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A Hall of Fame Litmus Test for DH’s
SEATTLE — Walk up to the front doors of Seattle’s baseball mecca and you can’t miss it.
While Safeco Field itself might someday be known as The House the Entire 1995 Seattle Mariners Team Built, the street that runs along its south side is called Edgar Martinez Drive, and for good reason.
From his Major League debut in 1987 to his tearful goodbye at the end of 2004, the man known simply as Edgar plied his perfect right-handed swing for the Mariners, putting up remarkable numbers and gaining the love and respect of an entire sports community.
It’s been five years since Martinez hung up his hitting shoes, but history might be calling him back to the podium. For the first time, the former designated hitter is eligible for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers’ Association of America members to gain election, with leadoff great Rickey Henderson and former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice reaching that threshold to gain entrance in 2009.
Former Expos and Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson (67.0 percent) and former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (62.7 percent) had the highest totals among those not elected in 2009 voting and remain eligible for 2010.
They’re joined on the ballot this year by a group of newcomers that includes Martinez plus former All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar and Reds superstar shortstop Barry Larkin.
Results of the election will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 6, and until then, in Martinez’s case, a philosophical debate will emerge.
Commissioner Bud Selig said it succinctly and perfectly upon renaming the honor for the top DH in the American League the Edgar Martinez Award a few years ago.
“He’s the greatest DH since the rule was put in,” Selig said when asked if Martinez should be a Hall of Famer. “That’s the easy part of it and I’ll let the writers decide whether he is a Hall of Famer.”
And that’s where the argument will begin.
From a statistical standpoint, Martinez had his high points, to be sure. His isolated years of pure brilliance — from 1995 to 2001, he hit .329 and averaged 28 homers and 110 RBIs per season — and excellent career statistics in batting average (.312), on-base percentage (.418) and slugging (.515) will get him votes.
Also on the plus side are nuggets that include seven All-Star teams, five Silver Slugger Awards, two AL batting titles, and he retired with the highest batting average (.315), most homers (243) and most RBIs by a DH (1,043).
Martinez is one of only 11 inactive players to play in 2,000 games and have a career batting average over .300 with a career OBP over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500. The other 10 are already on the wall in Cooperstown.
Also, Martinez, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig are the only players in MLB history with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average higher than .300, and a career on-base percentage higher than .400.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all for him to get Hall of Fame consideration,” said former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon, who played against Martinez in the AL West for 13 seasons.
“He was one of those rare guys where you just really stopped what you were doing and watched. There were a lot of things you could learn from watching the way he hit a baseball, especially for me, being a right-handed hitter.”
“It was great to see him play, even though, unfortunately, he really did a lot of damage against the Angels.” But Martinez will have a few strikes against him when it comes to the Hall vote.
For one, his lifetime numbers of 309 homers, 2,247 hits and 1,261 RBIs, while exceptional, are not necessarily slam-dunk Hall-worthy. And voters based in the National League might hold his DH status against him.
But the prevailing argument could be the one former Mariners manager and coach and current Nationals bench coach John McLaren puts forth when he says DHs should be considered specialists, like closers, that are now accepted as legitimate Hall of Fame contenders.
“I think once you guys start talking about it and start realizing the designated hitter’s role, and what Edgar achieved in his career, I think momentum will pick up, the recognition will be there, and it should be,” McLaren said.
“Because he’s the greatest designated hitter of all time.”