(Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
by Max Brill
There are a variety of ways I could go with this post, mostly because there are so many reasons that Edgar Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame, and it’s a crime that he still isn’t in despite having spent eight years on the ballot. The chief reason he should be in, plain and simple, is that he is the greatest DH to ever play in the majors (though a case can be made for the Big Hurt or Paul Molitor).
I want to start off with my favorite quote about Edgar:
“The toughest [player I ever faced] — and thank God he retired — [was] Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though — respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.” –Mariano Rivera
Others have praised Edgar as one of the greatest hitters they have ever faced as well:
“Believe it or not, the guy that I hated facing the most wasn’t a guy that really did well against me. It was actually a guy that didn’t do that well … The toughest guy I faced I think — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez. He had to make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 (each time we faced). I was hard-breathing after that. Edgar was a guy that had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off because I couldn’t get the guy out.” –Pedro Martinez
It’s interesting that Pedro picked Edgar as his toughest hitter, because in 33 career PA against Pedro, Edgar hit .120 with no extra base hits and 11 strikeouts. The fact that Edgar wasn’t successful against Pedro and still received this high praise speaks volumes to the quality of hitter he is. One more quote, courtesy of none other than the Big Unit:
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much. Having seen him play from ’89 to all the way when I left, I got to see him a lot against great pitchers. Like I said, hands down, he is the best pure hitter that I got to see on a nightly basis. And I hope that his time comes soon, that he gets a phone call stating that he’s a Hall of Fame player, because he is.” –Randy Johnson
Covers all the bases pretty clearly. Moving on.
Some folks think that Edgar shouldn’t be in the Hall because he was primarily a DH, and players who don’t play defense shouldn’t be considered.
Firstly, this argument is ridiculous, because Edgar has played over 600 games at third base, and actually delivered a positive defensive value while there, registering 17 defensive runs saved over his career. There are Hall of Famers who actually hurt their team defensively by trotting out on defense every night (Willie McCovey, Craig Biggio, Harmon Killebrew, and the infamously bad defender, but future first-ballot HOFer Derek Jeter) and Martinez was not one of those. So I think that we can fairly easily wave off all the naysayers who don’t want Edgar in because of his defense.
Aside from that, I can’t really think of any one specific reason he shouldn’t be in. Most people see David Ortiz as a future Hall of Famer (despite the confirmed PED usage) and Edgar was better than Ortiz. In terms of WAR, it would take David Ortiz 234 games playing at his career averages in order to equal Edgar Martinez’s production from one 162-game season (source). Edgar Martinez is a career .312/.418/.515 hitter, and David Ortiz only had one season (2007) in which he bettered each leg of that triple-slash. Martinez didn’t hit as many home runs, but he also made an out in a much smaller percentage of his plate appearances: 60.8% of his plate appearances, to be exact, as opposed to Ortiz’s 64.5% career out percentage.
Edgar wasn’t only better than Ortiz, though. He was possibly one of the greatest hitters to ever step to the plate. He’s definitely not in a tier with the Ruths, Gehrigs, and Teddy Ballgames of the world, but I’d put him in the tier just below that, and he is certainly the most underrated hitter of all-time. This is a comprehensive list of all players who have compiled a better career triple-slash than that of Edgar Martinez (i.e. a list of players who have a better average, OBP, and SLG):
Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Dan Brouthers, Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Notice a common theme? In case you don’t, I’ll give you a hint: they’re all enshrined in Cooperstown, save for Jackson, who was banned from baseball for his involvement in the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919. Here’s another star-studded list Edgar is on:
I can’t take credit for this stat, as I got it from the one and only Ryan M. Spaeder on Twitter, but if this doesn’t give you an idea of how good Edgar Martinez really was, I do not really have much else to give you. You can always check out his Baseball Reference page; there’s a pretty good amount of bold on there.
Also, if you want to go the WAR route (which isn’t the end-all be-all, but is a good barometer, as I have said before), Edgar’s 66.4 bWAR would slot right in between Joe Cronin and Pee Wee Reese among hitters in the Hall of Fame, and it would rank above notable members such as Craig Biggio, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, and Lou Brock, as well as a handful of others.
So now that I’ve established that Edgar deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, we have to answer the glaring question of why is he not in the Hall of Fame? My go-to reason is probably bias. Edgar clearly has the credentials to get a plaque in Cooperstown, but he didn’t have the national media coverage that a player like David Ortiz did, or even like his own teammate, Ken Griffey Jr., did during his time in the majors. Seattle has never been to a World Series, and teams on the West Coast tend to get less coverage than East Coast teams anyway. A large percentage of the writers that vote on the Hall of Fame are based on the Eastern Seaboard, or at least east of the Mississippi River, meaning that they don’t stay up late for games, and they generally get to see less of the players on the opposite coast.
Edgar also played during the steroid era, and while he didn’t do steroids, a lot of the writers seem to have blacklisted nearly all the players from that era based on their own personal speculation, or perhaps the idea that all players who played in the era “must have done something.” I’ve already expressed my opinion that players who have done PEDs shouldn’t be prevented from entering the Hall of Fame only for that reason, so I don’t see why speculation would keep Edgar out.
The final reason, and perhaps the most plausible, is just that Edgar has faced some jam-packed ballots. His first year on the ballot was 2010, in which he garnered a respectable 36.2% of the vote, and he has slowly climbed from that mark (this upcoming ballot will be his ninth). However, I’m almost positive he would already be inducted had he not had to share ballots with the steroid-era guys (think Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc.), who have generally split voting such that not very many players have been inducted in recent years. This doesn’t even consider the already-qualified guys like Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, and Jeff Bagwell. With that said, Edgar only has to convince 16.4% more of the electorate, and Tim Raines managed to get in during the 2017 election (deservedly so) after having a similar vote percentage on his eighth ballot (55.0%, compared to Edgar’s 58.4%), so I think it’s fair that Edgar could follow a similar path Raines did. Plus, Edgar is likely to see the final-year bump that most candidates tend to get in their last year on the ballot.
I’ll leave you with one final fun stat, though I recognize that it is entirely meaningless:
David Ortiz: 8 Edgar Martinez Awards.
Edgar Martinez: 0 David Ortiz Awards.
I want to give a huge special thanks to Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder on Twitter) and his extensive research about Edgar Martinez, most of which helped to fuel this article, though he probably doesn’t know it.