Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame Breakthrough Is a Win for Modern Baseball

Edgar Martinez, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, could really hit the baseball. That is clear from his numbers: a .312 batting average and a .418 on-base percentage in an 18-year career that lasted until he was 41. His unusual batting stance, with his bat parallel to the ground, struck fear into the hearts of pitchers.

But it was the remarks of his teammates and opponents over the years that showed how much his batting was revered.

“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen,” Randy Johnson told The Seattle Times.

“The toughest guy I faced, I think, with all due respect to all the players in the league, was Edgar Martinez,” the ace pitcher Pedro Martinez said in a widely quoted remark (even though Edgar Martinez was only 3 for 25 against him).

Martinez “would have a Ph.D. in hitting, if there was such a thing,” Alex Rodriguez said on ESPN.

Big moments? In a 1995 division series, Martinez had the game-ending, two-run double in the 11th inning that defeated the Yankees in one of the most famous playoff games ever, though Ken Griffey Jr.’s scoring the winning run is sometimes better remembered.

But Martinez still needed 10 years to be elected to the Hall by baseball writers, getting in on his final year of eligibility. In his first year, he got just 36 percent of the vote; his support fell as low as 25 percent in his fifth year. A total of 75 percent is needed to be elected.

The reason for the delay? His position. Although he began his career at third base, he soon became almost a full-time designated hitter.

Though the designated hitter was added to the American League in 1973, nearly a half-century ago, it still hasn’t been fully embraced by many traditionalists. The notion that Martinez was somehow not a complete player because he did not field a position stuck with some voters.

Paul Molitor and Jim Rice made the Hall despite playing some D.H., and Frank Thomas was elected after playing about 58 percent of his starts at D.H.

Martinez played 72 percent of his starts at D.H., a new Hall of Fame high. He is so identified with the position that the game’s top D.H. each year is presented with the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.

The aversion to the D.H. has carried over into voting for the Most Valuable Player Award — no designated hitter has won it. Martinez’s amazing 1995 season — .356 batting average, 52 doubles, 1.107 on-base plus slugging — was good for only third in the voting.

But as younger voters who grew up with the designated hitter take over in Hall of Fame voting — four years ago, the Hall began easing out some retired writers — the scorn for D.H.s seems to be fading. Martinez got 85 percent of the vote in January.

Another player who was primarily a D.H. is joining the Hall this year: Harold Baines. His election was more unexpected, as he had never received more than 6 percent of votes during his eligibility with the writers, and was elevated by a 16-member “Today’s Game” committee. Baines’s election was met with puzzlement at best and contempt at worst by many baseball writers, fans and statisticians.

While a fine player, Baines falls short of Martinez’s production. He had a long career and amassed an imposing hits total of 2,866. But aside from his longevity, he brings numbers — a .289 average and .820 OPS — more in line with humdrum Hall of Famers like Tony Perez and Billy Williams than legends like Stan Musial and Ty Cobb.

The selection of Baines, and especially Martinez, could bode well for David Ortiz, another D.H., who is scheduled to come up for possible induction in 2022.

Ortiz was even more of a full-time designated hitter than Martinez, making 89 percent of his starts in that role. With 541 home runs, a .380 on base average and a reputation as one of the game’s great clutch hitters, Ortiz is likely to find that the letters D.H. are no longer a mark of shame.

Victor Mather is a general assignment sports reporter and editor.  

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