From what I’ve seen, the case that Edgar Martinez’s fans have cumulatively assembled to argue for him as Hall of Famer almost exclusively mentions only his statistical accomplishments as a hitter, gauged by both the traditional metrics and the advanced, sabermetric kind. But of course it is people, not assemblages of statistics, who stand as candidates for the Hall of Fame, and that seems to be part of Edgar’s problem.
As an unassuming, unquotable Latino who never reached the World Series and played far from any media hothouse, in the most remote big league city in the sport, Edgar’s a deep underdog in the charisma category of Hall of Fame qualifications. (I think it’s obvious that personality and a résumé of myth-making material help any player make it to Cooperstown: see Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter, Bobby Grich, and Bob Johnson for four examples on both sides.) Even in the Seattle area, he didn’t attain the heights of fame (or notoriety) that Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, and Ichiro did. Mario Lanza, a friend who’s written a long story about being a Mariners fan in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, said:
Even in Seattle people didn’t really know who he was. I saw him in Crossroads Mall [in Bellevue] with his family, just sitting there eating dinner outside of the food court. Here he was, one of the greatest players in Mariners history, and people just walked by him like he was nobody special.
He used to go there with his family, and I’d see him reading newspapers right outside the Daily Planet newsstand. I must have seen him five times there and nobody ever recognized him. Even in Seattle he was anonymous. How are the writers in Boston or New York supposed to feel any differently about him?
To remedy the mistaken impression that Edgar was a routinely, even boringly efficient player, I’ve gathered together some anecdotes, lore, and oddball trivia about his career, presented in chronological order. Most of them are taken from the Mariners’ 2002 media guide. You’ll be surprised by some of the pure heroism this compilation reveals:
Edgar began his pro career in Bellingham in 1983, hitting .173 in 32 games, which gave him some early adversity to overcome.
In 1985 he led Southern League third basemen in putouts, 94, assists, 247, double plays, 34, and chances.
In 1986 he led Southern League third basemen in fielding percentage, .960. (I don’t know what he was doing in Chattanooga for the second year in a row.)
He was the Calgary Cannons MVP in ’87. At the time, the Seattle Times said “he is regarded a brilliant fielder.” And, Edgar said: “I think I can play utility, third, second, wherever they want to play me I try to do it.”
Edgar’s first major league hit was a triple. It was hit off Reggie Ritter of the Indians on Sept. 14, 1987. The Times reported that in the second inning of that game, “on consecutive plays, he dived to his left to take base hits away from Jay Bell and Andy Allanson.” The triple came in the bottom of the second.
Despite the fine glove and hitting .372 in 43 Mariner at-bats in ’87, in 1988 he was back with the Cannons, was named their player of the year, and led the Pacific Coast League with a .363 average.
He spent the offseason after ’89 by hitting .424, or 56-132, in Puerto Rican League winter ball: it was good enough to outpace the second leading hitter by 82 points.
In 1990, Edgar stole home on August 25 as part of a double steal with Ken Griffey Jr. It was his only steal of the season: his first, at age 27, spent entirely with the big league team.
Despite playing with a sore right shoulder throughout 1992, Edgar was the A.L. player of month for July and August. He was the third player to record that feat in back to back months: Mattingly in August and September of ‘85 and Puckett in May and June of ’92 preceded him.
Edgar hit .343 to lead the A.L. in batting average in ’92: he was the first Mariner to do it, the second A.L. player to do it for a last-place team, and the first right-handed hitter since Harvey Kuenn in 1959 to lead the A.L. in BA.
After missing most of 1993 with three different left hamstring pulls and strains (it helps explain his lack of mobility in later seasons), Edgar started ’94 by getting hit on the right wrist by the Indians’ Dennis Martinez in his first at bat. It was the first game at Jacobs Field, so Edgar was the first hit by pitch in the park’s history.
In ’95 he became the first A.L. right-hander since Luke Appling to get two batting titles, and his .356 was the highest average for an A.L. righty since Joe DiMaggio in 1939.
He was the first Latino with 100 walks, hit .433 vs. lefties, and reached base in 137 of the Mariners’ 145 games.
Edgar’s ALDS performance against the Yankees included a playoff-record seven RBIs in game 4, hitting .571 for the five games, with an OBP of .667, and hitting “The Double” to win game 5 and the series.
After doing all this in ‘95, he still had time to play Puerto Rican League winter ball for the team in San Juan.
Before suffering four fractured ribs when catcher John Marzano ran into him chasing a pop-up on July 20, 1996, Edgar had been on pace to hit 75 doubles, which would have been the MLB record by 8. The injury stopped his streak of 293 straight games, a Mariner record.
Despite playing only 139 games, Edgar still hit 52 doubles for the second straight year (he’d only played 145 games in ’95): he was the fifth hitter to get 50+ doubles in back-to-back seasons.
In ’97, he had to get stitches twice within five days in September. The first time was on Sept. 8 in Kansas City, when Royals DH Chili Davis swung his bat in the sixth and it landed on Edgar’s head in the dugout for a five stitch cut. Edgar stayed in the game and went 2-4 with two singles, getting his 100th RBI along the way. A quote from Edgar: “I lost sight of it in the lights. I knew it was coming, and I ducked to the left. I must have ducked right into it. It was scary, lots worse than having a pitch come at your head.”
Then, on Sept. 12, came the coup de grace: playing Toronto at the Kingdome, Edgar slid into home, and into catcher Charlie O’Brien’s mask, trying to score in the sixth inning. He got eight more stitches on his chin. Of course he stayed in the game, and of course he hit the game-winning three-run homer in the eighth, breaking up a 3-3 tie. Edgar hit it off Roger Clemens, who was 21-5 at the time, and on his way to the ’97 Cy Young and a 2.05 ERA while giving up nine homers in all of 1997. Here’s the kicker: Edgar also had two infield(!) singles, for a 3-4 night, with two runs scored to go with his three RBI.
Edgar’s quote: “I never have been to a hockey game. But I’ve watched and seen the fights and the cuts. I guess you could say my week has been like a hockey game.” Lou Piniella called Martinez “a tough kid, a professional. It was his night.” Over the seven games that began with getting five stitches on the 8th, Edgar hit .400, 10-25, with four walks and a .483 OBP.
After having right knee surgery after the ’98 season, Edgar managed to hit .394, 56 for 142, in 41 games at Safeco Field in 1999. His five homers in two games, on May 17 and 18 of ‘99, tied the MLB record and set a Mariners record. The homers were capped by three in a row on the 18th vs. the Twins. Edgar’s 1,500th hit came on August 14 at Fenway, off Pedro Martinez.
On July 29, 2000, Edgar was scheduled to be grand marshal of Seattle’s Seafair Torchlight Parade in the evening, but first there was a game to play. It ran late: 13 innings, and 5 hours, 4 minutes. But Edgar had a parade to catch. So he hit a walk-off single for a 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, showered, dressed, didn’t say a word to the press—too busy–and went off to the day’s second job. The Torchlight Parade’s theme: “Heroes of Our Hearts.”
His 145 RBI in 2000 was the best ever in the majors for a player 37 or older.
In 2001, Edgar reached base in 43 straight games in May and the first half of June. He was ejected on October 1 in Anaheim when he charged Lou Pote after the pitcher hit him. The Seattle Times reported:
Angels reliever Lou Pote was struggling in the sixth, with two on and one out when a fastball rode in on Martinez, hitting him in the right arm before ricocheting up and hitting him on the bill of the helmet. The DH fell hard, as if hurt or stunned.
Then suddenly Martinez got up, seemingly much faster than he usually moves, and headed for Pote, who seemed stunned in turn. The young pitcher backed away from the angry veteran as players converged en masse.
Anaheim catcher Bengie Molina and third baseman Glaus grabbed Martinez. Jay Buhner came out of the dugout and grabbed Pote, who had been entirely non-threatening.
Benches and bullpens emptied, but the only one showing emotion was Martinez, who had to be held by teammates, including Javier and Piniella. . . . Martinez declined to comment after the game.
On October 4, after he got suspended for two games for charging Pote, the Times added:
“It hit him in the chin, then the eye, then the forehead,” trainer Rick Griffin said. “He was pretty upset.”
No one could remember Martinez being so angry in public.
“I’ve seen him as angry before,” said Jay Buhner, who has been Martinez’s teammate for 12 years, “but never in front of fans, never in the open.”
As Bret Boone observed, “Everyone’s got a breaking point. Edgar’s is pretty deep, but those guys reached it.”
Martinez reportedly was upset after being hit several times this year by Angels pitchers and having several other pitches just miss him.
Asked if he wanted to talk yesterday, he smiled and shook his head and said, “No comment.”
Edgar ended 2001 with a .425 OBP, second among active players with at least 2,000 at-bats, behind only Frank Thomas’ .438.
He was named A.L. player of the month, for the fifth and final time, for May 2003, and made the All-Star team that year for the seventh and final time. 2003 was the last year in his nine-year streak of on-base percentages above .400.
Finally, here are a few items from his overall career:
Edgar hit .625, 10-16, off Mariano Rivera, with three doubles, two homers, six RBI and three walks. He hit .444, 8-18, off Roy Halladay, .571, 8-14, off Rick Sutcliffe, .480, 12-25, off Dave Stewart, .372, 16-43, off Andy Pettitte, .429, 6-14, off Dennis Eckersley. . . He hit four homers each off Clemens and David Wells, and three homers and two(!) triples off Mike Mussina. He hit at least .500 off 242 different pitchers, and 1.000 off 75 different pitchers. He had the third most doubles in the majors in the ’90s, with 358, six behind Mark Grace, MLB leader for the decade.