Former Mariners DH Edgar Martinez received 32.9 percent of votes for the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. But Bert Blyleven started slow as well.
If Edgar Martinez needs inspiration for his uphill path to the Hall of Fame — one that became a bit steeper on Wednesday — he should look no further than Bert Blyleven.
Early in the Hall of Fame voting process, Blyleven seemed hopeless of ever making it to Cooperstown. He received just 17.5 percent in 1998, his first year on the ballot, and then dropped to 14.1 percent in Year 2. The 75 percent necessary for Cooperstown enshrinement looked as attainable as a winning season for the Pirates.
But there he was Wednesday: An exultant, almost giddy, Blyleven on a national conference call, gently tweaking the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who delayed his Hall of Fame gratification for so long.
“It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” he said. “I thank the baseball writers for, I’m going to say, finally getting it right.”
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Blyleven, a mere five votes shy last year, received 79.7 percent of the record 581 votes cast (79.7 percent). Also earning election, in just his second try, was second baseman Roberto Alomar, who made a staggering leap from 73.7 percent last year in his first appearance on the ballot to 90 percent in Year 2.
Martinez, meanwhile, saw his vote total dip slightly in his second year on the ballot. Last year, when 539 votes were cast, he received 195 votes (36.2 percent). That was an encouraging debut, I felt, and a reasonable jumping-off point for a slow rise to the Cooperstown threshold.
This year, however, Martinez’s support dropped by four votes even though there were 42 more votes cast. He was named on 191 of the 581 ballots — 32.9 percent.
It’s increasingly apparent that Martinez will have to be one of those players who gains gradual, incremental improvement if he’s going to attain 75 percent in the 15 years he can be on the ballot. But it’s not impossible, as Blyleven is proof positive.
“I think if I can stay in the 30s for some years, there could be a chance,” Martinez said. “I know there have been players in the 30s, and 14 or 15 years later, they’re in.”
Martinez, speaking between business meetings on Wednesday, was disappointed over his slight dip, but undaunted.
“It’s not what I wanted, but it is what it is,” Martinez said. “I just hope that in the future my percentage improves.”
Martinez is a realist. He knows that a Blyleven-like wait awaits him.
“I knew for sure there wasn’t going to be an opportunity this year,” he said. “I’ll wait and see what happens in the next few years. I know it will be several years before I have a good opportunity (to make the Hall). But it doesn’t help to see your numbers go down.”
Martinez had no theories why his total slipped, but I think I have a pretty good idea. The ballot was flooded with candidates who could make a Hall of Fame case — about 20 — and I think it splintered the vote.
Next year, with Blyleven and Alomar off the ballot, and Bernie Williams the best of the new candidates, there could be a real opportunity for Martinez to make a quantum leap. It would behoove him to do so, because in 2013, the insanity hits the fan: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling all enter the ballot. And Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina hop aboard the year after that.
Martinez will still have the same issues to overcome. He is well aware of the prime reasons his candidacy hasn’t yet brought him closer to the promised land.
“I think the DH makes it tough for some people to support me,” he said. “There has always been an argument, and I think it’s going to work against me, going forward. I know there’s a big division among voters.
“The other thing, some voters don’t feel I have enough numbers to go into the Hall of Fame, when you compare me to players with 400 or 500 homers, more RBIs, more All-Star Games. It’s very difficult when you compare numbers. As statistics like OPS and on-base percentage get more credibility, it could help my case.”
One of the first people Blyleven cited Wednesday was Rich Lederer of baseballanalysts.com, who has long championed his Hall of Fame cause.
“He brought out so many different stats than just wins and losses,” Blyleven said.
Eventually, those numbers resonated with the voters, and Blyleven got his deserved award. He said the wait didn’t diminish his excitement.
“Getting in is good enough,” he said. “It took Jim Rice 15 years. With some guys, it takes writers a long time to maybe look a little deeper into a player’s career.”
I hope that inspection — with concurrent introspection — occurs for Martinez, because I truly believe his career was Hall of Fame worthy.
“Right now, I think I still have a chance,” Martinez said. “I’m hopeful it will happen. But I realize I’m probably going to have to wait awhile.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org