When it comes to the subject of Edgar Martinez, Kirby Arnold is as knowledgeable as anyone.
Arnold was The Herald’s Seattle Mariners beat writer from 1999-2011, meaning he had the privilege of watching Edgar Martinez swing the bat on a daily basis right up until Martinez retired in 2004. He saw Martinez lead the American League with a .447 on-base percentage in 1999, win the league’s RBI crown in 2000 with 145, and play a central role in the Mariners winning a record-tying 116 regular-season games in 2001.
Arnold also has a say in who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), Arnold has been a Hall of Fame voter since he became eligible in 2009. The BBWAA allows a 10-year grace period after a writer is no longer actively covering a team, meaning Arnold has continued to vote even though he’s retired from being a full-time baseball reporter.
So with the BBWAA set to announce the results of this year’s Hall of Fame voting on Wednesday, what’s Arnold’s judgment on Martinez’s credentials? It’s a no-doubter: Edgar belongs in.
Arnold was among the first of the 400-plus eligible voters to make his Hall of Fame ballot public this year, and Martinez’s name was one of the first he checked — just as it has been in all nine years Edgar has been on the ballot.
— Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) December 14, 2017
“To me, he was the best right-handed hitter I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes,” Arnold said in a phone conversation from his winter home in Arizona. “I was very lucky to cover him on a daily basis during the best parts of his career. To see how he went about hitting was phenomenal.”
Martinez, more than any other player, is straddling the line of whether he’ll achieve election this year. Ryan Thibodaux runs a Twitter account dedicated to tracking Baseball Hall of Fame voting, and of the 202 ballots (about 48 percent of the estimated total) made public through Monday morning, Martinez was named on 79.7 percent of them. The threshold for achieving enshrinement is 75 percent, meaning so far Edgar is in.
However, those who follow Hall of Fame voting trends say voters who are more selective tend to reveal their ballots later in the process. Therefore, most projections have Martinez right at the cutoff point, meaning it could go either way.
Arnold has strong feelings about which side of that line Martinez belongs on.
“If you look at Edgar Martinez, he compares favorably with some of the best ever to play the game,” Arnold said. “I look at WAR (wins above replacement), I look at Jay Jaffe’s JAWS Report and give a lot of legitimacy to his numbers. The big argument against Edgar getting into the Hall of Fame is that he was only a DH and some voters hold that against him. But Jay Jaffe looked into the numbers, and WAR is a stat that to a great degree penalizes a player for not playing in the field. Yet Edgar’s numbers are so good that he’s easily up there with players in the Hall of Fame.”
One might argue that Arnold’s views are slanted by his proximity to Martinez’s career. But Arnold’s support of Martinez is consistent with his overall views about who belongs in the Hall of Fame.
First, Arnold is a large-Hall proponent. There is a contingent of writers who are small-Hall voters, believing it should be extremely difficult to get into the Hall of Fame. Writers are allowed to vote for a maximum of 10 players each year — there were 33 names on this year’s ballot — but are not required to use all 10 of their votes. Small-Hall voters often limit their vote to four or five players. Arnold has the opposing view, checking 10 boxes each time he’s voted, and in a large-Hall view Edgar belongs.
Arnold is also a staunch believer in taking character into account. The BBWAA’s election rules state: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Therefore, Arnold does not vote for players for whom there is evidence of using performance-enhancing drugs, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Both Bonds and Clemens have seen their vote totals gradually increase as perspective of their worthiness changes.
“I still always maintain that those guys knew what they were doing, they knew they were cheating if nothing else the spirit of the game,” Arnold said. “I’ve talked to a few guys who used steroids and they said they felt they had to do it for competitive reasons and knew it could affect their legacy down the road, and that was a chance they were willing to take.
“But when you factor in character, sportsmanship, integrity, Edgar checks all of those boxes as well as anybody. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever seen in a clubhouse.”
Will Martinez make it this year?
“I don’t know,” Arnold said. “But a lot more people have come around this year who didn’t vote for Edgar in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t make it this year, but he’ll probably make it next year if he doesn’t this year. Anyone who supports Edgar has to be pleased with the numbers this year.”
And come Wednesday, those Martinez supporters may have more to celebrate than just an increased vote total.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.