Edgar Martínez: Designated hitter and humanitarian extraordinaire

In six short days we will learn some of the biggest baseball news of the calendar year. No, not where Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will play this year. We’re talking about the Hall of Fame induction class of 2019. Before National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum president Jeff Idelson breaks the news on MLB Network, we reflect on the off-field qualities of one of the candidates: Edgar Martínez.

When I think of Edgar Martínez I think of my parents. We’re a Mexican American family from the Portland, Ore., area, close enough to be in the Mariners’ television market. My dad started following the Mariners regularly in the mid ‘90s when they were winning a lot and capturing the region’s imagination.

Mom and dad didn’t watch the M’s for the electric smile and home runs from Ken Griffey, Jr., or the raw talent of a young Alex Rodriguez or Randy Johnson’s blazing fastball.

Martínez, a stoic Puerto Rican with a sweet swing, was their guy.

Seattle’s finest

I worked in Seattle for almost 11 years as a sports writer for the Seattle Times. I also lived in the Pacific Northwest my entire life until 2010. While I wasn’t in Seattle for Martínez’s early years, I was close enough to follow him for the latter half of his career and watched him win the hearts of Mariners fans.

He was a guy I could talk to in English or Spanish whenever I approached him. He seemed far more content in his daily baseball routine. His veteran presence and work ethic garnered him respect throughout the clubhouse.

Sometimes I’d call home and my parents would ask if I’d watched or worked the Mariners game. In 2001, the year of Ichiro Suzuki and 116 wins and the All-Star Game at Safeco Field, the answer was often yes.

“Eddd…..garrrrrrrr!” my dad would say, echoed by mom in the background. They watched the games, too, on cable. That 2001 season was special in Seattle.

By 2001, Griffey, Rodriguez and Johnson were gone. Martínez remained. The fans had grown to love him so much that they would sing out his name when he came up to bat at Safeco Field. My parents were just doing what they heard on TV.

It’s safe to say Martínez is, at least for now, the most beloved Mariner ever. That includes Griffey, already in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Martínez spent all 18 seasons of his career in Seattle.

He was a feared hitter long before “The Double.” That was the series-clinching, extra-base hit in the 1995 Division Series off Jack McDowell of the New York Yankees. It remains the biggest hit in club history.

Joey Cora was at third base and Griffey was at first for Martínez, who had his bat held high before that perfect swing shot a line drive into left field.

There are no camera shots of Martínez after he made contact. Only a dog pile on Griffey, who is interviewed on the field after exchanging hugs and high fives with teammates.

That was Martínez. He never craved the limelight. But Mariners fans will never forget the special season of 1995 — often referred to as the season that saved the franchise from departing the Emerald City. He was a tremendous part of those “Refuse To Lose” Mariners.

Soft Spoken

Every year the Mariners would film their promotional ads at spring training in Arizona. The finished products highlighted top players on the team and their personalities. Martínez wasn’t a dynamic personality in those commercials, so the Mariners’ marketing folks made spots that fit how fans saw him.

In one — for a local hardware chain — he’s fashioning something out of wood with power tools. The commercial ends with Martínez, silent and focused on his project until the last seconds of the spot, explaining what he’d built.

“It’s a light bat,” he quips, holding a lamp made with a bat, pun fully intended.

There are others. In 1998, the commercial the Mariners made with Martínez had the veteran explaining to rookies how and what to say if they were going to live in Washington state.

Scenes like these endeared Martínez to Mariners fans. He came across as humble, hard-working, consistent — things a lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest could relate to.

The “Gar Car,” a small train car given to fans one night as a promotional item, was a hit. The Mariners would take a player and name a train car after him for some years in tribute to the trains that would rumble and whistle just outside Safeco Field’s outfield walls during games.

Better Late Than Never

Martínez, who turns 56 years old next month, didn’t become a regular player until 1990, when he was 27. That only makes what he accomplished even more remarkable.

He had a career .312 batting average and earned five All-Star berths. He won two American League batting titles and five Silver Slugger Awards. He also won five Designated Hitter of the Year Awards, dominating that role to the point that former commissioner Bud Selig eventually changed the award’s name to the Edgar Martínez Award.

After retirement, Martínez later came back to the Mariners as hitting coach. The best hitter in club history only further enhanced his popularity with the locals by returning to work for the club.

Those of us who followed Martínez during his time as a player and saw what he did every day in the Kingdome and Safeco Field just kind of took it for granted that he would hit, drive in runs and hit some more. Tucked away in our corner of the country, it was tough for Martínez to get much national attention, but he certainly was worthy of any he got.

It never seemed to bother or affect him one bit. Fans love that about him, but many in Seattle hope this is the year he earns a spot among the immortals in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

What many people don’t know is that he is already immortalized in a Hall of Fame. Martínez sealed his place among the altruistic greats by earning a spot at the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

Being inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame says more about the man than any statistical breakdown could ever tell you.

Martínez earned his spot at the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, which is in Boise, Idaho, because of the work and charitable endeavors he and his wife Holli have been a part of for decades in the Seattle area.

While people know his on field performance, plenty of folks don’t know about the money the Martínezes have raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association or the bank Martínez helped establish geared toward Latinos in the area. Did you know about the foundation they established to provide scholarships for aspiring teachers of color?

Even if by some catastrophe Martínez doesn’t make it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y, he’ll always be considered a Hall of Famer in the Seattle area and Washington State.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though, my parents and legions of others in the Pacific Northwest hope this is finally the year he lands in Cooperstown.

Featured Image: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images Sport

Inset Image: Dan Levine / AFP