Last year, when the Mariners great jumped from 27 percent to 43.4 percent, I thought the chance of him making the leap to the 75 percent necessary for enshrinement was slim. I now feel fairly optimistic that Edgar has a solid chance to be voted into the Hall. Eventually.
Something amazing is happening when it comes to Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame chances.
A groundswell. A sea change. A transformation.
“I definitely think there’s a movement going on,” said Ryan Thibodaux, whose Hall of Fame ballot tracker has become the go-to source for voting trends.
I didn’t see this coming, frankly. Even last year, when the Mariners great jumped from 27 percent to 43.4 percent, I thought the chance of him making the leap to the 75 percent necessary for enshrinement was slim. Not with, at the time, just three years left on the ballot (two after this year) before his eligibility expires and he would move on to the next avenue to Cooperstown, the veterans’ committee.
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But now, with approximately 20 percent of the precincts reporting (as compiled by Thibodaux), I can say I officially have changed camps. Based on current trends, I now feel fairly optimistic that Edgar has a solid chance to be voted into the Hall by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Eventually.
Yeah, that’s some major-league hedging. I’m not going to be any more definitive, because my fellow voting members of the BBWAA — those with 10 years in the organization — are a notoriously unpredictable lot. But as a bedrock Edgar loyalist and proponent, I love what I’m seeing.
And so does he. Just as cautiously.
“It looks like I’m getting a little more support, and that’s good,” Martinez said Thursday by phone. “But there’s still a lot of votes that have to be accounted for.”
Here’s what we know: Of the 85 votes that had been made public (plus four anonymously) as of Thursday afternoon, Martinez was named on 59, a solid 66 percent. He has experienced a net gain of 13 votes from known ballots last year, a leap exceeded only by Tim Raines (16), who is in his final year of eligibility.
As Edgar astutely pointed out, there’s a long, long way to go. Thibodaux estimates that about 435 votes will be cast, thus requiring 327 to become a Hall of Famer. Martinez would have to add 137 new votes to get there. Sorry, Edgar fans. It’s not going to happen this year.
But what appears to be in the process of happening (and votes must be postmarked by Dec. 31, with the announcement of the 2017 class coming Jan. 18) is that Martinez is positioning himself well for a big push in the final two years.
Thibodaux believes the “magic number” for Martinez this year is 55 percent — and based on current trends, that seems realistic, even with the typical drop of about 4 percent from pre-announcement public ballots to the actual ballot count.
“He needs to hurdle 50 percent, and I think that’s well within reach,” Thibodaux said. “If he can get up to 55, or even 60, which doesn’t look impossible, it will put him in real nice shape for the last two years. … If he’s below 55 percent, I’d say his chances are pretty rough. Anything above that, he’s probably going to get in.”
So what’s going on here? Why does Martinez, whose candidacy has been plagued for years by bias against the designated hitter, among other factors — he bottomed out at 25.2 percent in 2014 — suddenly seem to be catching fire? After interacting with many of the voters who have added Martinez for the first time and reading the explanation of others, I have several possible theories.
• The ballot has cleared slightly, leaving room for Martinez’s inclusion. Voters are limited to 10 votes, and with Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza going in last year, plus Alan Trammell maxing off the ballot, there’s added space for many who had Martinez on the cusp.
“My estimation of him didn’t really change,” Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote said. “It’s just that the evolving ballot of finalists every year sometimes makes it easier or harder for the borderline guys.”
“I’ve not changed my mind on Edgar Martinez — to me, he’s always been worthy of a Hall of Fame vote,” The Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans said. “This year, just like the last two, I’ve felt there were more than 10 worthy candidates, including Martinez. Because of the 10-man limit, my voting philosophy has been to vote for the 10 best players on the ballot. Martinez did not make that cutoff for me either of the last two years, but this year he did.”
“I have always admired his career,’’ MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan said. “We only get 10 each year, as you know, so I don’t consider it a flip.”
• Voters have been swayed by persuasive and passionate arguments in Martinez’s favor. The Mariners sent voters an excellent summary of his qualifications (as they have in the past), and many essays have been written online extolling his virtues. Mariners fans have lobbied hard on Martinez’s behalf, including a letter sent to voters by one, Brian Flanders, that included a spreadsheet of notable statistical milestones.
Such entreaties have worked wonders in the past. Bert Blyleven’s election in his next-to-last year of eligibility was largely credited to the campaign on his behalf waged by blogger Rich Lederer. Author Jonah Keri, among other advocates, has been influential in raising awareness of Tim Raines, who has an excellent shot this year. Raines was at a mere 22.6 percent in his second year, and even in 2014 seemed hopeless at 46.1 percent.
“I didn’t vote for Martinez last year, but after further consideration (and a few well-reasoned emails from Seattle), I’m adding him now,’’ Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger said. “Yes, he was a DH for most of his career, but he was one of the best hitters in the sport for about 10-year span. He belongs.”
• The attention given to the retiring David Ortiz, regarded as a surefire Hall of Famer despite being a DH, has reflected well on Martinez, who can make a strong case as the statistical superior to Ortiz.
“The Ortiz farewell tour helped me get over a bias against a pure DH,” said Mark Saxon, who covers the Cardinals for ESPN. “Edgar’s candidacy is less tainted with suspicion than Ortiz’s, thanks to the NYT (a 2003 story that linked Ortiz to steroid use). The fact I voted for Frank Thomas swayed me as well. To sum up, it was a tough call and for me; he barely squeaks in.”
In an article on his DKPittsburghsports.com website, Dejan Kovacevik wrote, “Martinez was added because, upon hard reflection and more intensive digging into Martinez’s historic comparables, I reached the realization that, as someone born and raised in a National League city, I unfairly held his career-long designated hitter status against him. I regret that. My own views on the DH should never have influenced a vote. The DH is a real thing, and Martinez’s status as the best at that job should have been seen as a plus, not a minus.”
By and large, I believe many voters are just rethinking many long-held assumptions about Martinez. Mark Newman of MLB.com, a longtime voter, wrote about how he decided to take a new analytical dive into the candidates, and he came up with 10 new names, including Martinez.
“Being the best DH ever is a baseball honor and worthy of induction, not penalization,’’ he wrote.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News wrote that he was heavily influenced by an article from SI.com’s Jay Jaffe, which convinced him that Martinez was dominant enough as a hitter to offset the negatives of not offering any defensive value as a DH.
All of which is highly encouraging to Martinez, who points to another valid factor: “I think Pedro (Martinez), Randy (Johnson), Mariano (Rivera) and now Junior (Griffey), the comments they made for me (in support of Martinez), I think that carries a lot of weight.
“I think sabermetrics might be helping. People are taking more into consideration on-base percentage, those kind of metrics. Hopefully it will carry me over.”
Paul White of USA Today said he pores over advanced statistics every year, and Edgar always had been on the verge of earning his vote.
“What changed this year? I did the same thing with the numbers I always do, and there I was agonizing again,” White wrote in an email. “I guess hearing enough of Edgar’s peers who I respect — Griffey and others — swayed me. And Edgar’s character and contributions have to be a factor at a time when I can’t bring myself to vote the guys I feel were blatant cheaters.”
So yes, something is definitely happening here. Whether it is a sustainable trend that will carry Martinez to Cooperstown in a year or two remains to be seen. We’ll know much more in a few weeks. But there are legitimate reasons for the Edgar faithful to be more hopeful than ever — following a period of growing pessimism.
Candidates tend to see an upswing in their final year or two on the ballot — witness Raines — as voters realize it’s now or never. Martinez would be helped further if three or more players are elected this year, as seems possible (Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez are all polling particularly strongly), thus clearing more ballot space. Next year, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel enter the ballot for the first time, followed the next year by Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte.
“I think this year will tell whether I’m going to be close or have a chance,’’ Martinez said. “I will be watching and seeing how this year goes.”
So far, so good.