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Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
Edgar was Mariners fans' best friend


DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 1995
Edgar Martinez raises his arms in triumph as teammates celebrate his now legendary double that won the 1995 American League Division Series.
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Remember the day your best friend came up to you in the elementary school hallway and said his father had been transferred and he was leaving your hometown for good?

Remember how sad you felt?

That's how yesterday was.

In a crowded interview room underneath Safeco Field, Edgar Martinez announced that, after 18 years as a Mariner, he will retire at the end of this season.

It wasn't a death in the family. It wasn't a tragedy. But it hurt anyway.

It was one of those inevitable time passages you know in your head will come, but you hope in your heart will get postponed this year and next year and the year after that.

"Today feels a little bit like a funeral," said former Mariners reliever Norm Charlton, who played with Martinez in 1993, '95-97 and 2001. "You pay tribute to Edgar the same way you do for a war hero, but you try to turn it into a celebration, not a time of mourning."

Everything good that has happened to the Mariners has had Edgar Martinez's imprimatur.

He is this franchise, the one player in the team's history every fan feels he or she knows. They lazily chant his name "Ed-guuur," every time he comes to bat.

He is a neighbor who just happened to win batting titles. He is that smiling face who became the greatest designated hitter ever.

He is the Mariners star who delivers his lines with perfect pitch in almost all of the team's award-winning commercials.

In Seattle, he simply is Edgar.

"His legacy will be felt by this organization for many, many years to come," Charlton said.

When all of the other Mariners left, Edgar stayed. Through the worst of times and into the best of times, when he could have moved, he didn't. In 1992, when the team was horrible, Edgar led the American League in hitting. In 1995, when he helped save the game in this city, he won a second batting title.

"His name is synonymous with the team," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said in his eloquent tribute. "He is what Cal Ripken was to Baltimore, Tony Gwynn was to San Diego and Ted Williams was to Boston. It is impossible to picture Edgar in anything but a Mariners uniform."

STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
For 18 seasons, Martinez has been a steady hitting machine. He holds nine Mariners records — including hits, runs batted in, doubles, walks and extra-base hits.
He will forever be linked with the greatest moment in team history, the double down the left-field line he hit off Jack McDowell that beat the New York Yankees in the fifth and final game of the 1995 American League Division Series.

On that night, Mariners manager Bob Melvin was sitting at home watching like every fan and marveling at Martinez.

"It was perfect Edgar," said Melvin, a former major-league catcher with seven teams, six of them in the American League. "You know he's looking out over the plate. The ball's a little bit in and he pulls his hands in and reacts to it. I still get goose bumps when I see it.

"I've been behind the plate many a time where you think you've finally set him up so you can get him inside, then he pulls his hands in and whips one down the left-field line."

Edgar has hit 305 home runs and 510 doubles. He has driven in 1,244 runs and has a career batting average of .312.

He is so respected around the league, players on every team call him Papi.

"It is a term of endearment and respect in Puerto Rico, and Edgar has earned it," said Mariners vice president Lee Pelekoudas. "He is the kindest, humblest man you'll ever meet."

This is Edgar Martinez:

It is early in the morning in the Mariners' spring-training clubhouse in Peoria. He looks everybody in the eye when he smiles and says good morning. Then he disappears into the training room to mix up a protein shake. A reporter asks him how it tastes, and he smiles and says it tastes great.

And the next morning, he not only makes a shake for himself but he makes one for the reporter.

Of course I'll remember "The Double" that beat the Yankees, but I'll also remember the two home runs he hit in the fourth game of that series. He had seven RBI in that game. Without them there wouldn't have been The Double.

Even more important, I'll remember the small moments.

The tears that welled in his eyes when he talked about where he was and how he felt when he heard his idol, Roberto Clemente, had died.

I'll remember many times waiting by his locker stall as deadline ticked closer and closer — waiting not because he was voraciously chowing down his post-game meal but because he was finishing his elaborate and exhausting workout routine.

Edgar always was the best weapon the Mariners had, in season or offseason.

"I was trying to get Ellis Burks to come here last year," Melvin said. "Ellis had pretty much made up his mind that he was going to Boston. He had played there before, and his wife's family was from there.

"But I said to him, 'Hey Ellis, I want you to think about one thing. If you come to Seattle, you'll be able to spend a year with Edgar Martinez. If you were an art major, it's like spending a year with Picasso.' He called (former manager) Dusty Baker that night and said that affected him so much he had to think a little more about it. That's the effect Edgar Martinez has on guys."

Burks thought seriously about spending the year with Edgar before he surrendered to his family's wish to be back in Boston.

Although Edgar Martinez is the last person who would want a fuss made over him, we should feel fortunate he announced his retirement this week. Now we can come to the stadium these last two months and cheer him as if he were our neighbor and give him the thoughtful long goodbye he deserves.

We can say, "Thanks, Edgar."

Thanks for enriching our lives with your skills. And for making it feel, at times, as if you really were our best friend.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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