There was a split second Wednesday when I thought Edgar Martinez’s nine-year wait for election into the baseball Hall of Fame had reached a happy conclusion.
Hall president Jeff Idelson, after noting the shrine “just boosted its roster in a big way,” pronounced the name “Martinez” while reading a short introduction about Vladimir Guerrero in Spanish. Idelson was pointing that Guerrero had become the third Hall of Fame player from the Dominican Republic, joining Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez.
Having forgotten what little Spanish I learned in college, I wasn’t sure where Idelson was going. All I heard was “Martinez,” and I performed a celebratory fist bump. Edgar Martinez finally won over the hearts and minds of an electorate that as recently as three years ago appeared disinclined to install a designated hitter in Cooperstown.
It had happened, and then it didn’t. The “big boost” of the Hall of Fame roster included four new members – third baseman Chipper Jones, outfielder Vladimir Guererro, first baseman Jim Thome and relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman – who accumulated at least 75 percent of the votes required for election. Martinez finished with 70.4 percent, an impressive jump from his 58.6 percent total from 2017 and yet as distant as the goal line once was for the Seahawks in the final minute of the Super Bowl.
Unlike that heartbreak, there’s some time left on this clock. Specifically, 12 months for Martinez to unwind from the whirlwind of the past few weeks, when the anticipation of a photo finish was intensified by daily updates posted on a Hall of Fame vote tracker. Because early returns typically dwindle in the hours preceding the official announcement, it was almost certain Martinez would have trouble staying above 75 percent.
While 75 percent is the threshold, 70 percent is a significant number. Ten previous candidates failed to gain election after reaching 70 percent. All 10 broke through on the next vote.
“All I can think right now is that it’s looking good for next year,” Martinez told reporters on a Wednesday afternoon conference call. “It would have been great to get in this year, but it looks good for next year.”
In fact, it looks like a slam dunk, when all Martinez will need is a 20-vote improvement. Convincing all of the borderline straddlers is a fruitless exercise in a discussion that’s way more polarizing than it ought to be. As the cold rain continues to turn spring into a fantasy, we’re talking baseball. A player’s credentials for enshrinement – even a player as beloved as Martinez – should not create arguments as contentious as, say, the Roe v. Wade verdict.
Because Jones, Guerrero and Thome were obvious first-ballot selections, the annual Hall of Fame worthiness debate focused on Hoffman and Martinez, guys on the bubble who shared the label of specialists. There’s still some bias against relievers, but Hoffman got beyond it and, heaven willing, the notion that closers aren’t legitimate Hall of Fame candidates has been put to bed.
A similar bias, against designated hitters, will be the next to go.
“I’m fine with it,” Martinez said of the vote. He too had tracked the numbers, and understood the history of behind early returns.
“I didn’t have high expectations,” he added. “I think it’s more nerve-wracking for the guys who know they’re going to get in.”
It’s impossible interpreting the body language of somebody speaking on a conference call, but I’m pretty sure Martinez was relaxed. A 3-2 count with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth never rattled him in real games, and this waiting game, destined for Year 10, isn’t rattling him, either.
Fans, on the other hand, aren’t as easy-going as Martinez. (Then again, cats sunning themselves on a window sill aren’t as easy-going as Martinez.) Those who ignored Martinez’ advanced-stat dominance will be identified as public enemies who should be purged from from the electorate.
Please. The only member of the writers association deserving of such a harsh reprimand is the knucklehead who considered an unusually stellar Hall of Fame class and submitted a blank ballot. A protest vote, I suspect, likely linked to the fact that on the next occasion all-time hit king Pete Rose visits Cooperstown, it will be to sign paid autographs outside the museum where his plaque is absent.
There were 422 members of the baseball writers’ association who participated in the 2018 election. That one chose to mail in a blank ballot does not indicate the other 421 members are bitter curmudgeons with a loathing of closers, designated hitters, and the world in general.
Four all-time great players were were elected Wednesday, and a fifth all-time great player fell a bit short. He’s fine with it.
“Next year, around November,” reminded Martinez, “we’re going to go through the same process again.”
The forecast is calling for a second celebratory fist bump upon hearing the Hall of Fame president pronounce the last name of “Martinez.” The first one was a blast.