A Mariner From Start to Finish (Getty)
With all apologies to Alvin Davis, the term "Mr. Mariner" belongs to No. 11. The Edgar. 'Gar. Papi. Designated hitter Edgar Martinez is set to retire after a memory-filled 18-year career. InsidethePark.com's Ian Levin shares his perspective on the greatest Mariner of all-time.
That soft gasping sound that you heard around 2:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on August 9, 2004 was every American League pitcher breathing a sigh of relief as they found out that the greatest designated hitter of all time, Edgar Martinez, will retire at the conclusion of the current season. Martinez has officially made the decision to end his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners, and ride off into the sunset.
It was late in the 1987 and the Seattle Mariners were sitting below .500 and out of the playoff hunt. September was approaching and the team was assessing the potential call-ups when they came across a hot-hitting third baseman. His .329 average and 82 walks in 438 at-bats could not be ignored. On September 12, 1987, they made the call. The Edgar Martinez era officially began.
His first appearance could not have been any more ironic. With the Mariners winning 11-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Jim Presley walked and ‘Gar came in to pinch-run but was quickly erased as Dave Valle hit into a double play. Martinez remained in the game at third base and popped out in his first Major League at-bat. It did not take long for him to get his first hit, however. On September 14, in his first at-bat of the game and second of his career, Martinez tripled for hit number one of what would end up being many more to come.
The organization was still not sold on the young Martinez, as he spent parts of the next two seasons back in Triple-A, where he tore the cover off the ball. He hit .363 and .345 in Triple-A the next two years but just .281 and .240 during his time with the Mariners. Finally, in 1990, at the age of 27, ‘Gar was given the opportunity to play third base everyday. In his first full season, he hit .302/.397/.433 with 11 home runs in 487 at-bats. This was just the tip of the iceberg.
Including his first full season, Martinez had 10 seasons in which he hit over .300, 11 times with an on-base percentage over .400, eight times with a slugging percentage over .500 and five times with an OPS over 1.000. He hit 20-plus home runs in eight different seasons and drove in 100 runs in six. He won the batting title twice and took part in seven All-Star games.
Not only was Martinez a major run-producer who put up great numbers but he was a great person and the heart and soul of the organization. He was in town for the astronomical rise of Ken Griffey Jr., the acquisition of Randy Johnson, and the emergence of Alex Rodriguez. He remained in town when they all left and yet never considered doing the same. You can't mention the Mariners and not think of Edgar Martinez.
When thinking back in Mariner history, it is hard to find a significant moment that ‘Gar didn’t have a role in. Is there a bigger moment than the double down the left field line to score Ken Griffey Jr. to win the 1995 Division Series against the Yankees? All you have to do is mention 1995 and that picture clearly comes up in your head.
Edgar called that his favorite Mariner memory at Monday's press conference, not surprisingly.
He may not have been as durable as he would have liked but he never gave anything less than 100 percent. If he could walk, he could play. Never was that more obvious than in 2003. Martinez played for a month with a broken toe after fouling a ball off of it. He tried using a steel insert in his shoe but it was uncomfortable so instead he played through it. Having to adjust his swing to avoid putting pressure on it, he still managed to hit .253/.388/.380 in the final five weeks of the season, an amazing feat considering that he continued to foul pitches off of that sore, shattered toe. He’s played through countless leg problems that have slowed him down in recent years and never complained. He went out there and did his job, no matter how much it hurt, no matter how painful the injuries became.
Martinez is the all-time leader in career average (.312), RBI (1244), and HR (305) among designated hitters. He also holds franchise records in career games (2,013), hits (2,205), doubles (510), RBI, walks (1,272) and runs (1,203). He is 17th on the all-time list for career on-base percentage, 46th in doubles, 41st in walks, and 74th in average.
There is no doubt that Martinez has been a great hitter. His number will soon be retired by the M’s and he will be forever remembered as future Mariner season continue to pass . However, the question must be asked; is he worthy of the Hall of Fame? Some suggest that since he had just been a hitter for most of his career, he doesn't deserve to be voted into Cooperstown. Others look at the numbers and see that he was the greatest designated hitter of all time and since that is now part of the game, there is no doubt that he deserves to be a member of Baseball’s most prestigious and honored group. When the time comes to vote on him, it will likely be a close one. With all he’s done for the city of Seattle and the game of baseball, it would be a crime to not induct him into the Hall.
The book has yet to be officially closed on Martinez as the Puerto Rico native will play out the season. The numbers will change and his career average could even take a slight hit. But if ‘Gar went hitless for the rest of the year, I don’t think anyone would mind. The chance to see him play for a little while longer is more than worth it. Whether he ends his career with a strikeout or with a patented line drive home run to right-center field, it has been a great run. Let me rephrase that. It has been a most memorable run.
We may see ‘Gar again in the future. One day he may take a seat on the bench at SAFECO as the hitting coach, or possibly as a minor league coach or instructor. He may make his next appearance when he gets his number retired in Safeco. He may make a speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, or make numerous appearances next season at the SAFE in street clothes. But if none of them happen he will still be there, in the hearts and minds of Mariners fans everywhere. Papi, we all loved watching you play.
Thank you, Edgar.