It's not every day that a baseball fan gets to witness one of their heroes receive the honor of having their number retired forever by one their own favorite teams. A sold-out Safeco Field on Saturday, Aug. 12, served as the backdrop for this rare occasion, and spirits were high as a kite throughout the stands. Folks around the Pacific Northwest have been calling early Seattle Mariners' star Alvin Davis "Mr. Mariner" for decades now. As they introduced Davis, along with several other Mariners legends, to honor Edgar Martinez, it hit me that Martinez was actually more worthy of that honorable nickname than any other Mariner before or since he hung up his spikes in 2004.
Since "Mr. Mariner" is taken, and cemented in local history, a more fitting nickname hit me as the sold out Safeco Field crowd chanted the familiar, drawn-out call of "Ed..... gar!"
Edgar Martinez was, and should always be known as the "Ultimate Mariner."
No Seattle Mariner played for so long with the organization (18 years), while also offering up regular performances that had him consistantly at the top of Major League Baseball's best. While he was never going to be confused with the greatest public speakers of our time, he connected with the fans like no other player over nearly two decades. Baseball fans who have ever punched a timeclock at a job, and brought a lunch pale with them, knew that Martinez was one of them. He worked at his game with a drive and consistency that should be the blueprint for any budding superstar.
While some baseball purists feel that Martinez wasn't a "full player" due to his years of full-time designated hitter work, it's difficult for this writer to see their stance on the subject as being anything more than that of a stubborn child, unwilling to give up their "blanky" and move onto the next phase of their life.
Seriously, baseball writers, give it up and get with the times. The reason Martinez is still not in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is because there's a cabal of Hall of Fame writers that seem hell-bent on sticking to what they must view as some sort of ethical standpoint. They believe baseball was meant to be played by all nine players on the scorecard. This means, when a team is up to bat, their pitcher must take his turn in the batter's box. Of course, this still stands in the National League.
While I can tip my cap to these men and women for sticking to their "purist" guns, I have a little statistic that should slap them back into reality. Major League Baseball instituted the designated hitter for the American League on April 6, 1973.
If after 44 years, you are still unable to get with the times, and furthermore, you are going to penalize the baseball player whom the MLB designated hitter award is named after (hint - it's the Edgar Martinez Award), to keep up with your two-generations long protest - then you should give up your Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting credentials. The rules of baseball state that 16 of their teams will use a designated hitter. Your inability to accept this rule is putting yourself above the game of baseball and the player in question. It's absolutely selfish.
The rest of us baseball fans would appreciate it if you would do the sport a favor and grow up.
Most baseball fans around these parts know about Martinez's 18-year career statistics. He batted .312 over his career, while amassing a .418 on-base percentage that rates him 21st in the history of Major League Baseball. He won five Silver Slugger Awards, was named to seven MLB All-Star Games and put together a .933 OBP+Slugging mark, good enough for 34th all-time. He was also the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, which is even more impressive than the MLB Most Valuable Player Award to many baseball fans.
Sometimes career numbers can be skewed by injury-plagued seasons, as well as the first couple and last couple of seasons of a long career. With this in mind, we crunched together 10 of Martinez's finest seasons between 1990 and 2001. We subtracted the 1993 and 1994 seasons, as Martinez dealt with injuries and only played in 131 out of a possible 324 games.
In that 10-year span, Martinez batted .326, while averaging 40 doubles, 24 home runs, and 95 runs batted in. He drew an average of 96 walks per season, while striking out just 83 times per. Had Martinez been wearing the New York Yankee pinstripes, this writer would have bet a pot of gold that he would have already been enshrined in Cooperstown. We just don't get that sort of respect, tucked away up here in the corner of the United States.
Well, Martinez may not be in the Hall of Fame, yet, but that didn't stop the Mariners from taking the bull by the horns and honoring the man himself. After the current crop of Mariners donned Martinez's familiar number 11 for batting practice earlier in the day, no one will ever wear the number again. I thought that was a fantastic nod from the players to not only their very own Mariners' hitting coach, but it was the sort of gesture that they themselves will probably remember for the rest of their lives.
I'll be honest, I cried several tears from the left field seats during the jersey retirement of Martinez. When he entered the ballpark in center field, walking toward the infield alone, I got choked up. When they played his highlights on the big screen, I got choked up. When they rolled out some Mariner greats to say a few words about someone they still admire so much, I got choked up.
When Martinez's children pulled up the sheet covering Martinez's number 11, right next to Ken Griffey Jr.'s no. 24 and Jackie Robinson's no. 42, I got choked up. When Marilyn Niehaus came out to represent Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus, I got seriously choked up. By the time the classy ceremony had concluded, I felt emotionally spent. I wasn't prepared for the kind of trip down memory and emotional lane that the Mariners hit us with that night.
Of course, all I had to do was look around to see a host of hands wiping tears away from red eyes. I was not alone in my weeping. It felt liberating.
Now, when it comes to delivering vastly different rides upon the emotional roller coaster, there isn't a team in the Puget Sound region that can touch the Seattle Mariners. Longstanding fans like myself have tried, unsuccessfully, over the years to harden our hearts in preparation for the usual late summer slide, followed by a teasing, little win streak to make the final days of the season a little more interesting.
If this sounds even remotely familiar to you, feel free to raise your hand.
By the end of the night, my tears had been replaced by a soft sprinkling of much-welcomed rain. Sadly, the water was unable to wash away yet another mediocre performance by the Mariners. It was fitting, as the Mariners blew a lead and spoiled the party with a 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. After coming home for Edgar Martinez Weekend, following a successful 6-3 road trip, the Mariners were in sole-possession of the second AL Wild Card spot.
The Seattle Mariners may not be the most snake-bitten team in MLB history, but they've certainly got a spot on the opening page. Forty years of baseball in the Kingdome and Safeco have resulted in zero trips to the World Series, let alone a championship. They couldn't even muster up a single win for Edgar, on their way to a four-game sweep by the Angels. It was a tough one to swallow for the fans.
Edgar cannot get in the batter's box and lead this team anymore. His presence in the Mariners' dugout has got to have a great effect on the players, but they need to get the job done. Someone needs to step up and take charge of this squad before this season of hope ends with another familiar thud.
Mariners' fans are ready when you are Seattle, and the "Ultimate Mariner" deserves better than this.