At the apex of his national popularity, Ken Griffey Jr. created a huge youth fashion trend by often wearing his baseball cap backward. Griffey also was the subject of a national TV publicity stunt in 1996 that had him running for president (which if held today, he would be far more credible than either Howard Schultz or Donald Trump).
If you’re too young to remember:
At the apex of his national popularity, Edgar Martinez . . . um . . . jeez.
Great hitter, great guy. But Martinez did stoic the way Robin Williams did manic.
Quiet, steely, relentless, imperturbable, Martinez was a paragon of rectitude. But as a creator of splash, hyperbole, gossip and cultural pandemonium, he tied for last with a dial tone (look it up, kids).
It was no act. He was ever thus, and will always be. Medical science has yet to invent a flamboyance transplant.
When he received the call Tuesday in his New York hotel room from the Baseball Writers Association of America that he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, ending a decade of disappointment, he said, “Thank you, sir.”
That was it. No gesticulations, no invocation of deities, no scripted choreography. At that moment, I was glad Martinez was never an NFL wide receiver who scored a touchdown. He reticence would have caused him to vibrate, shudder and implode.
He did allow himself to smile. That was it. It was more than the smile that accompanies the discovery that the barista included an extra dollar back in your change, but less than most of us would manage if we had been accorded a place among the greatest of the great.
Even Tuesday, his first day back in town after the hoo-hah in New York, Martinez evinced no evidence of any inner Prince.
The Mariners arranged a little red-carpet walk among rows of applauding employees at the stadium’s Ellis Pavilion before he was introduced for yet another press conference to say how excited he was. He had to say it, because there was no overt demonstration.
Sitting down for the brief presser and introduction by club president emeritus John Ellis, he did, however, finally address the elephant (mouse?) in the room.
“It’s my personality,” he said. “I don’t celebrate a lot.”
There it was. Elegant and spare as Hemingway, sorta.
But the Mariners, who are good about these things, found a prop to enliven matters.
They dusted off from a storage room the light bat.
The actual rendering. From Eagle Hardware, which no longer exists. It wasn’t quite like finding a Dead Sea Scroll, but there was a certain old-trophy-found-in-a-high-school-gym-closet majesty about it.
Since no one under about age 35 got the joke, here’s the everlasting memory of Martinez’s most vivid foray into pop culture theater.
For some reason, this simple little skit ignited giggles with everyone who saw it. And it wasn’t even one from the fertile mind of Jim Copacino, the longtime ad exec who annually produces the often-hilarious Mariners TV commercials (the pending season looms as his Everest).
Somehow the deadpan earnestness coupled with the outlandish outcome ends up as a fair metaphor for the narrative arc of his story.
A poor kid from a broken home in Puerto Rico became one of baseball’s most feared hitters in the game’s most remote and success-resistant outpost. Then it took 10 years to convince baseball’s college of cardinals to accept as fact what the faith of a few knew to be true about his worthiness for Valhalla.
The change among voters came in large part by the club’s public relations, social media and marketing staffs that engaged in a seven-year, election-like campaign. Anchored by the hashtag #EdgarHOF, the pitch was steady, data-rich but never over-wrought and never gave the side-eye to old-school writers who wouldn’t accept the proposition that designated hitter was a real position in baseball.
“In conversations (with voters), there was talk that Edgar didn’t invent the position,” said Mariners vice-president of communications Tim Hevly. “He didn’t decide to play the position. A lot of people struggle at (DH) because it’s not easy. It was around since 1972 and he was the defining player in that position.
“He was at the core the of this lineup that made all the difference” in the franchise’s fate.
The horn had to be honked by someone, because Martinez certainly wasn’t going to do it. He saved his deepest expression for the in-house crew.
“The Mariners organization has been incredible,” he said. “They shared stats that I didn’t even know about. And between the fans and the people in the Mariners organization, it really made a big difference. It’s why I’m sitting here and why I was elected to the Hall of Fame. So thank you.”
Martinez made it to third base on his own. He just needed a sacrifice fly.
After the presser broke up, he chatted a little more with some writers, and pulled back the curtain a bit.
“I would have never thought,” he said, “all of this would happen to me.”
I hope he gets to keep the light bat. His Oscar statuette.