It’s gratifying to see someone finally give Edgar Martinez his due in a timely manner.
People have always been late to the party in recognizing Martinez’s greatness as a player. The Seattle Mariners, for whom Martinez played the entirety of his 18-year major-league career, took their sweet time coming around, waiting until Martinez was 27 years old before handing him a regular gig — despite Martinez raking in parts of four seasons at triple-A and having only the ineffective Jim Presley blocking his path.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is less than two years away from missing the boat as Martinez is now in the ninth of 10 years of eligibility for induction by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Heck, even in the low minors people were slow to believe in Martinez, as longtime Bellingham Mariners/Everett AquaSox trainer Spyder Webb recalled he was certain Martinez would never make it to the big leagues after batting .173 in the Northwest League.
But with Martinez having his number retired by the Mariners on Saturday at Safeco Field, someone finally rousted themselves at the sound of the alarm buzzer instead of pounding the snooze button.
Martinez’s No. 11 is just the third number ever retired by the Mariners. One of those was Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which was retired by every major-league team in 1997. Seattle didn’t honor one of its own until last year, when the Mariners hung Ken Griffey Jr.’s No. 24 in center field.
Griffey was the right player to come first. But it’s also equally appropriate that Martinez was right on Griffey’s heels. While there have been other stars who arguably shined brighter during their time in a Mariners uniform, no player is more beloved by the fans in the Pacific Northwest than Martinez. And with good reason. During his playing days Martinez, now Seattle’s hitting coach, not only was as good a hitter as the Mariners ever had, he embodied qualities we all strive to attain.
Martinez had great patience. Not only was Martinez patient at the plate, with 1,283 career walks and a career .418 on-base percentage, he waited his turn for his chance. In his four stints at triple-A Calgary, Martinez batted .353, .329, .363 and .345. How many players today would wait that long without their agents agitating for a chance of scenery?
Martinez exhibited great humility. While stardom can lead to a big head, Martinez always remained grounded in the public light. Some players get national shoe sponsorship deals. Martinez was content to represent local Eagle Hardware, appearing in self-effacing commercials where he crafted things such as his very own “light bat.”
Martinez was a hard worker. For some players the game comes naturally, but for most it requires a lot of time and effort to remain at the elite level. When Martinez was in his 30s stories emerged of him getting creative in his training, doing what appeared to be tedious exercises designed to help improve his eyesight. He did whatever he had to do it remain at the top of his craft.
Martinez was loyal. He spent his entire professional baseball career from 1983 t0 2004 with the Mariners organization. This despite having his career smack dab in the middle of the free-agent era, and despite the Mariners being a franchise that wasn’t exactly covered in glory. He stayed true to Seattle because it became his home.
But most important was Martinez’s excellence. Seattle fans have had the good fortune cheer on some of baseball’s best hitters the past 20 years. Griffey’s picture-perfect swing. Alex Rodriguez’s undeniable talent. Ichiro Suzuki’s uniqueness. But none were Martinez’s match. Fangraphs.com calculates Martinez’s career weighted runs created plus at 147 (100 is league average), which is better than Rodriguez (141), Griffey (131) or Suzuki (104). Martinez’s single-season best of 182 in 1995 also bests Griffey (164 in 1993), Rodriguez (159 in 1996) and Suzuki (131 in 2004) in their best seasons as a Mariner. And who delivered the biggest hit in franchise history, the double down the left-field line at the Kingdome that won the 1995 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees? Yep, it was Martinez.
Add it all together and there is no individual more deserving of the honor of having his number retired than the man known to Mariners fans simply as Edgar.
And Martinez finally didn’t have to wait for people to figure it out.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.