Edgar Martinez didn’t invent the designated hitter rule. He did better than that—he owned it.
It’s not his fault he was so good at it.
Martinez, eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time this year but nowhere near election (he was named on just 32.6 percent of the ballots; 75 percent is needed for induction), pretty much did one thing and one thing only. He swung the bat, and that was it. Maybe he didn’t even own a glove. Or if he did, perhaps it was covered with cobwebs.
Martinez was the first player in baseball history who seized the DH rule—an abominable rule but again, not his fault—and genuinely made a living at it. Before him, the DH was there for the aging and the infirm. Rolaids sponsored the relief pitcher award. They should have called the Geritol people for the DH.
But Martinez changed that. And he made things easier on his managers in the process. It was with no resistance that Martinez allowed his name to be penciled into the lineup with “DH” next to it, instead of a position number. For many players, being a DH is tantamount to being emasculated.
Gary Sheffield, himself a bona fide Hall of Fame candidate, despised being a designated hitter. He felt himself to be half a player when he didn’t have a glove secured onto his paw. He was one of those who was a caged lion during games in which he DHed. Too much down time.
So Sheffield, with the Tigers in 2007, bothered his manager, Jim Leyland, so much about it that Leyland finally let Sheff play in left field. It was Gary’s binky, so that Leyland could worry about other matters, like actually managing the games.
Sheffield, at the time of his re-masculation—just past the All-Star break—was tearing up the league. His average was well over .300. He was shooting lasers over the left field walls with eye-popping frequency. He put the Tigers on his back for awhile, and the team had the second best record in baseball in mid-July.
But then Leyland kowtowed and after only a few games in left field, Sheffield dove for a ball and messed up his shoulder. He wasn’t the same when he returned to the lineup, and the Tigers fell out of contention like a shot down fighter plane.
Edgar Martinez wasn’t smarter than Gary Sheffield, nor was he any less of a player. He was just a different person. He accepted his role and made peace with it. Oh, and he just happened to be the best who ever did it, in the process.
Martinez was, essentially, strictly a DH for the last 10 years of his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners. Starting in 1995, Martinez played in no more than seven games in the field in any of his remaining 10 seasons.
Some players were born to do what they did in the game. I’m about to show my age again.
Guys like Dave Philley, Gates Brown, and Manny Mota were born to pinch-hit. They could roll out of bed, stride to the plate bleary-eyed, and slap a base-hit to keep a rally going in the ninth inning.
Brooks Robinson was created by God to make life miserable for right-handed pull hitters. What he did to Lee May in the 1970 World Series—if you did that to a person in life outside of baseball, you’d be arrested for grand theft and be sentenced to 10-15 years.
Roberto Clemente was fitted for a cannon for an arm by the big guy upstairs, and did more erasing than a 12-year-old in his first Algebra class.
And Edgar Martinez perfected the art of hitting, sitting, and hitting.
You could do entire chores in the time it sometimes took between Martinez’s at-bats. And his games weren’t always played in the comfort of the Kingdome; the Mariners moved outdoors in 1999. And it wasn’t always sunny and 80 degrees—especially in Seattle, where the sun is often just a myth; a tall tale to tell the kiddies.
You think it’s easy to go up to the plate, swing, and then sit down for 30 minutes? Or even longer? Other players had the opportunity to compensate in the field. Struck out with the bases loaded? Just go out and steal a run defensively. At least while wearing a glove, you had other things to think about.
But again, Martinez turned his inactivity into a positive. When you have nothing else to do, why not study pitchers more? Why not swing the bat and take some extra hitting—during the game?
From 1995, when he first became the Mariners’ full-time DH, through 2001—seven straight seasons—Martinez batted well above .300 every year. He drove in 100 or more runs in six of those years. He clubbed anywhere from 23 to 37 home runs every season. He slapped 291 doubles—more than 40 per year—all over American League ballparks. He hit the gaps better than Jim Brown or Emmitt Smith.
He was Jekyll and Hyde in the postseason, though. In 64 Divisional Series at-bats, Martinez had 24 hits (.375 BA), seven homers, and 20 RBI. In 64 LCS at-bats, he had only 10 hits (.156 BA), one home run, and four RBI.
But Willie Mays had zero home runs in 71 World Series at-bats, so there you go.
The Commish, Bud Selig, has called Martinez the greatest DH in the history of the game. In fact, the award for Best DH is named after Martinez. And you’d leave him out of the Hall?
Apparently, yes—for 2010, anyway.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is there to honor the best who ever played the grand old game. The designated hitter, no matter what you think of it (I place it just below death and taxes as far as the inevitable goes), is nonetheless part of the game. You can crab all you want about guys who predominantly DH not being “real” baseball players. But they’re just playing the game within the rules set forth. Even if the people who impose them are idiots.
You don’t want to let guys like Edgar Martinez into the Hall?
Then I want there to be a march on Canton, Ohio and a fervent demand to strip the Pro Football Hall of Fame of all kickers. They only did one thing, after all.
Don’t penalize Martinez because the DH rule stinks and has made a bunch of “half” ballplayers. Martinez was so good at his half, you almost forgot that he didn’t play in the field. Instead, you just couldn’t wait until he came up to bat again.
Unless you were a pitcher.