Finally, mercifully, Mariners fans have a reason to celebrate. After everything they’ve endured this offseason, and the years before, there is good news. Edgar Martinez is in the Hall of Fame.
It has been a difficult few months to be a Mariners fan. That might not seem all that far-fetched to some, being as the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, but this offseason has been an exceptionally hard period to be proud of the Mariners. The front office has torn the team to the studs, all but guaranteeing that playoff drought will continue for at least a couple more years (gotta get that two decade mark and really etch our names into history). The same front office that was struck with controversy when Dr. Lorena Martin publicized allegations of racist and sexist behavior by certain members of Mariners leadership, accusations that are still being investigated now, over 4 months after they came to light.
Being a Mariners fan is hard. It has always been hard. There are not many that can really empathize with the amount of suffering that is involved with being a fan of a team that cannot seem to get out of their own way for such an extended period of time. Even Cleveland Browns fans look up at our playoff drought and think, “Jesus Christ, better them than us.” Add to this the leadership turmoil, and you have a pretty deep pit to wallow in, with the only people to comfort you being the other fans of the team, drinking Rainier beer together, and reminiscing about days gone by.
“Remember when the Griffeys hit back-to-back homeruns?”
“Remember when Ichiro broke the single season hit record?”
“Remember when we had Cameron, and Boone, and Buhner, and Sasaki, and Wilson?”
“Remember Edgar’s double?”
Every single Seattle sports fan can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when Edgar Martinez hit that double. In bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-5 through Seattle, the game was being listened to over the radio by thousands of people, who all started honking their horns together, celebrating an amazing moment, despite being stuck in some of the worst traffic the country has to offer. If they weren’t alive, or were too young to remember when the double was hit, they remember the first time they heard Dave Niehaus screaming into the microphone until he ran out of breath as Ken Griffey Jr. slid into home and was mobbed by his teammates. They remember the goosebumps when the camera cuts to a birds-eye view of the inside of the Kingdome, as fireworks erupt above the heads of thousands of screaming fans who just watched their team advance on one of the most amazing walk-offs in baseball history.
Playing video, or even just audio, of The Double is the easiest way to get any fan jazzed up about whatever you’re about to say. Need to break the news to your dad that you crashed his car into a ditch last night? Just pull The Double up on your phone, you’ll be fine. You’re at your wedding and you can tell your future in-laws are upset that they flew out to Florida from Seattle just to watch their daughter marry you? Audio from The Double makes a great first dance song. You need to announce to your entire Seattle based company that 70% of them are about to be laid off, and you need it to go smoothly because you already laid off most of security? Play The Double before you go out to address your gathered staff.
When Edgar’s induction into the Hall of Fame was announced on Tuesday, I was driving home listening to 710 ESPN, and as the anchors stalled for time, waiting for the announcement they, and their listeners so desperately wanted to hear, they played the audio of The Double. Despite being stuck behind a school bus on a street with more blind corners than a visually impaired dodecahedron, I cracked a massive smile and sprouted a vast harvest of goosebumps just listening to the play I’ve heard dozens of times before. When Edgar was finally announced to the Hall of Fame a few minutes later, I was still in the car, and just like those fans stuck in traffic on I-5 in 1995, I honked my horn so many times I attracted the attention of about a dozen confused school children.
The thing that can be so easily forgotten when remembering The Double is that Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS wasn’t even Edgar’s best game of the series. That honor belongs to Game 4, when Edgar went 3 for 4, with 2 home runs. The first was a 3-run shot in the third inning to left field to tighten the ballgame as the Yankees had opened an early lead. The second came in the eighth inning. With the score knotted at 6, Edgar, the calmest man within 100 miles, stepped in to face John Wetteland, and on a 2-2 pitch, sent the ball to center field, and 57,000 fans at the Kingdome into a frenzy. All business, Edgar races out of the box, determined to stretch as many bases out of the shot as possible, but when the ball hits the tarp in center field, his arms shoot into the air, and the faintest smile crosses his lips. He sent his team to Game 5, then moved them on the next night. That entire series he went 12 for 21, scored 6 times, hit 3 doubles and 2 home runs, drove in 10 runs, and was walked 6 times, more than teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and Tino Martinez combined (5).
One playoff series is not nearly enough to qualify someone for the Hall of Fame. Edgar played in 2055 total games over 18 seasons. In that time, he racked up incredible numbers. 2,247 hits, 309 homeruns, 1,261 RBIs. The truly staggering thing about his numbers aren’t the totals however, but how consistently he added to them. From 1995 to 2001, he hit over .300 every year, and led the American League in hitting in ’95 with a .356 batting average. His on-base percentage was over .400 every year from 1995 to 2003, including an MLB best .479 OBP in 1995, and AL bests in ’98 and ’99 (.429 and .447). He slugged over .480 every year from 1994 to 2003. He led the league in doubles in 1992 (46) and 1995 (52). From 1995 to 2001 he had more than 100 RBIs every year but 1999, including an AL best 145 in 2000. He had an OPS over 1.000 5 times, and led the Majors in that category in 1995 with an insane 1.105, as well as a 185 OPS+. Were it not for two injury plagued seasons in ’93 and ’94, it is likely that most of these streaks would extend as far back as 1990. He went to 7 All-Star Games, and won 5 Silver Slugger Awards. What it all amounts to is a career .312/.418/.515 hitter who, even by his age 41 season in 2004, was still giving pitchers fits at the plate.
Edgar had to work exceptionally hard to stay in the league and perform at the level he did. In a recent interview with MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, Edgar opened up about his struggles with his eyes. Edgar suffers from weakened muscles in his right eye that made it hard for him to see pitches as they came out of the pitcher’s hand. In order to strengthen the muscles, and to correct the vision problem he suffers from, he used a pitching machine to fire numbered tennis balls at him at up to 130 mph. The goal was to read the number on the ball before it made contact with the bat he held stretched out in front of him. This forced him to watch the ball with both eyes, and see clearly the detail of the ball. The danger of not being able to see a baseball at times is extremely high, and Edgar did pay the price at times in his career, as he was hit by a total of 89 pitches. Yet he persisted, staying in the batter’s box despite the danger it presented to his body if his eyes were to betray him at the wrong moment, and worked diligently to preserve himself, and became a dominant force at the plate.
The journey to The Show wasn’t so easy for Edgar either. Four years he spent in the minor leagues, constantly struggling to overcome language barriers between himself, his coaches, and his teammates, all the while hitting well, and fielding a respectable third base. Edgar’s calm, and stoic behavior kept him in the eye of the organization the whole time. While words might be misunderstood, body language is universal, and Edgar walked, talked, and played like a champion from the beginning. By the time he was finally called up, the Mariners were still committed to playing Jim Pressley at third, and it wasn’t until 1990 that Edgar got a full season of Major League games to show for all his hard work. By ’92, he was a batting champion. Everyone in Seattle, and many others around the league were forced to take notice of his abilities, and by ’95, he was a hero.
Legendary status followed, but its source was not from anything he did on the field. No, to find the source of his legendary status, you need a computer that can load YouTube.
Mariners commercials have been a brilliant marketing campaign that started in 1980, but were revitalized in 1994. Several are shot each year, and in them players and coaches get together in front of a camera to make goofy ads, showing off their personalities and getting fans excited for the upcoming season of Mariners baseball. There is some truly excellent content to be found within these commercials. 2011 saw the introduction of Larry Bernandez in “Encore Encore”, a gag so funny to fans, it got its own bobblehead night later that season. In 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. was asked by God himself to hit a homerun ball into the heavens so that He could give it to Jackie Robinson in “The Favor”. That year as well, a devious Jay Buhner took off his hat, polished his cranium, and used it reflect light into the face of a helpless batter from centerfield, cackling to himself all the while in “Blinded”.
Edgar’s contributions to the Mariners commercials were fewer than some other players that have come through the Mariners organization over the years, but they might be among the best. In 1998, he used his veteran leadership to teach some of the young, imported players how to pronounce some words a Seattle resident might need to know. Words like ‘geoduck’ and ‘Puyallup’, as well as an extremely important coffee order are drilled into their minds in “Edgar and the Rookies”. But 2004 might have the best of them all. In “The Clapper”, a curious Dan Wilson and John Olerud wander in on Edgar working on a breaker panel. Edgar reveals a plan to help them take late night batting practice. Out on the field, Edgar reveals he has installed a Clapper to control the stadium lights. It all seems like a very good idea until fans during a game start clapping, and Edgar is forced to admit he may have made a mistake.
The emotional impact baseball has on someone varies widely from person to person. As a player, if you fail 70% of the time, everyone thinks you’re pretty darn good. But if you fail 70% of the time, and capture the beating heart of every fan who watches you while you do it, you’ll never be forgotten. That’s what Edgar did. Everyone recognized his greatness for what it was. But the privilege of having a man like Edgar do it in a Mariners uniform is what stuck with all of us.
The Double itself is iconic, it will live forever in the hearts and minds of Mariners fans until the heat death of the universe, and the man who hit it; he is our hero. With his induction into the Hall of Fame, Edgar joins only two others in Seattle sports history to be enshrined in their respective Hall after playing their entire career wearing Seattle on their chest; Walter Jones, and Cortez Kennedy, both Seattle Seahawks. While many remember Jones and Kennedy fondly, Edgar is in a class above them both. The sellout crowd that showed up to Safeco Field in 2017 to watch his number be retired entered with the same fervent gusto of yesteryear, chanting “EEEEEEEDDDDDDGAAAAAAAARRRRR” just like they did at the Kingdome, and showing their love for one of their favorite sons. Many of them walked along his namesake street to get to the stadium that day, as the now renamed T-Mobile Park, sits comfortably at the corner of Edgar Martinez Drive and Dave Niehaus Way.
Soon, a plaque in Cooperstown with his name, along with ‘Gar’ and ‘Papi’ will be put somewhere that everyone will see, and they’ll be reminded of something that everyone in the Pacific Northwest has known for a long time. Edgar is one of the best there ever was. One of the best hitters, and one of the best men, that Major League Baseball ever saw.
Edgar Martinez means so much to the city of Seattle and fans of the Mariners. The Double and the commercials encapsulate a great deal of what was great about him, but what was truly special about him was how much he devoted to Seattle. He spent an entire 18 year career here, consistently hitting the game’s best pitchers all over the yard, and being part of the generation of Mariners that proved that Seattle baseball could be feared. He did it with heart, grace, and a wonderful sense of humor. He did it with a lot of work and determination, and he did it with the sort of humility that reminds us all, as fans, how lucky we were to watch him be so great, for so long. For better or for worse the Mariners are one of the truest amalgamations of baseball. Failure abounds in baseball. It is the core tenant of the sport. The Mariners organization fails to bring their fans a championship, but Edgar succeeds in doing something amazing. He makes it not matter.
Featured Photo: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times