Edgar Martinez was a truly great hitter. As good as there was for an extended period of time. Seven straight seasons where Martinez finished a minimum, roughly, of 52% better than the average hitter during his time. 52%! Seven straight times! During that ridiculous stretch of dominance, Edgar enjoyed one mesmerizing season that was far and away his best year. In fact, that season Martinez batted .356, which led the league. Martinez reached base 48% of the time, also led the AL. And his slugging was a ******** .628, third in the league. It is safe to say that Edgar was the best hitter in the AL in 1995, yet who knew? I sure didn’t (of course I was only about 14). For the perception that I had of Edgar was that he was a good player, but I was threatened of him because some people compared him to Ken Griffey Jr., who at the time was personally my favorite player.
But here is the thing. Ken Griffey Jr. overshadowed Edgar Martinez on the national stage. Griffey was better, but I think that the perception was that Griffey was the better hitter too. When, looking back, even though the media made us feel that Edgar Martinez shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath (lack of praise, not anti), I realize that Martinez was everything Griffey was at the plate if not more. Now don’t be confused, Ken Griffey Jr. IS the better player. A first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players to ever the game. And for what its worth, the second best player of the 90’s, and the second best player that I have ever seen. But that is because Griffey added Gold Glove quality defense in CF, something Martinez couldn’t even come close to duplicating. Edgar added nothing even closely related to defensive value. But boy could he swing a mean stick.
People in Seattle may feel differently, but Griffey was untouchable for a long time. Bonds was better, but wasn’t media friendly, and I ignorantly went on believing that Griffey was the best player in baseball. I was young, cut me some slack, nor did I even have cable until 1996. The national media always gave props to Griffey though, and although they were not anti-Edgar, they just never seemed to make it out as him being anywhere near Griffey’s planet. Maybe it was because Griffey’s father was a famous player. Maybe because Griffey was such an incredible talent at age 19, while Edgar’s career didn’t really get started until he was 27 years old. It was probably a combination of things, and “Web Gems” should be included in that category of “things” too. But only now do I realize how truly great Edgar Martinez was. I remember that game winning hit that he had in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees. But what I remembered most about that, and still do, was who crossed the plate to win that game. None other than Griffey himself, exuberant, smiling, as happy as I have ever seen him. But who made solid contact and ripped that ball down the line? It was one of the greatest hitters of my lifetime. It was Edgar Martinez.
Ken Griffey Jr. is one of my favorite players ever, top three. Easily the sweetest swing I have ever witnessed. And to this day, even as Griffey ages and his production decreases, I tend to go out of my way to watch his at bats. But it seems that today, with sabermetrics at its peak, and with the knowledge we have now, Edgar Martinez is getting his due. He always played second fiddle to Griffey, it seemed, but now everyone is starting to realize how good his bat was. Because what Edgar is now is a borderline Hall of Famer, and the only reason he is that, is because of that bat. If he could simply have fielded the position he originally tried to field, 3B, he would be looking forward to induction.
It is sad that a lack of games, and no defensive position may keep Edgar out of the Hall, and I really don’t mind what happens either way, objectively. But from 1991-2003, Edgar Martinez was just about as good as there was swinging the bat. His career OPS+ was 147 (47% better than average). Martinez batted .312/.418/.515 in 2055 games spread out over at least parts of 18 different seasons. His postseasons were pretty impressive too. Overall, Edgar batted only .266 in 34 postseason games. But his .365 OBP was good, and his eight home runs and .508 Slugging was very good. If Martinez gets a call from the Hall, I will enjoy it, and can find ways to defend his case. But if the voters keep him out because of what he did not do, then I will understand that perspective, too.
And by the way, if you have time check out that link and watch the end, do it. Because it may be the greatest “non Red Sox baseball moment” of my life.