The Franchise is Ken Griffey Jr. The T-shirts sold at the Kingdome say so, and so does the salary scale.
That would make Randy Johnson - of Mr. Snappy fame - the Vice Franchise, a guaranteed win for the Seattle Mariners every fifth day, or fourth day, or lately every other day.
The team stages a Jay Buhner Haircut Night, a celebration of their shaven-headed slugger. Norm Charlton, the resurrected closer, has been back with the club for barely three months and already been assigned his own persona - “The Sheriff.”
“There’s four or five MVPs on this club,” allowed Johnson, “but if you have to pick just one, it’s Edgar Martinez.”
You get your own vote, but the banners in the Kingdome bear him out.
Junior is idolized. Just the sight of the Big Unit sends a buzz of invincibility through the seats.
Edgar Martinez is valued.
In the city that isn’t supposed to be a baseball town, the player they truly prize is as plain as they come - coffee black in the land of latte.
He has now been discovered by the nation, thanks to the swings of his bat that on successive nights delivered the Mariners from death’s door and into the next round of baseball’s playoffs - the American League Championship Series against Cleveland. It took a singular night of television exposure against the Centerof-the-Media-Universe Yankees for everybody else to get the message.
“Edgar,” read a cardboard sign with an “E” scripted inside a red-and-blue pentagon, “is Superman.”
Maybe you can get him out with Kryptonite. The Yankees couldn’t get him out at all when it counted.
Well, once. In the ninth inning of Game 5 on Sunday night - bases loaded, score tied - Jack McDowell struck out Martinez on a fastball up. When he returned to the Mariners’ dugout, Martinez was met by Charlton, who told him, “You’ll get another chance to be a hero.”
And when McDowell risked another fastball up in the 11th inning, Martinez swatted it into the left-field corner. And the most stirring, dramatic series baseball has seen in a spell was on the books.
“It’s nice for people to see you in a big game like this,” he said, “but I’m satisfied just knowing that I’m doing my job well.”
Martinez’s numbers were as rare as the magic. In five games, he hit .571 - 12 for 21 - with two home runs in Game 4 and 10 RBIs. This on top of a MVP-ish regular season when he led the A.L. in hitting (.356), on-base percentage (.479), runs and doubles - and added 29 home runs and 113 RBIs.
“The guy is the total package at the plate,” said Buhner, “and he can be frustrating to hit behind because he makes it look so easy. You can’t do what he does. No other righthanded hitter can.”
Just as impressive to Buhner is that Martinez does it as the designated hitter.
“I’ve DH’d a few times and it sucks,” Buhner said. “It takes a different frame of mind. I can’t do it. I’ve got to be running in and out to stay loose, to keep in the game. When they say DHing is a day off, that’s a joke. It’s a chore, and it’s incredible to me how he can focus.”
The focus Martinez claims to have inherited from his grandfather, Mario Salgado - an obsession with detail and precision that would “drive my friends crazy,” Martinez remembered.
The swing he honed as a boy growing up in Puerto Rico is just as maddening to A.L. pitchers, who have come to discover that the man has no hole in his stroke.
“Usually, when I look up and down the lineup, I notice how many left-handed hitters there are and how I want to pitch around them,” said David Cone, who gave up two hits to Martinez in Game 5. “Well, Edgar might as well be left-handed for me.”
Martinez is the first right-handed hitter to win two A.L. batting titles in 52 years. Luke Appling was the last to do it, and Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx before him. It’s rare because left-handers have a natural advantage - seeing more right-handed pitchers and starting a step and a half closer to first base. That Martinez is not exactly Carl Lewis - or even Vince Coleman - makes his feat all the more remarkable.
“He can do one thing better than anybody in baseball,” said his manager, Lou Piniella.
“The first home run he hit (in Saturday’s Game 4), that should have been a foul ball. The pitch was way inside and if you get around on it at all, you’re going to pull it foul. But he was able to steer it fair, taking his top hand off the bat and guiding it. That’s something you can’t teach.”
And yet Martinez isn’t without swing envy.
“I think I’d trade (swings) with Junior,” he said. “I enjoy watching him hit. His swing looks perfect to me. I’d love to have his swing.”
His memories, however, he’ll hang onto.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo