Designated Hero

Another Hall-of-Fame vote passed, and again Edgar Martinez received well less than 75% of the votes–the required tally for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The Hall is an interesting place. A place with an unwritten set of rules. A place where the career leader in hits cannot be found, where a guy who hit 70 home runs in one season and 583 HR in his career garners only 20% of possible votes, where the player with the third-best career average of all time is absent.

If we’re trying to identify that mysterious set of rules, the examples above prove that stats aren’t everything when it comes to the qualifications for entry. Ethics and morality come into play. Character. In a word, fame. While the kindest, most sincere player won’t make the Hall based solely on legends of his goodwill to baseballkind, a perceived asshole or cheater with all the right stats won’t either. In reality, it probably should be called the Hall of 75.7%-Stats-17.2%-Gut-and-9.7%-Fame*.

*You savvy numbers people out there may have just realized that doesn’t add to 100%. Reader, meet the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Edgar has been downgraded by most for being a DH. Others have knocked him for his relatively short career and short peak compared to other HOFers. These are really the main two objections, so let’s get right to ‘em.

Let’s start with longevity. Edgar became a full-time player in 1990 and retired after the 2004 season, giving him 15 seasons of action. Without looking through every HOFer, I would bet the average career is significantly longer than 15 years. Probably 20+. But get this: Edgar played in the minor leagues for nearly six full seasons before he was called up for good, and those weren’t six years of futility. Here are his minor league statistics from AA and AAA (and then his overall totals), courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Year

Age

PA

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

BB%

SO%

1985

22

535

3

0.273

0.389

0.374

0.763

15.5%

6.9%

1986

23

553

6

0.264

0.383

0.39

0.773

16.1%

6.3%

1987

24

531

10

0.329

0.434

0.473

0.907

15.4%

9.0%

1988

25

407

8

0.363

0.467

0.517

0.983

16.2%

9.8%

1989

26

141

3

0.345

0.457

0.522

0.979

15.6%

9.2%

Totals

2842

46

0.300

0.412

0.439

0.851

15.7%

8.9%

Who the hell keeps a guy with those numbers down in AAA?!? In 1987, in his 24-year-old season in AAA-Calgary, you can see that Edgar hit .329 with an OBP of .434. He walked nearly twice as much as he struck out. Yet he was left to the minors for much of the next two seasons, getting 548 minor league plate appearances and only 234 in the show. I have to believe that any other corner infielder putting up those numbers at age 24 in AAA got a chance in the majors…like the very next game, maybe.

Oh, but you say, “He did have a chance! He got at bats in each of 1987, 88 and 89!” Yes he did. A whopping 280 PAs, a .268 average, and a .336 OBP. Wanna guess the American League averages during the 1988 season? .259 / .324. At the time he was playing both first and third for the Ms, hitting above the league clip in both batting average and OBP, and yet he was sent right back down every time until 1990.

Edgar put together 21 seasons of professional baseball, with the majority of 6 seasons coming in the minors. While we don’t make arguments for implementing other players’ minor league stats, this is clearly a unique case. In his first full MLB season, 1990, Edgar came to the plate 570 times and slashed .302/.397/.433. Yeah, a .397 OBP for a rookie. I’m pretty frickin’ sure he was ready to do that two seasons earlier. If counting stats and longevity are keeping him out of the Hall, how much is he being punished for the ineptitude of the Mariner’s front office?

Even without taking into account Seattle’s mismanagement of his early years, there are precedents in the Hall already. Duke Snider played 16 seasons once he was called up for good. Sandy Koufax pitched 10 seasons after first recording at least 100 innings in a season. Relatively short careers have made the Hall of Fame in cases where that player dominated his era.

Snider’s career wRC+ was 139. Basically that just means he was 39% better than the average hitter. He recorded top seasons of 169, 165, 164, and 156. The great thing about this stat is that it is adjusted for both ball park and time period (like OPS+, but a more telling statistic). Edgar Martinez averaged a wRC+ of 148 over his entire career–that’s 48% better than a bunch of roided out sluggers–and he recorded top seasons of 184, 169, 165 and 165. Power was never Edgar’s primary weapon, but we can easily see that he made up for it in other ways.

This brings us to the discussion of his DHyness. Many critics have rightly pointed out that to be a HOFer and a DH, one has to set himself apart as a hitter even more so than a position player. He has to really dominate as a hitter during his career. Unfortunately there is no precedent for a full-time DH with Edgar’s skill set. Many DHs don’t move into that role until they are past their primes, so simply comparing him to other DHs straight up wouldn’t be fair. Edgar got to play DH during his prime. Let’s see how he did in comparison to other key players of his era. To be fair, I am going to look at the best stretches of 4, 6, 8, and 10 years, plus career numbers.

Player

4 Years

wRC+

Player

8 Years

wRC+

Thomas

1991-94

181

Thomas

1991-98

170

Edgar

1995-98

167

Edgar

1995-2002

162

Sheffield

1995-98

163

Sheffield

1996-2003

158

Player

6 Years

wRC+

Player

10 Years

wRC+

Thomas

1991-96

177

Thomas

1991-2000

165

Edgar

1995-2000

164

Edgar

1992-2001

160

Sheffield

1995-2000

160

Sheffield

1996-2005

154

For their careers, Thomas hit 154, Edgar 148, and Sheffield 141.

Thomas is almost certainly a HOFer, while Sheffield may never quite get that 75%. Edgar’s offensive production was nestled right between those two for all the best stretches of their respective careers. Is that good enough to overcome his role as DH? I used Thomas as a comparison because he played a little DH later in his career, played the least-demanding position on the diamond for the rest of his career, and played that position quite poorly based on most defensive statistics available. Add in that Edgar lost at least two seasons of MLB at bats because his team somehow missed all the signs of potential, and perhaps his counting stats also inch closer to Thomas’.

I admit that this evidence is not 100% compelling, though I hope it at least serves to summarize Edgar’s amazing accomplishments with the bat. Edgar is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, and I believe he is significantly closer than the 36.5% of yes-votes he received this year. If, at this point, you are still wishy-washy on the matter, consider the “fame” part of the implicit requirements. Edgar always seemed like one of the more personable players in the league, though I obviously saw his interviews far more than those of other players. He made funny commercials, and more importantly he was never linked to steroid use.

But his most famous accomplishment occurred right here in 1995. Hiroshi Yamauchi and gang bought the Mariners in 1992, but threatened to sell the team after the 1995 season if public funding was not made available for a new stadium. On September 19th, 1995, King County voted against a sales tax increase to help fund the new stadium. A sale was imminent, and the potential for relocation was probably high (see: Seattle Super Sonics).

On the night of the vote, the Ms beat Texas 5-4 in eleven innings to pull within one game of the division-leading Angels. Edgar quietly went about his business, going 1 for 3 with two walks. Seattle went on to win 8 of its last 11 games, clinching its first AL West Division title in a one-game playoff against the Angels. In those 11 games, Edgar hit a scintillating .405/.447/.548.

In their first playoff berth ever, the Mariners drew the New York Yankees in the Division Series, and quickly fell behind 2-0. After a gutsy 7-5 win in game three, Edgar took over the series. In game 4, he hit two bombs and knocked in seven, helping the Mariners outscore the powerful Yankees 11-8. Game 5 saw the Ms fall into a 4-2 hole late before a Griffey homer in the 8th and a bases-loaded walk from Doug Strange in the 9th knotted the game up at 4. Randy Johnson pitched extras on short rest, but gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the eleventh. Score: 4-5.

Then, in a half-inning I have probably watched 13 times, Joey Cora led off with a drag bunt single down the first base line, narrowly avoiding Mattingly’s tag. The Kid followed it up with a single to center setting the stage for Edgar.

Strike one. Looking, of course.

Then the 0-1 pitch…(this is where you watch that video again). The late Dave Niehaus commentates the Double that saved baseball in Seattle.

Though the Ms lost in the ALCS to the Indians, on October 14th a special session of the state legislature was called to come to an agreement about funding. On October 23rd, just 34 days after shooting down one proposal, King County voters approved a plan to help fund a new stadium, and today the Mariners can be found in Seattle, Washington playing at Safeco Field.

If fame makes any difference to the Hall of Fame, I’d say it’s about time to break precedent and add the greatest DH of all time, Edgar Martinez.

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One Response to Designated Hero

  1. […] wrote this article here originally for my own blog last January after, once again, Edgar Martinez failed to garner even […]

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