The Sporting Life

Seattle’s Love Affair with Edgar Martínez

A comeback legend, a heavy hitter hero, and a role model. To Mariners fans, Edgar Martínez was a baseball god and now, finally after a decade, a Hall of Famer.

By Hayat Norimine March 26, 2019 Published in the April 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Edgar Martínez played major league baseball for 18 years, the entirety spent with the Mariners.

As a Mariners fan who first saw Edgar Martínez hit home runs as a small child—those powerful swings, the fear he struck in pitchers as he stepped up to challenge them—I thought he was larger than life. I was nine years old when the Mariners last went to the playoffs in 2001. My dad had just bought me my first T-shirt with “Martinez” emblazoned in silver letters on the back, and at that point the five-foot-eleven designated hitter was legendary, godlike.

When the team was behind, he’d hit a homer. Losing by two? He’d send three to home base. In 1995 the slugger had been key to the team’s notable postseason: The Mariners were down by one and he hit a two-run homer in overtime to claim a victory against the Yankees. Edgar always came through.

As a seven-time All-Star and league-wide batting champ twice over, Edgar had a track record of baseball triumphs. But always the National Baseball Hall of Fame nominee, never the inductee. Until now. In January 2019—his final year of consideration—Edgar, at 56, got word that he made it into the Hall of Fame after nearly a decade. The whole city seemed to rejoice in the news.

See, Seattle loves Edgar—really, truly loves him. For his October 2004 retirement ceremony, the city named a street south of the stadium after him, a tribute normally reserved for notable figures posthumously. Then-mayor Greg Nickels says the idea, which was borne from a fans listserv that he was a member of, struck him as the proper way to honor such an admirable figure in the city.

For many Edgar devotees, their rabid fandom was never just about baseball. Edgar was the perfect story: A Puerto Rican from New York City who dreamed of playing in the MLB, he signed with the Mariners in 1987 and worked his way up. He continued to play as injuries arose, overcoming an eye disorder that affected his depth perception and threatened an early retirement. His success had been spurred not by raw talent, but by character. “I think a lot of people, myself included,” Nickels says now, “who aren’t the most skilled at any particular thing admired that and identified with it.”

Edgar’s chances at the Hall of Fame seemed to be a lost cause at the beginning. Voters have a known bias against designated hitters since they don’t hold a defensive field position—don’t have to toil out in the field as basemen, shortstops, or pitchers—and sports writers have argued they’re not considered full-time players. But Edgar’s posse in Seattle advocated for him year after year. Ryan Thibodaux, an Oakland-based baseball fan who’s meticulously tracked Hall of Fame votes for about six years, calls the campaign for Edgar—which included Twitter storms and Mariners-made leaflets handed out to Hall of Fame voters—“by far the most impressive one that I’ve seen.”

Forget Ken Griffey Jr., or even Ichiro. Edgar put on the Mariners uniform for life. But fans say it was more than just his 18 years of loyalty to the team. Edgar stayed in Seattle because he fell in love with the city, Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs says. But in turn, fans didn’t just fall in love with him. They fell in love with his tale. Edgar delivered one last time and gave us one last story—one with a Hall of Fame ending.

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