Mariners great Edgar Martinez finally makes baseball’s Hall of Fame
When he stepped into the box for early Seattle Mariners batting practice in Houston, it only took a handful of swings for Edgar Martinez to start dropping baseballs into the outfield and beyond.
He’d had some practice, he said, and had taken swings in the cage for about a week ahead of the session, but the results were still eye-popping.
“He threw somebody’s sweaty batting gloves on, and grabbed their bat and got in there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “About the third or fourth swing, he’s peppering them off the wall out there, and up on the train tracks.”
Martinez even drove one pitch deep over the left-field wall, past the elevated Crawford Boxes, which are situated 19 feet above the field.
“Same exact guy,” Servais said that day. “The finish. The bat. The whole thing.”
The most impressive part of that BP session? It didn’t happen during Martinez’s storied playing career, for which he will be honored this weekend in Cooperstown, New York, when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
This was just a Tuesday afternoon in Houston three years ago, when Martinez, then the Mariners’ hitting coach and 53 years old, was encouraged to hop in for a few swings, more than a decade after he retired from playing.
“(There was) excitement about it,” Martinez said. “In a way, a little bit of adrenaline, too. It was fun to do.”
For Martinez, perhaps. For those watching from behind the netting, Servais chuckled, and said this — “nobody else wanted to hit after that.”
“I’ve seen him hit before, and it’s discouraging,” Mariners veteran third baseman Kyle Seager joked. “This is what I do every single day. He takes years off and then goes in there and is just hitting line drives all over the place, hitting homers, just doing whatever he wants to do.”
It’s almost like watching a continuation of what Martinez did for 18 seasons in Seattle. While it’s been years since he stepped into the batter’s box at what was then known as Safeco Field for a baseball game, each time Martinez has taken a few swings for fun seems like a window to his brilliant playing career.
“It’s hard to get him to actually pick up a bat and get in the cage,” Seager said. “We ask him all the time. But, those days that he would get in there and swing a little bit, you would see how easy it came.”
Seager, Seattle’s most tenured active position player, said what he’s seen Martinez do with a bat — both in person, and as a kid watching him on TV — is “unbelievable.”
That’s a sentiment shared across baseball. Martinez is regarded by many, including co-inductee Mariano Rivera, as one of the toughest right-handed hitters of his era.
From his major league debut in 1987, to when he retired after the 2004 season, Martinez built a reputation opposing pitchers feared, posting a .312/.418/.515 career slash line, winning five Silver Slugger awards and earning seven All-Star nods.
He’s one of only 14 players in baseball history with more than 5,000 plate appearances to record a lifetime slash of at least .310/.410/.510.
Martinez finished his career with 2,247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, 1,261 RBIs, and walked more often than he struck out in 2,055 games.
If the numbers aren’t impressive enough, co-inductee Mariano Rivera, who is regarded as the best closer in history, said Martinez was as difficult a hitter to get out as anyone he faced.
“I was trying to get him out the same way that I was trying to get everybody else out, and threw a strike (it) always seemed, but the third strike never came,” Rivera said in a recent conference call.
Martinez developed into on of the game’s best hitters after bopping around the minors for several seasons in the 1980s, and didn’t play his first full season with Seattle until 1990.
From then on, the results were consistent. His batting average hovered around .300, or better, he found ways to get on base, and when he hit, he had power, and used the whole field.
“He’s the ultimate control-the-zone guy,” Servais said. “If you had a poster child for what we talk about (it’s him).”
Martinez would study successful hitters — Wade Boggs, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Don Mattingly and Kirby Puckett are a few he mentioned — and sometimes watch them take BP when they would visit Seattle, or the Mariners would travel to play them.
“They were the type of hitters that I wanted to be like,” he said in a recent conference call. “They used the whole field, (had a) high average, and got on base.”
Martinez said he put a lot of stress on himself to produce early on in his career, but once he developed a preparation routine, and learned to control his thoughts, the at-bats that have made him a beloved Seattle baseball icon followed.
“It really helped me relax and maintain more of a state of confidence to play the game,” he said in his conference call. “But, that came with a lot of practice, and that came with a lot of work.”
Playing with confidence got easier as his career progressed Martinez said, and he became one of the players that helped saved baseball in Seattle, helping the Mariners reach each of their four playoff appearances in history in 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001.
His series-clinching RBI double to left against the Yankees in the 1995 American League Division Series is still perhaps the greatest moment in Mariners history.
“Mr. Edgar is as big a deal around here as it gets,” Seager said.
And now, after earning enough votes in his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility, the 56-year-old will be cemented into baseball lore on the biggest stage, becoming the second Mariners player to be inducted, joining Ken Griffey Jr.
“It’s an honor for me to go in (as a Mariner) for the Mariners fans and Seattle fans,” Martinez said during his conference call. “They’ve been amazing to me through my whole career.”
Martinez is now celebrated around T-Mobile Park, with the popular “Edgar’s Cantina” destination in left field, his number retired in center, and even a street named after him that borders the stadium.
And, throughout this season, the Mariners have diligently ticked down the days on their “Countdown to Cooperstown” in right field, which will finally be complete Sunday.
“I couldn’t be any happier for Edgar,” Servais said. “Certainly what he accomplished in his career, but really what he did for baseball here in the Pacific Northwest.”