Remember the wry commercial that used to run during Seattle Mariners telecasts – and lives forever on YouTube – about all the things Edgar Martinez did between his at-bats as designated hitter to help the club?
Folding towels with the equipment man. Playing “Charge!” on the ballpark organ. Helping the ball girl with her math homework. Stretching out the Moose.
Ordering pizza. Yes, he had a coupon.
Well, he may have to come up with a few more helpful diversions for the next year.
Edgar took another strike Wednesday – well, he fouled one off – in coming 20 votes short of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame and now he’s down to one last swing with the tough crowd that is the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman all got the call to become Cooperstown’s Class of 2018. At 70.4 percent of the vote – 75 is the magic number for entrty – Martinez is the guy who caught the wedding garter. A good sign, maybe, but no guarantee.
Or is it?
Every candidate in HOF voting history who topped 70 percent but fell short of the needed 75 – 29 of them – eventually was inducted, including 24 the next vote. Now, yes, three of them – Frank Chance, Orlando Cepeda and Nelson Fox – had to wait for the old Veterans Committee to let them in. If he doesn’t get his 75 in 2019 in his final year of eligibility, Martinez’s case goes to its de facto replacement, the Modern Era committee (which OK’d Jack Morris and Alan Trammell this year).
More good omens: Recently, both Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven sailed into the Hall in their final ballots.
Edgar doesn’t seem to be sweating the deadline, however.
“Even though I didn’t make it, getting 70.4 percent is a big improvement,” Martinez said. “All I can think right now is, it’s looking good for next year.”
He’s taking it a lot better than many of the True-to-the-Blues out there, who chafe at their guy being slow-played.
The hopes of Edgarphiles soared into the new year as they monitored HOF tracker Ryan Thibodaux’s tally of ballots coming in and made public by individual voters. Many don’t – until the BBWAA releases all ballots in a couple of weeks – and as a rule those who keep their secrets are harder sells, whether on first-ballot elites or battlers like Martinez or steroid-tainted villains. Martinez was running at 77 percent on Thibodaux’s final count before Wednesday’s reveal.
But Martinez was seldom fooled at the plate, and he wasn’t this time.
“I thought there was a chance, but for some reason I didn’t think this year (it) was going to happen,” he said, “especially looking at the track for the last week or so.”
This was realism, not cynicism. More than anyone, Martinez has been cheered by his surge in the last several years – from a nadir of 25.2 percent in 2014 to 58.6 last year. Aiding his cause have been parallel campaigns by the Mariners and devoted sabermetricians – and, indeed, the willingness of voters to reconsider players’ worth through the prism of new statistics more precise than battling average and won-lost records.
One favorite is the slash line: batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage. Martinez is one of 14 members of the .310/.410/.510 club, and of the 10 who retired before him only Shoeless Joe Jackson isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and that because of the Black Sox business.
But, of course, the real holdouts are the anti-designated hitter regressives – who should have their voting privileges revoked.
“DH,” said a commentator on the MLB Network on Wednesday. “It’s a position in baseball.”
OK, it was Harold Reynolds, and normally attention is not to be paid.
But he’s right. Baseball legislated in the position 40 years ago. Voters have finally legitimized closers like Hoffman, the best of whom face but three batters every other game. American League pitchers never bat. Indeed, even rotation pitchers make maybe 35 starts a year. Edgar Martinez didn’t need to play the field to impact more games than that.
The Martinez Party will have to convert some of the less strident, and 2019 being his last year is likely to soften a few. It doesn’t hurt that the ballot has been “cleaned up” some with 16 inductions in five years – and that Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay appear to be the only first-ballot possibilities among the newly eligible.
“Next year will bring another type of excitement,” Martinez said. “Or disappointment. Who knows?”
As he always did, Edgar Martinez will take a good cut. Though maybe it would help if he had a coupon.