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Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Finnigan
Six weeks ago, on the day after the Mariners officially gave up on the 2004 season by trading Freddy Garcia to the Chicago White Sox, Edgar Martinez admitted he had been contemplating retirement.
Asked by a reporter if he was still feeling the thrill of coming to the park every day and competing, the greatest hitter and run producer in Seattle history contemplated his response.
"I think I can still contribute to our team," said the man they all call Papi. "And I feel I would be quitting on my teammates to leave them in this season.
"But do I think of retiring? Yes. I think of it almost every day. I'm not there yet, but I do think of it.
"I am not retiring ... yet ... so there really is no answer yet. I don't want to start speculation that would affect the other players. It is such a great decision. If I go, if I retire, it will be forever ... and forever is a long time."
For the 41-year-old Martinez, the road to forever began yesterday when he announced he would retire not now when he might feel he was abandoning a team in the throes of a bad year, but at the end of the season, with a celebration of his career after the game on Oct. 2.
It is a decision he came to carefully, undoubtedly in consultation with club officials concerning his contract, $3 million base and a bit more than that in incentives.
But it was mulled much longer than recent days, or weeks or even this year, as Martinez's legs and eyes failed him as he struggled to meet expectations as a legitimate candidate for Cooperstown.
"Retirement was an ongoing conversation over the last three years," said Holli Martinez, Edgar's wife and mother to Alex and Tessa and a third child due in February. "Edgar would come home at times very frustrated by some physical limitation, and we'd talk about it again.
What happened to Martinez this year was what comes to all those who play beyond the normal arc of a career, where quality of performance usually deteriorates in the middle 30s.
There was not one game, one at-bat or even one pitch where he realized he could no longer do what came so naturally, so often, so consistently.
"I thought I could compete, but I couldn't the way I used to," Martinez said. "You go to the plate to hit and feel in your heart and your mind you can do it. Mentally, you think you're fast as ever. You try over and over, but you see it isn't the same. You get frustrated and you get the idea it isn't ever going to be the same again."
For years, a career spent entirely in Seattle blues, Martinez compensated by altering his stance, his bat weight, the swing that once sent liners all over the park.
"I adjusted my mechanics and kept going," he said. "Well, this time it isn't mechanics. The lower half of my body is the problem. My legs are sluggish and my lower back is sore all the time. You finally tell yourself, 'This is not going to get better.' Even if my numbers were what they used to be, I know it's not the same with me."
But, what numbers they are.
As Mariners president Chuck Armstrong put it, "If you visualize every significant event of Mariners history, Edgar is there. The first winning season (1991), the opening of Safeco Field, the 116 wins in 2001, The Double."
"The Double" gave Seattle an American League Division Series win over the New York Yankees on Oct. 8, 1995, and probably did as much as any single stroke to ensure the building of Safeco Field and indeed the salvation of the franchise in the Pacific Northwest.
He turned out to be such a great hitter, .300 or better in the 10 years when he wasn't injured between 1990 and 2001.
"No knock on Jim Presley," Mariners vice president Lee Pelekoudas said, "but why we kept Edgar in the minors (1983 through parts of the 1989 season) as long as we did, I'll never know."
Bill Bavasi, general manager of the Angels from 1994 to 1999, called those years spent "as a victim of Edgar, the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation."
Martinez's prodigious production made Mariners manager Bob Melvin, then an opposing catcher, come out of pregame meetings "hoping Edgar's not swinging well. It was the only way he wasn't going to hit us."
Such is the legacy of a man who for a time had no hope of fulfilling the dream of playing baseball. How he came to play, and play for Seattle, is the stuff of legends.
Marty Martinez, the Mariners coach/scout who ran a tryout in 1982 that Martinez attended, recalled the skinny kid with the bad equipment.
"He didn't look like much, but when he hit that ball, wow, you know?" Martinez once recalled. "When the good ones hit, the bat rings, the wood. He had that ring. I had to sign him."
Now, nearly 22 years later, Melvin will try to get Martinez some at-bats the last seven weeks of this season, which are sure to be a farewell tour.
"But class act that he is, he knows the course of the organization," the manager said. "He knows we have to get Bucky Jacobsen in there. He has never complained, although it has had such tremendous impact on him."
Martinez has been out of the starting lineup seven times already since the All-Star break. With the franchise looking to the future, and with Martinez to have some unspecified role in that, with the day his number is retired scheduled if not dated, it was obviously time to go.
"I'm set in my course. I'm looking forward to the future. There's a lot of things I want to do. I'm going to enjoy having the time with my family. But one thing for sure. I'm not going to be sitting at home doing nothing."
He is in the midst of emotions, a mixture of relief and sadness.
"The last day of the season will be tough. I'll just have to figure a way to deal with it," he said. "Spring training will be very hard. Spring was always a part of baseball I enjoy a lot the expectations and energy. The weather is great. You get done early and go home. You have fun, but you want to get on with the season."
He goes with no regrets.
"Baseball is magic," Martinez said. "You feel sad when a player retires. But you feel good for them, too. They don't have to chase any more sliders.
"When I saw Jay (Buhner) retire, it started to creep into my mind that's what it will be like for me. I'm a lucky man. I have been blessed. But it is my time to go."
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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