For Mariners fans last Wednesday’s reveal of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting results was a big one. Ken Griffey Jr. became the first player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Seattle Mariner and also received the most votes ever for an inductee, with his name being left off only three ballots. He was inducted on his first appearance on the ballot and was also the first number 1 overall pick to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It’s almost impossible not to be excited for “The Kid” and for the Mariners organization, as this is a big first for both of them. Although personally, there is still a part of me that wishes that the first Mariners player to go into the MLB Hall of Fame would have been Edgar Martinez.
That’s not to say that I’m not happy for Ken Griffey Jr. or that I think he doesn’t deserve the honor. His love and appreciation for the city are apparent whenever he talks about the time he spent in Seattle. I was there the night he was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame and saw the genuine emotion he expressed for the organization, the city, and his teammates. The late Dave Niehaus, the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Mariners who called Griffey’s first and last home runs, dubbed Safeco Field “The House That Griffey Built” because of his contributions to the team in 1995 which led to the stadium being built. Though he spent quite a few years in the middle of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, the city never forgot him or what he meant to baseball in the Pacific Northwest.
But Edgar Martinez never left. He started his career with the Mariners in their minor league system in 1982, making his major league debut in 1987, and he ended his career with the team at the end of the 2004 season. He was one of the most feared right-handed hitters in all of baseball, and could have left the Mariners as a free agent and possibly have won a World Series ring. Instead, he stayed with the team and cemented his legacy as one of the best hitters in the league. He was part of the legendary 1995 Mariners team and was responsible for “The Double,” one of the most famous moments in Mariners history. He was also part of the 1997 and 2000 playoff teams, as well as the 2001 team that set the American League record and tied the Major League record for most wins in a season with 116. In 2007, he was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame, and he became the team’s hitting coach during the 2015 season. Martinez’s legacy is solely with the Mariners, and it’s a little bit bittersweet that he won’t end up being the first Seattle Mariners legend to end up in Cooperstown.
It’s not that Martinez doesn’t have the career numbers, but many Hall of Fame voters look down on him for spending the majority of his career as a designated hitter. Though he started his career as a third baseman, injuries forced him to spend the majority of his time at the designated hitter position, usually only taking the field during interleague play at first base. His career .312 batting average, 2000+ hits, 309 home runs, 500+ doubles, and a .933 OPS are more than enough to warrant induction into the Hall of Fame. His endorsers include Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, as well as Griffey, who have all talked about how great of a hitter Edgar was and how he deserves a spot in Cooperstown. Then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig even renamed the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award after Martinez upon his retirement, now known as the Edgar Martinez Award. Though he received the highest percentage of votes he ever had on this year’s ballot at 43.4%, he still fell well short of the necessary 75% for induction. The votes were encouraging, as is his support among current and future Hall of Famers, as well as high-profile media members, but with only 3 years left on the ballot, it’s not a guarantee that he’ll ever make it in.
It’s hard to not imagine what could have been if Griffey and Martinez had been inducted into the Hall of Fame together. The number 1 overall pick from a baseball family who started his career in the majors at age 19 and the man whose career didn’t take off until he was in his late-20s. Both so beloved by fans and so important to the history of baseball in Seattle. Two men so different in playing style and personality, yet bound by their years together on the team, as well as their involvement in “The Double.” For Seattle Mariners fans, it would have been magical and a dream come true. For the rest of the sports world, it would have been a great story, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Griffey will take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame during the ceremony in July, hopefully to be joined by Martinez in the near future.
Though Alvin Davis officially owns the title of “Mr. Mariner,” in the hearts and minds of Seattle fans, that title will always belong to Edgar Martinez. Possibly the greatest designated hitter and one of the best right-handed hitters to play the game, he deserves to be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. It would be lovely to see the #11 flag fly high atop the Space Needle, as it did for Griffey’s #24 last week, and to hear former and current players and the media wax poetically about his career, as they do about new inductees. If he does make it to Cooperstown before his time on the ballot is up, it might just be the best moment in the history of the Seattle Mariners, until they win a World Series title.