Hall of Fame history: Martínez, Rivera headline class of legends

While Edgar Martínez huddled with his wife and three children in New York on Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners legend fielded several calls and text messages from Puerto Rico. Those good vibes and his family’s warmth eased the stress as he waited for the call he had longed to receive for a decade.

Martínez, who was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico, finally got the call he truly wanted when he was informed that he had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his 10th and final chance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.

The wait wasn’t as stressful or long for former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The Panamanian great who made history as the first Hall of Famer unanimously selected in the 83-year history of the BBWAA ballot.

With Rivera, Martínez, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay elected on the BBWAA ballot Tuesday, the 2019 Hall of Fame class will be the first to feature two Latinos voted in together by the BBWAA.

“Obviously it’s a great honor and a very special recognition,” Martínez said. “The fact that I’m going in with Mariano it means a lot, especially because not only was he a top reliever in the game but also he’s a great human being.

“He’s a great person. … The fact that he got 100 percent of the votes, it makes it also extra special that I’m in the same (class) in the same year. “

Tuesday was a historic day for Latinos in baseball. Rivera became the second Panamanian elected into the Hall of Fame, following Rod Carew.

Martínez, a Nuyorican, is the fifth Boricua to earn a place among the immortals in Cooperstown, N.Y. He follows Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez.

More impressively, Rivera stands alone in history as the only player to cruise into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a unanimous selection by the BBWAA. He received votes on all 425 ballots that were submitted in his first year of eligibility.

Neither Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan or any other baseball legend had been a unanimous selection on the BBWAA ballot.

“To me it’s an honor and a pleasure because every athlete wants to accomplish something like this being the first baseball player, being a Latin American, Panamanian, it’s an honor,” Rivera said. “I’m grateful that God gave me the opportunity and kept me healthy so that I can accomplish this.

“It’s a privilege. There aren’t words to show my gratitude for what God has done at this moment for me.”

Martínez, arguably the best designated hitter of all time, didn’t have quite as smooth a march toward Cooperstown. He was on the ballot for a decade before finally reaching the 75 percent necessary for induction.

Martínez was named on 363 of the 425 ballots for 85.4 percent.

“Edgar was such a great hitter,” Rivera said, “and a great person. … I tell you, man, I’m so grateful that a man like Edgar was able to accomplish the pinnacle of (what) every player wants, the Hall of Fame. Also Mike Mussina and Roy.

“Unfortunately we don’t have him. He was a tremendous competitor. All of those three guys were tremendous competitors. It was an honor to play with those guys and against them.”

Not surprisingly, Martínez and Rivera had their countrymen on their minds on one of the greatest days of their professional careers.

For them, Tuesday’s announcement was about their families, their beloved Puerto Rico and Panama, and their beloved Mariners and Yankees.

Martínez hopes his election to the Hall of Fame gives Puerto Ricans another reason to smile as they continue to recover from Hurricane Maria.

“For my family members it means a lot,” Martínez said. “They know I’ve waited for 10 years. And for the people of Puerto Rico it also has a great meaning, especially because in the last year they have gone through a lot.

“At least this is a moment when they can rejoice and celebrate. I haven’t had a chance to speak to the people of Puerto Rico, but they have been calling me and texting me through the day saying they’re ready to celebrate.”

Rivera, who was born in Panama City, is also ready to celebrate. He dedicated his honor to the people of Panama.

“I hope the people of Panama are celebrating in the way that I’m celebrating now because this belongs to Panama,” Rivera said. “Just being the second [Panamanian] player to reach that plateau, I’m grateful. I’m grateful because the Lord allowed me to be born in that beautiful country that I love and respect and represent.

“To me I’m grateful. I can’t wait to get to Panama and share it with all my people and all of Panama in general. They deserve it. Panamanians are resilient people. They never give up, always pushing forward, being a good host, being a good people. When it comes to the game, we just want to give the best.”

Featured Image: Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images Sport