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January 6, 2010 at 9:29 AM

On Edgar Martinez and my Hall of Fame vote

UPDATE: 11:04 a.m. — Andre Dawson makes it into the Hall of Fame and deservedly so. Roberto Alomar doesn’t make it, which, to me, is somewhat surprising. Edgar Martinez gets 36.2 percent of the vote, which is a solid base of support for a first-timer. Some of you might be feeling upset today, but just remember to breathe at some point.
Today marks the first time Edgar Martinez will learn of his Hall of Fame chances and he most certainly won’t be getting in. I did not vote for Martinez and can guarantee you he won’t come close to the 75 percent threshold needed to make it. Roberto Alomar has an excellent shot of getting in as a first-ballot guy and that’s a no-brainer for a player who helped revolutionize the position he played both in the field and at the plate, not only for a World Series champion Toronto team, but as a mainstay in the order of a powerhouse Cleveland squad as well as playoff-bound Orioles teams.
On to Martinez, I did a lot of soul-searching on his candidacy and simply could not give him the vote this time. Obviously, since we are in the Pacific Northwest, there has been a ton of stuff written about Martinez both in the local media as well as national websites with writers from this neck of the country.
Part of the trouble with Hall of Fame voting is that you are comparing stats compiled over different eras in the game. To simply say, a guy needs 500 home runs, or 300 wins, for me, is a bit facile in thinking since much of it depends on what was going on in baseball at the time, or maybe the team a guy played on. (Yes, I did vote for Bert Blyleven.)
Once upon a time, 500 home runs was a big deal. Later on, as the 1990s turned into the 2000s, it seemed like a different guy every week was popping No. 500 over the wall against a sad sack pitcher from an expansion team. So, you have to consider all of that.
Then, you throw in a test case like Martinez, who was a pretty nice-hitting third baseman early in his career, but really didn’t put up numbers worthy of Hall of Fame discussion until after being relieved of half the duties of an everyday ballplayer,
And so, we are now facing a referendum on the pioneer aspects of Martinez as a DH.
This truly is a pioneer case, since I don’t know of any other position in team sports that is quite like the DH role. The closest you get is a kicker in football, but even that position is featured on every team in the sport. Not so for a DH, which is used by only one of the two leagues that comprise Major League Baseball. So, that’s a bit of a problem. We as voters are being asked to judge the merits of a guy who benefitted from advantages not available to players on roughly half the teams in his sport.
Now, let’s look at those advantages and consider how Martinez benefitted compared to some other guys up for the vote today.
Photo Credit: AP

In considering Martinez, I could not help but think of Hall of Fame candidate Andre Dawson, a guy I watched in his prime growing up in Montreal. To some who watch baseball through the prism of stats alone, Dawson is a borderline candidate, a player lacking the 500 home runs or 3,000 hits some folks like to judge the big sluggers on.
But to anyone who understands baseball, and the intangibles that go into it, Dawson is a guy who belongs in Cooperstown.
Dawson suffered serious knee injuries as a high school football player and carried them over with him to Montreal. The playing surface at Olympic Stadium was the worst in baseball at the time and an embarrassment to the game of baseball. It was a concrete-like astroturf mess, replete with career-destroying seams on-display to the world during the 1981 playoffs and mercifully replaced with a softer, less-ripped version in time for the 1982 All-Star Game.
Every game that Dawson played on that surface — at a time when he was a perennial Gold Glove defender — drove more stabbing pains through those knees. He had to wrap and ice them prior to every game (I worked closely for almost a decade with a guy who knew Dawson well and was behind clubhouse doors every night as an Expos employee, so these details are accurate) the way an NFL football player does every Sunday.
It wasn’t until 1987 in Chicago, when he won his first MVP (he’d been runner-up twice) that Dawson finally got off an artificial home surface with the Chicago Cubs. And it was only years later, while with the Red Sox, that Dawson even had the opportunity to serve as a DH.
Think about it. Because I have.
Dawson left the Expos primarily to relieve the pressure on his aching knees, then played the field for six more years in Chicago before even being eligible to DH. Despite that, he still hit 400 home runs — in an era where that still meant something — and went on to steal more than 300 bases. Again, think about it — more than 300 stolen bases on arthritis-plagued knees. Playing Gold Glove caliber defense almost every single night. Dawson has already had one knee replacement surgery and is waiting for a similar operation on the other.
This guy was not eligible until very late in his career, because of his NL status, for the DH opportunity handed to Martinez the minute his injuries began to pile up fairly early on . How many home runs would Dawson have hit had he gotten to face D-Rays type-pitching as a DH starting in the late 1970s or early 1980s? Probably would have cracked 500. Might have easily lodged 3,000 hits and stolen well over 400 bases. But we’ll never know.
So now, Dawson awaits the results in his ninth year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
That’s why, for me, it’s tough to consider voting for Martinez in Year No. 1.
For certain, Martinez put up tremendous on-base percentage numbers throughout his career, finishing with a .418 mark that is certainly worthy of Hall of Fame discussion. His .515 slugging percentage is also what you’d expect of a good DH, though not all that uncommon when you consider the era he played in — one replete with 50 and 60-homer sluggers beefed-up like never before, swinging at more tightly-wound baseballs and often facing watered-down, post-expansion pitching.
Against that backdrop, Martinez’s numbers versus his peers were not as other-worldly as they might have seemed if he was, say, a National Leaguer from the 1980s. That may seem an unfair comparison, but for me, the burden of proof is on Martinez because, as pointed out, he benefitted from a DH advantage that Dawson and thousands of players were not even eligible for.
Martinez was never a top-two MVP finisher the way Dawson was three times.
He led the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) only once — in 1995 — when his only job was to sit back and rake four times per night.
Again, I find it interesting this off-season, as Mariners fans weigh the merits of many of the team’s winter acquisitions — judging them not only by their bat, but by defensive ability — they are willing to more or less overlook the defensive component in Martinez’s case. Sounds a little contradictory to me. Yeah, Martinez put up some huge offensive numbers, but how big would they have been had he been forced to physically endure playing in the field night after night?
In terms of runs created, a sabermetric formula meant to measure a player’s overall offensive ability to get on, score runs and drive them home, Martinez was a top-three finisher three times and led the league in 1995.
Contrast that with Tim Raines, another guy eligible for the Hall of Fame. Raines had nightly defensive responsibilities as a left fielder, and was a top-three finisher in runs created five times — two more than Martinez — while leading his league once in 1986.
The difference again was that Raines played the majority of his career in the field as well. As an aside, the fact Raines, in his third year of eligibility, has garned less than a quarter of Hall of Fame votes annually so far is a joke. His overall numbers were arguably better than those of Lou Brock and Tony Gwynn, both in the Hall of Fame (Gwynn on the first ballot). Some say the fact Raines got on base more because of walks than hits is what’s doing his candidacy in. I agree with that and would like to also add that the 1981 strike-shortened season also is impacting his candidacy. Raines that year was on his way to obliterating the single-season record for stolen bases before the strike cut into his chances. Rickey Henderson went on to break Brock’s record the following year and Raines became an afterthought. Can’t help but think that if Raines had been the first to re-write that record, then his candidacy now would be a lot stronger based on that additional fame. Who knows?
Now, to conclude, this is sounding like I am denigrating the accomplishments of Martinez, which is not the case. What we are arguing here is whether he is worthy of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which I do not agree with. I reserve the right to change my mind and vote him into Cooperstown in following years as I see more arguments in his favor and consider how he fared against others relative to his era and previous ones.
For now, though, the burden of proof is a high one, because of the DH advantages he enjoyed. I have read the arguments in his favor and am not convinced by them.
That said, his on-base percentage accomplishments — three top finishes, six in the top-two and seven in the top-three — make his candidacy a worthy one for revisiting later on down the road. As more types of players make it into Cooperstown, those are numbers that will make Martinez an easy candidate to reconsider.
But for now, he is most certainly a test case. And a Hall of Fame that does not have Dawson — arguably the more complete (i.e. better) player — in it is not one I’d feel comfortable including Martinez in just yet.



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