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Originally published Monday, January 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Edgar Martinez is eligible for the Hall of Fame starting with the 2010 ballot

The anti-Martinez sentiment essentially boils down to the fact that his cumulative numbers, while glossy, aren't enough to compensate for the fact that he spent so much of his career as a designated hitter.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Edgar Martinez is on the Cooperstown clock.

The beloved ex-Mariner can hardly believe his five-year waiting period for Hall of Fame consideration will expire after the 2009 season. Neither can I. Wasn't it just yesterday Edgar was waving to the roaring crowd in his final game at Safeco Field?

But it's true: When the 2010 Hall ballot is mailed out to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in December, Martinez will indeed be on it.

"It seems like the older you get, the faster time goes," Martinez said with a laugh on Friday. "It's just amazing. It seems like I just retired."

With the latest Hall class finalized Monday with the election of Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, attention turned inevitably to the next group of candidates.

Martinez's credentials, qualitatively superb but lacking in the quantity department, are guaranteed to spur a spirited debate over his worthiness. Throw in the designated-hitter factor, and the Edgar Question shapes up as one of the bigger conundrums in recent years.

Martinez has my unequivocal support, but I'm afraid he faces a steep uphill battle to win over the necessary 75 percent of my BBWAA brethren.

It might help that there's no one else on the 2010 ballot that will be a slam-dunk first-ballot choice, as Henderson was this year. Also on the ballot for the first time will be Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Fred McGriff, all of whom, like Martinez, will force serious rumination among voters.

Martinez, a seasoned entrepreneur at age 46, is immersed in running his merchandising business, Branded Solutions. He says he isn't obsessing over his imminent Hall of Fame candidacy even as it segues from theoretical to reality.

"I wasn't sure if it was this year or next year, to be honest," he said. "I just heard it will be for next year. In my day-to-day life, I don't really think about it. It will be in front of me more as time goes by, but I just go through my life without thinking about it until someone mentions it."

Others, however, are gearing up. When Martinez retired after the 2004 season, CEO Howard Lincoln said the Mariners would be "proactive" in supporting his Hall of Fame candidacy. The club currently is mapping out strategy and working on building a case that they will likely unveil during the season.

Martinez's candidacy has definitely galvanized Edmond's Tim Raetzloff, who might be the world's leading Edgar advocate. For 10 years, he has lobbied on Martinez's behalf, the last nine via a "Bound For Cooperstown" Web site (www.abarim.com/edgar.htm).

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Name a supposed deficiency in Martinez's résumé, and Raetzloff has a well-reasoned rebuttal. But ask him if he expects Martinez to be elected in his first try, and he sadly acknowledges that it's unlikely.

"I expect he's going to get a lot of votes," Raetzloff said. "He'll certainly get over 5 percent (the number necessary to remain on the ballot). I'm guessing 50 to 60 percent, but I don't think it will be 75 percent."

The anti-Martinez sentiment essentially boils down to the fact that his cumulative numbers, while glossy, aren't enough to compensate for the fact that he spent so much of his career as a designated hitter.

While he had a .312 career average, .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage, Martinez accumulated just 2,247 career hits and 309 home runs.

That argument is encapsulated by Sports Illustrated writer Jon Heyman, who recently debated the topic on the new MLB television network with ex-Mariner Harold Reynolds and fellow SI scribe Tom Verducci.

"I would be a no on Edgar," said Heyman in a phone conversation. "Obviously, he was a terrific hitter, but he was only a hitter. He didn't have the longevity. If he had played the field and put up those numbers, or lasted longer and put up a bigger bulk of numbers, it would be different. There's time to reevaluate, of course, but at this point I would think not."

Reynolds came out strongly in favor of his former Mariners teammate — no surprise there — while Verducci also leaned toward Martinez.

"What I will weigh heavily in his favor is the universal respect and admiration of his peers as one of the best right-handed hitters in the game for an extended period," Verducci wrote me in an e-mail. "There's no question his DH role hurts him. Yes, it is a 'position' in the game, but it is a specialist position, like placekicking in the NFL. (Only one of those is in football's hall.) The vote comes down to whether he was that dominant as a hitter to override having no impact on half the game."

And I would argue he most certainly did. As Verducci points out, he is one of 11 retired players to play 2,000 games and have a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500. The 10 others are in the Hall of Fame.

Raetzloff is overflowing with statistical flourishes like that for Martinez, and sums it up: "What is the Hall of Fame about? Is it about cumulative numbers, or a period of brilliance? If it's a period of brilliance, Edgar's 1995 through 2001 has rarely been exceeded in the history of baseball."

Baseball fans know all too well that Martinez's cumulative numbers were held back by the Mariners' dubious decision to keep Jim Presley and Darnell Coles at third base in the mid-1980s even after Martinez had proved he was ready. He didn't become a full-time major-leaguer until age 27, costing him several seasons that would have padded his career stats.

Martinez laments those lost years, but not because of the cost to his Hall of Fame candidacy.

"The reason in the back of my mind I regret it is because it was so much fun to play in the big leagues," he said. "It would have been great to have three more years. I enjoyed immensely every day I went to the stadium."

Martinez said he never obsessed over milestones that might have got him into Cooperstown on the first ballot.

"Other players looked at the big picture of saying, 'I want 3,000 hits. I'll do everything I can to get there,' " he said. "I looked at every day and said, 'I want four hits today.' I didn't look past that. It kept me going every day."

A closer examination of Rice's statistics, under the lens of recently developed analytical tools, caused many in the sabermetric community to conclude he wasn't Hall worthy. In the same sense, I believe that statistical scrutiny will benefit Martinez, whose numbers look better the closer you examine them.

"Exactly the same could be said of Tim Raines, and see how poorly he's doing," countered ESPN's Rob Neyer, who is at the forefront of statistical analysis.

Neyer is also a first-year BBWAA member as the organization last year allowed Internet reporters for the first time. Only 10-year members of the organization are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. He said he is still undecided on Martinez but has little doubt he will be denied in the first year.

"If you look at other candidates and how they've done, it's hard to imagine him getting anywhere near 75 percent," he said.

I conducted an informal poll this week of 15 Hall of Fame voters on Martinez. Five gave a flat-out no, two others were leaning no, two said yes, four were leaning yes, and two were completely undecided.

Time to heat up that campaign. I was encouraged by the comment of John Perrotto, who covers the Pirates for Ogden Newspapers.

"After studying Martinez's numbers, I'd have to say yes," he e-mailed. "Quite honestly, he had an even better career than I thought, regardless of if he were a designated hitter. I really like the .418 on-base percentage and .933 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Those are very telling numbers of how good a hitter he was. So, yes, I'd vote for Edgar and not even think twice about it."

I solicited one more opinion. I asked Edgar himself if he thought he was a Hall of Famer. Granted, it's a ridiculous question, putting him in a no-win situation. But I wanted to hear his answer, which predictably was humble and wise.

"I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question," he said. "It's just about comparing numbers, I guess, and whether they compare to someone already in the Hall. People will probably measure whether I belong or not by the numbers.

"I've heard in the past the argument I don't have enough numbers to be in there. It's a great honor to at least have people talk about it."

The conversation is just beginning, Edgar.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Edgar Martinez's career numbers
Seasons Games AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB OBP SLG AVG
18 2,055 7,213 1,219 2,247 514 15 309 1,261 3,718 1,283 1,202 49 .418 .515 .312

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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