years of professional baseball, Martinez bounced around the minor leagues. He got his first Triple-A baseball experience in 1985, hitting .353 in 20 games for the Pacific Coast League’s Calgary Cannons.
He would spend the entire next season in Double-A Chattanooga before getting an initial taste of MLB action with the Mariners in 1987. But he wouldn’t stay there.
Between 1987 and 1989, the third baseman kept hopping between the Cannons and the Mariners.
READ MORE: Full Count
“I guess I kind of knew there was a process,” Martinez told reporters on a conference call after his Hall of Fame announcement. “At that time, they had (Jim) Presley playing third base and he was doing a good job and having a good career.”
In 1988, Martinez broke out, winning the PCL batting title by hitting .363, despite starting the year on a bad note. During a game in Tempe, Arizona, a ground ball took a bad bounce and hit him in the face, breaking his nose. It only sidelined him for a few games, but he came back bound and determined. He earned a September call-up and performed well, but it didn’t last as he split the following season between the two teams again.
During that conference call, he admitted he was starting to wonder if he would ever establish himself as a major league player.
While he never said it out loud, Martinez was frustrated.
Long-time Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone recently released his new book – Edgar: An Autobiography – and discussed the subject of his work with Alberta Dugout Stories.
“His public face, his quotes were, ‘I’m not frustrated, I’m not discouraged, this is just the way it is,’” Stone said.
“But he revealed that he really was very frustrated and … he thought it would hurt him if he spoke out. But behind the scenes, him and his agent were talking about, ‘Maybe it’s best that I go to another organization.’”
Not only was Presley an all-star, but former Cannons Darnell Coles and Danny Tartabull were also ahead of him on the depth chart and they were all around the same age.
“Despite the fact that he was tearing it up in Calgary, it looked like he might be blocked in Seattle,” Stone recalled. “He got his periodic chances in Seattle but never really seized control of it because he was only playing once or twice a week and couldn’t get into any rhythm.”
Martinez had heard some rumblings and, according to Stone, the Los Angeles Dodgers were one team sniffing around.
“At that point, there was really no guarantee he would stay with the Mariners or make it with the Mariners,” Stone recalled.
But after the 1989 campaign, Presley was traded and while Coles was named the opening day starter the following season, he faltered.
“Manager Jim Lefebvre, almost out of desperation, installed Edgar at third base and he played so well, he never lost that job,” Stone said.
As the years went on, Martinez continued to rack up accolades. A seven-time all-star, a five-time Silver Slugger, a two-time batting champion and on five occasions he was on the ballot for American League MVP, finishing as high as third in 1995.
That season was also one where he seemed close to leaving the team he had been patient with.
A battle over building a new stadium in Seattle led to rumours that the Mariners would be moving to Tampa Bay. With the possibility of having a new ownership group, fears arose of a salary dump, according to Stone.
“Many players, including Edgar, were thought to be on the trade block,” he remembered.
Ultimately, the Mariners decided to go all-in on one more run and pulled off what was thought to be impossible: rallying from 13 games back to force a one-game playoff for the AL West crown. The Mariners routed the Anaheim Angels 9-1 to get into the playoffs, reigniting the fan base and getting lawmakers to change their tune about a new stadium.
It saved baseball in Seattle and allowed Edgar to stay with the ball club that gave him a chance in the first place.
And while there were a few questions every time free agency came up over the years as the Mariners were always looking to save money, the threat of seeing the respected designated hitter with another club never gained much momentum.
Stone does admit there was a time after the 2002 season where Martinez became a free agent for one day.
“It was like the Mariners woke up the next day and couldn’t stomach the thought of Edgar leaving and gave him the contract he wanted,” Stone said.
Even in that short amount of time, it was pretty clear where Martinez would be headed if the Mariners didn’t make an offer.
“He was probably headed for the Yankees,” Stone revealed. “The Yankees wanted him, he didn’t think he was being treated fairly and he even told his wife he thought he would be becoming a free agent and they may be leaving.”
That was as close as he came to actually leaving the only team Edgar ever did play with in entire MLB career.
“He’s very proud of that,” Stone said.
CALGARY IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
Looking back on it, Calgary might have been viewed as a catch-22 for Martinez. He loved the city, but professionally, you can’t blame him for wanting out as he strived for “The Show.”
“Great memories,” Martinez told reporters this spring. “Calgary was a great town and a great place for me to play. It was the stepping stone to the big leagues.”
He also admitted to loving the people, particularly Cannons owner Russ Parker, who he calls a “great man.”
Martinez was also in town for some of Calgary’s famous early-spring weather.
READ MORE: The Long Road to Edgar Martinez Drive
“That’s one thing he remembered: how cold it was,” Stone laughed. “He really liked Calgary though. He loved living there and thought the ballpark was much more hitter-friendly.”
He also had a taste of home north of the 49th parallel as his roommate was fellow Puerto Rico native Mario Diaz.
Martinez also credits the development in his game to his time in Triple-A. When he arrived in town, Parker was told by Seattle farm director Bill Haywood that the infielder would bring “a pretty good glove, but he’s not going to hit anything for you.”
According to Stone, Martinez gives credit to Cannons manager Bill Plummer for helping him develop into the Hall of Fame-calibre hitter he became.
“But he was self-made in a lot of ways,” Stone said. “He weight-trained and got himself stronger.”
Despite several injuries, including the one that ultimately forced him away from playing in the field, he rose above.
“It’s funny how that was flipped on its side,” Stone continued. “How he went from a good-field, no-hit guy to a good-hit, no-field guy literally, as he was a DH from 1995 on.”
As Martinez gets ready to take his rightful place in Cooperstown, baseball fans in Alberta will be able to reminisce one more time about the PCL days and think back on some of the great names that came through.
And maybe the province will be on his mind as the ceremony happens. After all, he did hit .344 with 21 home runs and 167 runs batted in over 276 games with the Cannons.
“He still perks up when he talks about Calgary,” Stone concluded.
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