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Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Condotta
Martinez, who turned 41 in January, holds Mariners career records for hits, runs, runs batted in, walks and games played, among others. He delivered the biggest hit in team history: a two-run double that won Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series against the Yankees at the Kingdome.
And unlike many of the other great players whose names dot those career lists such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez Martinez began and will end his career with the Mariners.
"Basically, he is Mariners baseball," said former teammate Norm Charlton, who attended yesterday's news conference at Safeco Field.
Martinez, whose reputation as a quiet family man helped endear him to Seattle fans, appeared to fight back tears on several occasions while making the announcement, and said it was a decision that while inevitable, was still tough to make.
"It is hard, very hard," Martinez said. "I feel in my mind and my heart I want to keep playing. But my body is saying something differently, so I feel this is a good decision."
Martinez said he had been thinking of making the announcement for several weeks and decided to do it now in part so he can soak in the final seven weeks of his major-league career.
"I want to enjoy the moment more now that I know for sure that this will be the last season," he said.
Martinez's final season hasn't gone the way he hoped when he decided last winter to return for one more year.
The Mariners are 41-70, on pace for one of their worst records ever. Martinez, who has a lifetime .312 batting average, is hitting .258, which would be the lowest of any full season he has played in his 18-year major-league career.
"I've proved to myself that I won't be able to play anymore," he said.
Martinez will be honored Oct. 2 when the Mariners play the Texas Rangers. His final game will be the next day against the Rangers at Safeco Field.
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said Martinez also will be honored in other ways during the rest of the season, including at tonight's game against the Minnesota Twins, which had long ago been designated Edgar Martinez Bear Night.
"This was completely Edgar's call," Lincoln said of Martinez's retirement. "But he made the right decision and he made it at the right time."
For the Mariners, Martinez's retirement marks the end of an era in which the team went from laughingstock of the American League to kings of the Seattle sports scene.
"Not much happened until Edgar arrived on the scene," club president Chuck Armstrong said. "If you visualize any significant moment in Mariners history, Edgar is there. He is the one constant."
Martinez was born in New York but raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico, by his grandparents. Though he played baseball much of his life, he wasn't sure about pursuing it as a career. When he was 19 years old, he attended American College in San Juan and worked two jobs.
An older cousin, Carmelo Martinez, who later played nine seasons in the majors, convinced him he should give baseball one more try. Edgar Martinez heard about a Mariners tryout in Puerto Rico and decided to attend. But when the day arrived, he almost missed it because a friend who was supposed to alert him to the time forgot to call.
Once there, however, he did impress Mariners scout Marty Martinez (who is no relation). Edgar Martinez recalled yesterday with a laugh that it was his glove work that sealed the deal. "When they saw my fielding ability, they offered me a contract," he said.
The Mariners offered just $4,000, and Martinez initially balked before deciding to sign. His first season in rookie-league ball in Bellingham, he hit just .173. But the next year, he hit .303 in Wausau, Wis., of the Midwest League and began his journey to the majors.
Interestingly, for a player who made his mark as a slow-footed designated hitter, his first Mariners appearance was as a pinch runner on Sept. 12, 1987. Two days later, he got his first hit, a triple off Cleveland's Reggie Ritter.
For the next two years, Martinez alternated between Seattle and Class AAA Calgary, a decision the Mariners today regret.
"Why we kept him down there as long as we did, we'll never know," said Lee Pelekoudas, the team's vice president of baseball administration. "I wish we'd had him up here longer because we missed quite a bit."
Martinez also missed significant portions of the 1993, 1994 and 2002 seasons with injuries.
Some think those lost seasons could keep Martinez out of the Hall of Fame.
Still, once Martinez became a Mariners regular in 1990 he played third base at the time before later playing primarily as a designated hitter he quickly established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball.
He won the American League batting title in 1992, becoming the first Mariner to do so.
What might have been his best season came in 1995, the year that saved baseball in Seattle. Martinez led the American League with a .356 average, the highest by a right-handed hitter in the AL since 1939.
If the Mariners had not won the division that year, the team might have moved out of town. Shortly after the season, the state Legislature agreed on a tax package to fund Safeco Field, largely because of public pressure following the success of the team that fall.
"That year was so special," Martinez said. "I remember the whole month of September was like the playoffs. There was a lot of excitement, and you could feel the excitement with the fans. Everywhere we went in the street and when we got early to the stadium, you could tell that people were just waiting for the game."
He capped that 1995 season with an incredible postseason.
With the Mariners trailing the Yankees two games to one in the five-game American League Division Series, Martinez led the M's to a victory in Game 4 with a grand slam and a three-run homer, becoming the first player in history to drive in seven runs in a postseason game.
Then, in the do-or-die Game 5, he smashed the most famous hit in team history.
Martinez came to the plate with runners on first and third and the Mariners trailing 5-4 in the 11th inning and laced a double down the left-field line off Jack McDowell that scored Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr. for the tying and winning runs.
"That will probably always be my greatest memory," Martinez said.
The photo of the celebratory pileup at home plate after Griffey scored the winning run on that play has become the defining moment in team history.
But Charlton, who pitched in that game, said Martinez's legacy is larger than any one moment.
"It's the way he comes to the ballpark and is the same every day," Charlton said. "He comes in and does his work before the game, then he goes out on the field and he produces, then he comes back and does the rest of his work after the game, then he goes home and goes to bed and comes back and does the same thing the next day.
"But that double was pretty special."
That dedication earned Martinez uncommon respect around the league. Teammates and opponents alike call him "Papi."
Said Pelekoudas: "Loosely translated, in Puerto Rico that means 'the man,' and you have to earn that. But he's earned that."
And while other Mariners came and went Martinez has played with 355 of the 508 players in team history he stayed.
"I just could never see myself playing in another uniform," he said.
Martinez said he will talk with the Mariners after the season about remaining with the organization in some capacity.
He also wants to spend more time with his family. He has a son and a daughter, and he and his wife, Holli, are expecting another child in February.
The family plans to maintain a residence in Kirkland.
"The one thing I do know," Martinez said of his future, "is that I can't just sit at home and do nothing."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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