Despite what I thought was a persuasive argument mounted by the Mariners on behalf of their former DH, Edgar Martinez, the Baseball Writers Association of America largely rejected the statistical case the club presented, once again barring the Seattle icon from the portals of Cooperstown. Only former shortstop Barry Larkin was elected Monday.
But at least sentiment is trending, if only slightly, in Martinez’s direction. Two years ago, in his first time on the ballot, Martinez received 195 votes, or 32.6 percent (75 percent is required for induction). Last year, Martinez watched his support sag to 191 votes, or 32.9 percent.
This year, Martinez received 209 votes, or 36.5 percent, a signal that the avalanche of data provided by the Mariners for a Martinez election penetrated a few more reluctant BWAA skulls.
The Mariners made an elaborate appeal, arguing Martinez had more hits (2,247) than Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt (2,234), Willie Stargell (2,232), Joe Sewell (2,226), Joe DiMaggio (2,214) and Bill Terry (2,193), to name just a few. Also:
- Martinez hit more home runs (309) than Hall of Famers Al Simmons (307), Rogers Hornsby (301) and Chuck Klein (300), to cite just three.
- Martinez had a higher on-base+slugging mark (.9333) than Hall of Famers Earl Averill (see Wayback Machine: The Earl And Pearl Of Snohomish) (.9283), Tris Speaker (.9283), Duke Snider (.9194), Mike Schmidt (.9076), Willie McCovey (.8892) and Willie Stargell (.8887).
- Martinez accounted for more total bases (3,718) than Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (3,644), Yogi Berra (3,643), Johnny Mize (3,621),Enos Slaughter (3,599) and Bill Terry (3,252).
- Martinez is one of only nine players in major league history to have collected 300+ HR, 500+ doubles, 1000+ walks, boast an average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .400. Besides Edgar, five have been inducted in Cooperstown, with the other three still active or not yet eligible for induction. The five include Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. The three not-yet-eligibles are Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez and Todd Helton.
- Among retired players since 1945 with at least 7,500 plate appearances, Martinez is one of only four with a career on-base percentage of at least .418 (also: Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Frank Thomas) and one of only eight with a career batting average of at least .312 (also: Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Musial, Kirby Puckett, Roberto Clemente and Larry Walker).
- Only 17 individuals retired with a batting average above .300, an on-base percentage above .400, and a slugging percentage above .500 (this group includes such titans as Ty Cobb (.366-.433-.512), Ruth (.342-.474-.690), (.340-.447-.632) and Williams (.344-.482-.634) and Martinez, who retired following the 2004 season with a .312 batting average, a .418 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage.
The Mariners easily could have augmented their statistical blizzard by adding that Martinez, at his best, clearly played at a Hall of Fame level during his peak seasons from 1995 to 2003 (ages 32 to 40), during which he batted .321 with a .438 on-base percentage, a .558 slugging percentage and a .996 OPS (not many in that period of time were better).
Martinez’s HOF candidacy is, and always will, be compromised by two negatives that most voters can’t seem to get past. Foremost is that, for all his numbers and where they rank, Martinez failed to produce any one of the traditional big ones: 3,000 hits or 500 home runs.
Critics also decry that Martinez spent his nine-year peak almost exclusively as a designated hitter. Baseball writers have a history of demissing DHs when measuring them against men who play the field.
Less important, but significant in terms of HOF voting, is that Martinez, despite wearing a major league uniform for 18 seasons, technically only qualified for the batting title in 12 of those years.
Injuries hampered Martinez early in his career, and the relatively late start, at age 27, meant that his .312 lifetime batting average translated into just 2,247 hits and 309 home runs, far below traditional HOF standards we mentioned.
As to Edgar’s almost-exclusive role as a DH, I’d argue that every American League team has had to fill that position every day for nearly four decades, and no one filled it better than Martinez; and that if “role” players are so easily dismissed, then it’s inconsistent to elect five relief pitchers to the Hall of Fame whiling simultaneously shunning DHs. It’s equally absurd for BWAA voters to overlook peak value for DHs while weighing it heavily for relievers.
As to the fact that Martinez only qualified for the batting title 12 times in 18 years, I would point out that it is unfair to downgrade a player because he suffered injuries, or hold against him the fact the Mariners did not see fit to promote him full time to the majors until age 30 was lurking.
The reasonable thing, in our opinion, is to ignore such factors and judge a player by what he accomplished as a peak performer.
Based on what we glean from any number of recent HOF elections, including those of Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Goose Gossage, it can take years for a less-than-slam dunk-candidate to reach Cooperstown.
Consider Blyleven, who made the HOF last year on his 14th try. Blyleven first appeared on the HOF ballot in 1998, receiving 17.5 percent of the vote. The next year, that figure sagged to 14.1 percent. Blyleven didn’t even get half the votes necessary for induction until 2006, his ninth year of eligibility. Slowly, over the next four years, as BWAA voters delved more deeply into the context of Blyleven’s career, they became convinced of Blyleven’s legitimacy.
This is what it is going to take for Martinez to make the Hall of Fame: A greater awareness and appreciation for the level at which he played, at least for a decade.
The uptick in support for Martinez is an encouraging sign. It may take years, but I think he will wind up voted into the Hall of Fame. You are free to disagree with me. Most people do.