The arguments have been made, the statistics digested and the votes submitted.
Edgar Martinez’s standing as a player who either is or isn’t worthy of baseball’s Hall of Fame will become clearer by 11 a.m. Wednesday. That’s when voting by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will be announced.
The Seattle Mariners’ longtime designated hitter is among 26 players on the ballot, and writers could vote on up to 10. A player must get 75 percent of the vote to reach the Hall of Fame and at least 5 percent to remain on the ballot next year.
Based on the writers who have revealed their votes, Martinez figures to be named on about 40 percent of the ballots. That would leave him far short of induction this year but it could be a good omen for future years.
Those who argue for Martinez point to nearly half of his 18-year career when he was the dominant right-handed hitter in baseball.
“Edgar Martinez was a beast at the plate, one of the absolute best in the game for eight seasons,” wrote David Schoenfield of ESPN.com. “He was excellent in five other seasons. That’s 13 seasons of terrific value as a hitter. … It’s a Hall of Fame-quality career.”
Many non-believers say Martinez fell short of the traditional offensive yardsticks for Hall of Fame consideration, that he didn’t hit at least 500 home runs or get 3,000 hits. Some say the designated hitter is merely half a player, and because Martinez played nearly 70 percent of his career at DH he shouldn’t be considered.
“He was the pre-eminent designated hitter of the 1990s, a professional batsman who hit over .300 11 times. He won two batting titles,” wrote Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “But as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, he had only 309 home runs and 1,261 RBIs. Not good enough.”
Baseball has entered a new age of statistical analysis, which could aid Martinez’s Hall of Fame chances as writers look beyond hits and home runs. His .312 career average, .418 on-base percentage, .515 slugging percentage and .933 on-base-plus-slugging percentage leave him in company with Hall of Famers.
“I think the emphasis and recognition of statistics is definitely going to help Edgar,” said Tyler Kepner, a national baseball writer for the New York Times. “He was a statistician’s dream in terms of how often he got on base and how much of a slugger he was. Look at on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and that’s him. He was an elite offensive player for most of the majority of his career.”
Kepner’s perspective on Martinez may be the most unique among the national media. He covered the Mariners – and Martinez – on a daily basis for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before moving to New York, where he has gotten a sense of the national view on Martinez.
Kepner isn’t allowed to vote because of newspaper policy, but it’s clear he believes Martinez is worthy of the Hall of Fame and that he’ll get a significant percentage of the vote.
“I think he’ll come close this year but will make it pretty soon,” Kepner said. “That’s just my sense of it. Edgar was a devastating right-handed hitter in particular, and he was the best at his position for a long time. If a Hall of Famer is defined by dominance at a position, he has to fit.”
Kepner also doesn’t buy the argument that the DH isn’t a true position.
“What if a guy (played a position and) was a mediocre to poor defensive player? Just because he played in the field and didn’t help his team very much, what’s the difference in that and a guy who didn’t play the field at all?”
Pitcher Eddie Guardado, who was Martinez’s teammate with the Mariners in 2004, said he saw several players in his career try and fail in the DH role. They couldn’t develop the focus and discipline needed in a hitting-specific role that Martinez mastered.
“Guys would say, ‘Get me back on the field, I can’t do this,’ ” Guardado said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s mentally draining if you let it get to you. Everybody looks at the DH and thinks they’re not putting any work into it, but what people didn’t see is that Edgar was in the weight room all the time and he was always getting himself prepared to DH.
“It’s harder hitting the ball than fielding the ball, I’ll tell you that. If you put up the numbers, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, DH or no DH.”
Like many pitchers, Guardado felt the wrath of Martinez’s bat when he played against him. Martinez went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a home run off Guardado.
“We would go over the scouting reports and it was always the same with Edgar, ‘You don’t want to let this guy beat you,’ ” Guardado said. “And half the time he did beat you. He was that guy you didn’t want to face in the bottom of the ninth with guys on base.”