SEATTLE – A chuckle rolled through the crowd of around 35,000 fans who were already in their seats 30 minutes before the first pitch at Safeco Field.
There, on the big screen, was Edgar Martinez, circa 1989, looking young and dapper with a proud and thick mustache.
“At the time, it was cool,” Martinez said. “I’m glad I don’t have it now.”
Many may not remember Martinez when he had his facial hair. But it’s hard to forget what he did to help save baseball in the Pacific Northwest.
Three years after his retirement, Martinez became the fourth inductee into the Seattle Mariners’ Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
With Safeco Field more three-quarters full to see the ceremony – many wearing his No. 11 jersey – Martinez joined first baseman Alvin Davis, right fielder Jay Buhner and broadcaster Dave Niehaus in the elite group. He was given numerous lengthy standing ovations, a far more positive reception than Mariners’ GM Bill Bavasi, who was given a hearty chorus of boos.
“You really made me feel at home away from home,” Martinez, who is from Puerto Rico, told the crowd. “I can’t think of a better place on earth to have played my 18 years.”
His longevity and productivity long ago cemented his legacy in a Mariners’ uniform. But it was one hit, in the 1995 playoffs, that guaranteed Martinez a place in Seattle sports lore.
It’s simply called “The Double” in Seattle: an 11th inning liner down the left-field line in Game 5 of the American League divisional series against the New York Yankees that sent the city to its first AL championship series.
That likely saved the Mariners from moving, because it led to special legislation that fall creating Safeco Field to replace the despised old Kingdome.
“Not only did tonight’s inductee deliver the biggest hit in Mariners history, but he set the standard for all the other players that wear the Mariners uniform,” Mariners’ CEO Howard Lincoln said.
Martinez remains the Mariners’ career leader in games played (2,055), at-bats (7,213), hits (2,247), runs (1,219), RBI (1,261), doubles (514) and walks (1,283). That went with seven All-Star teams in 18 seasons and a career batting average of .312. He was so respected that the American League named its annual award for the best designated hitter after him.
Martinez twice led the AL in batting, including when he hit .356 in 1995. He also led the AL with 52 doubles and a .479 on-base percentage that year, both career highs, while usually hitting behind Ken Griffey Jr.
Martinez, who was born in New York and raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico, is so beloved in Seattle that a thoroughfare outside Safeco Field is named Edgar Martinez Way.
“It was a pleasure watching him prepare for games,” said Mariners’ bench coach John McLaren, who was Seattle’s bench coach for six of Martinez’s 18 seasons. “The opposing teams in the dugout watching him hit – after he hit they’d go in. That’s what kind of respect he had around the game.”
The next debate looming for Martinez is Cooperstown. Martinez spent most of his final 10 seasons as a full-time designated hitter, but views the debate about whether DHs belong in the Hall of Fame similarly to relief pitchers.
“I think DH has proven that performance in a DH can lead to a championship also. I think it’s worthy of it,” Martinez said.
McLaren thinks it’s a no-brainer.
“The recognition will be there one day, because it should be,” he said. “He is the greatest designated hitter of all time.”