The Ballot: Edgar Martinez
Hitting: 540 points
Fielding: minus-100 points
League leaders: 45 points (on-base percentage three times, doubles twice, batting twice, runs once, RBIs once)
Dozens of pitchers, including Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera, say he's the best hitter they ever faced: 50 points
Beloved guy, credit to the game, etc.: 10 points
Hall of Fame Race to 400 points: 545
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The wait was too long, but there's something wonderful about the fact that Edgar will go into the Hall of Fame the same year as Mariano. "The only guy that I didn't want to face when a tough situation comes was Edgar," Rivera said. "The reason is because I couldn't get him out."
Edgar Martinez's first year on the ballot was 2010. "If a Hall of Famer is defined by dominance at his position," The New York Times' Tyler Kepner wrote then, "Martinez should be a lock. After all, the annual award for best designated hitter is named for him. The problem for some voters may be that position. No full-time DH has been inducted."
Edgar got 36.2% of the vote. That year, Andre Dawson was elected and Bert Blyleven fell a handful of votes short.
In 2011, Rafael Palmeiro, Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell came on the ballot. So did Juan Gonzalez. The ballot was getting stacked with players who, by historical standards, had Hall of Fame numbers.
"An offensive force, Martinez is fighting uphill trying to convince voters that his work as a designated hitter is just as worthy of the Hall of Fame as a two-way player," Jim Baumbach wrote for Newsday.
Sure enough, Martinez's percentage fell to 32.9%. Robbie Alomar and Bert Blyleven were elected.
In 2012, nobody who greatly interested the voters came on the ballot -- the best first-timer was Bernie Williams. It was a good year to make some progress. But Martinez's DH status left voters cold. Kepner listed him as a doubtful Hall of Famer.
"A great hitter but not a complete player," Marc Topkin wrote in the Tampa Bay Times. "Seventy-two percent of his plate appearances [were] as a DH."
Edgar's percentage did go up a little, to 36.5%, but that was basically where he had started.
In 2013, the ballot cratered. That's the year everything went haywire -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza all debuted on the ballot. So did Kenny Lofton, who simply couldn't get anyone to notice him. With so much offensive talent coming on the ballot at one time, the BBWAA voters were paralyzed (we didn't vote anyone in that year) and Martinez's Hall of Fame chances were in grave danger.
"Too much time without a glove," wrote the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "has voters treating the greatest DH ever with kid gloves."
He basically held his own that year, but in 2014 Edgar's support tumbled all the way down to 25.2%. He now had a new problem in addition to being a DH: Even some of the people who WANTED to vote for him left him off because the Hall of Fame limits voters to 10 players. "As for Martinez and his career .993 OPS," Bob Klapisch wrote, "he was an unfortunate casualty of the restricted ballot."
But, something good did happen for Edgar that year: Frank Thomas was elected. The Big Hurt was a better hitter than Edgar -- at his best, Thomas was a better hitter than almost anybody, really, -- but he was also mostly a DH. "Thomas's election gives hope to designated hitters such as Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz," Nick Cafardo wrote in The Boston Globe.
The hope didn't play out in 2015 -- Martinez polled at only 27%. Four players were elected, including Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.
"I've faced a lot of Hall of Fame hitters, and my gosh, Edgar is the best that I ever saw," Big Unit said.
"Believe it or not, the guy I hated facing the most wasn't a guy that did really well against me," Pedro said. "The toughest guy I faced, with all due respect, was Edgar Martinez. He had to make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 every time we faced each other. I was hard-breathing after that."
[caption id="attachment_23973" align="aligncenter" width="427"] Clutch hit: Edgar will make the cut in his final year on the ballot.[/caption]
There didn't seem a Hall of Fame path for Martinez. He had been on the ballot for six years, and he was getting only a quarter of the vote. There were a bunch of hitters ahead of him on the ballot -- Piazza, Bagwell, Raines, Bonds, and soon there would be Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome and Chipper Jones and Vlad Guerrero and Pudge Rodriguez. The math was beyond daunting.
"It's going to be tough to overcome voters' hesitation about designated hitters," Phil Miller wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
But something changed in 2016. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened. I think there were three key factors:
No. 1: Voters started to clarify their thoughts on PED players.
No. 2: The persistent comments from pitchers about Martinez's greatness were beginning to make an impact.
No. 3: I think this is the big one -- the voting system changed. The Hall of Fame and BBWAA teamed up to pare down the voting list. In 2015, 549 total ballots went out. In 2016, about one-fifth of them were cut. Out with the old. In with a new way of thinking.
"It's just not fair to hold it against Martinez that he didn't play defense," wrote Klapisch, who this year found room on his ballot for Edgar. "He was the game's best right-handed hitter from 1992 to 2000."
Martinez jumped all the way to 43.4% of the vote, right around the same as Bonds. Martinez had gotten 43 MORE votes despite there being 109 fewer voters. And now there was some serious momentum.
In 2017, in his eighth year on the ballot, Martinez had become a cause.
"Perhaps people are finally seeing the light," Bob Ryan wrote in The Boston Globe. "He was the most respected hitter in the AL for a decade. Oh, that's right. He was a DH primarily. I can't believe any AL voter would discriminate against him. Has to be those NL Luddites."
By this point, as you know, Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame tracker had become must-see stuff, and people could see Edgar's vote total going way up in real time. He was polling around 70% on the tracker. He ended up at 58.6%, and now the math was working for him. The only hitter ahead of him on the ballot was Vlad Guerrero.
Suddenly, with two years left, he was pretty much assured of the Hall of Fame.
"We now have tools to evaluate players that we didn't even have 10 years ago," Jayson Stark said. "And it's easier now to compare Edgar not just to other DHs but to other hitters ... he measures up against all of them."
There was some hope that Martinez would get in last year and end the suspense, but with Vlady still on the ballot, and Thome and Chipper coming on, he didn't have quite enough. He got 70.4%, 20 votes shy.
Well, everybody knew that he had one more year on the ballot.
Edgar Martinez will be elected this year, with probably at least 25 votes to spare.
So what happened here? Edgar Martinez did not smash one extra double into the gap. He did not make one more pitcher miserable with his unmatched approach to hitting. All of the knocks on him that were there 10 years ago -- that his career was short, that he finished Top 5 in the MVP voting only once, that he was almost exclusively a DH for the last decade of his career, that he didn't reach any benchmark career numbers -- are still there.
I have a developing theory, and I'm not sure it's right -- I'm not even convinced that I fully believe it -- but I'll throw it out there anyway. My theory is this: Almost everybody has two Hall of Fames in their mind.
The first Hall of Fame is the much-talked about (on this site) Willie Mays Hall of Fame. I gave you a rough version of the Willie Mays Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago in the Lance Berkman essay.
The second Hall of Fame is the REAL (Real Existing Actual Location) Hall of Fame, the one in Cooperstown, the one that has baseball immortals, baseball greats, a few baseball very goods and probably more than a few players who you think don't belong there.
It's the Willie Mays Hall of Fame that we think about when a player becomes eligible for the Hall. Is this person an ALL-TIME GREAT? Is this person one of the 100 or so greatest players who ever played this awesome game?
There are three answers.
The Eh players are those who you know, without question, do not belong in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame. But do they belong in the actual, REAL, Hall of Fame? Eh. I'll think about that another time.
And I think people don't consider the REAL Hall of Fame until later. Some of the Eh players fall off the ballot and are never considered for the REAL Hall of Fame. Most Eh players are reviewed and, inevitably, rejected as falling just short.
And a few -- Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez -- gain support when people stop comparing them to the gods, to Mays and Mantle, Gibson and Seaver, and instead compare them to those players that (in John Updike's incomparable phrase) are "gems of slightly lesser water," like Billy Williams, Brock, Catfish and Stargell.
Inevitably, there will be some who see the addition of Edgar Martinez as yet another watering down of the Baseball Hall of Fame. They're wrong, I think (and they're especially wrong in a year when Harold Baines was elected). I think Edgar's one of the 50 greatest hitters who ever lived.