Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Famer? The road to Cooperstown is getting tougher
It’s barely necessary to lobby for Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Their spectacular, historic body of work speaks for itself. Ah, but after that, it gets really dicey. Edgar Martinez is highly unlikely to come close to election because of the logjam of candidates.
Seattle Times columnist
My Hall of Fame ballot is ready to send off, after what has become the usual two weeks of anguish and pre-emptive second-guessing. A pair of seminal ex-Mariners are checked off.
Spoiler alert: Randy Johnson is going to be elected, and Edgar Martinez isn’t.
That’s not a boastful prediction. It doesn’t take a genius to see which way this is going – and how unstable and maddening the Hall of Fame voting environment has become.
Johnson, at least, is above it all, in that rarefied territory reserved for the slam-dunk, no-questions-asked, first-ballot selections. Along with Pedro Martinez, also on the ballot for the first time, Johnson is of the stature where the burning question is how anyone could possibly justify NOT voting for him.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be unanimous, because no one is, no matter how deserving. But I’m reminded of the story of Walter Payton’s nomination for Hall of Fame consideration by the Pro Football Writers. Whereas the customary NFL process is for a local scribe to present the case for a particular nominee, Cooper Rollow of the Chicago Tribune, according to legend, got up and said to the committee, “Gentlemen, Walter Payton” and sat down.
Nothing more needed to be said, just as it’s barely necessary to lobby for Johnson and Pedro. Their spectacular, historic body of work speaks for itself.
Ah, but after that, it gets really dicey. Edgar is highly unlikely to come close to election because of the logjam of candidates that are stacking up “like jets on the runway.”
That apt phrase comes from ESPN’s Buster Olney, who announced last week that for the first time since he became eligible, he won’t be voting this year. Olney is a conscientious objector to the rule that limits voters to 10 names on their ballot, which is forcing many people – myself included – to leave off players they feel are Hall worthy.
No mystery why this is happening. More and more players are appearing on the ballot with glittering stats and perceived steroids connections. Those players are splitting the electorate to the point that a preponderance of worthy candidates remain on the ballot year after year, unable to get the 75 percent necessary for election. And they’re joined by the annual inclusion of newly eligible players, further cluttering the ballot.
I fear that Edgar is getting caught up in this dynamic. Check that – I’m sure of it. This will be his sixth year on the ballot. He peaked with 36.5 percent in 2012, but plummeted to 25.2 percent last year.
That’s an ominous trend, and it’s not likely to get easier for him this year. Not only Johnson and Martinez, but also John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield are joining the ballot for the first time.
Let’s be real: Martinez is always going to be a tougher sell, because of the DH factor, and the late start to his major-league career that kept down career totals in counting stats like home runs and RBI.
I happen to feel, strongly, that Martinez’s hitting brilliance screams out Cooperstown. I’ve always been swayed by his .312/.418/.515 line for batting average, on-base-percentage and slugging percentage, making him just one of 21 players in history to go .300/.400/.500.
I could also point out that he ranks 32nd all-time with an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .933, or that he’s one of only 24 players in MLB history with eight seasons of an OPS-plus (adjusted for ballpark factors) of at least 150, or that’s he’s one of only 10 players in the .300 average, .400 OBP, 300-plus homer, 500-plus doubles and 1,000-plus walk club.
But I count 21 guys on the ballot I’d give strong consideration – and five that I’ve voted for in the past but had to drop over the years because of the new names. This year, for instance, I gave votes to Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Smoltz, immediately replacing last year’s electees, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas.
I wanted to vote for Sheffield, but there’s no room if I stuck with my holdovers from last year, which I did: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines, in addition to Martinez.
This is the point in the column where many of you hurl invective at me for voting for the “steroids guys,” and I give my annual explanation. Here’s the condensed version: The steroids era was a part of baseball, enabled by all parties, with statistics that still count in the record book; we don’t know definitively who used and who didn’t, and to try to make those distinctions is such a slippery slope I choose not to go there.
Others feel differently, and I respect their viewpoint. But it’s these differing opinions, coupled with a lack of guidance from the Hall of Fame itself, that has left us in this predicament.
I fear that many voters are following the lead of Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, who on Friday revealed his ballot on Twitter, sans Edgar Martinez. He tweeted, “Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez are no-doubt guys for me when ballot clutter clears.”
But there’s no clutter-clearing in sight. Instead, there is a growing realization that the Hall of Fame voting process needs tweaking, which has, in fact, already begun. Just last week, the Baseball Writers Association of America, which conducts the voting via its 10-year members, recommended that the ballot limit be increased to 12.
It’s up to the Hall of Fame itself to decide whether to accept that recommendation. The Hall did announce a significant change in July with the news that the amount of time a candidate gets to stay on the ballot had been cut from 15 years to 10. Their rationale was that very few players – just three since 1980 – had been elected after their 10th year on the ballot, so why even bother?
Initially, I thought this was another bad break for Martinez, for whom the only Hall of Fame scenario I once could envision, at least via the BBWAA, was a slow build to the necessary 75 percent. Now he has just four more cracks at election after this year, rather than nine.
But I’ve changed my thinking. I now think this rule will, perversely, benefit Martinez, for whom the slow build has gone into reverse. Assuming he doesn’t experience an unexpected surge in the next few years – and I’d love to see it – I think Edgar will have a better shot in the next stage of Hall of Fame consideration.
That would be via the Veterans Committee route – specifically, the expansion era committee, which under current rules meets every three years to consider players, managers and executives from 1973 to the present.
Instead of an electorate of nearly 600 baseball writers, Martinez would only have to win over 75 percent of a 16-person committee that last year was comprised of eight Hall of Famers, four executives and four writers.
It seems like a vastly easier sell to me, but still no slam-dunk. Though this committee voted in three members when it convened last year, they were all managers – Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. In their previous session, only GM Pat Gillick was elected.
What’s missing, you might notice, is players. In fact, over the past 12 years, the only player who debuted after 1938 to get voted in through a committee was Seattle’s own Ron Santo – sadly, the year after he died. And the Expansion-Era Committee is going to face its own backlog as more and more BBWAA rejects come up for consideration.
Still, for Edgar Martinez, a Hall of Famer in waiting, it might well be his best, and only, ticket to Cooperstown.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.