This is “Edgar’s Army” — a group of devoted fans who have been pivotal in advocating for the Hall of Fame candidacy of the Mariners' legend. From the man who launched the first website making Edgar's case — all the way back in 2001 — to the story behind Edgar Martinez Drive.
By every indication, it’s finally going to happen Tuesday.
Really and truly. And just in the nick of time.
Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, will step to the microphone on MLB Network and read off the newest group to enter the hallowed Cooperstown grounds. And along with Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay, this year’s gimmes, likely will come the words Seattle baseball fans have been waiting a decade to hear:
Now, mind you, the man himself is not ready to concede anything, as he awaits the announcement of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
“The feedback I get is very positive,” Martinez said Thursday. “But in the back of my mind, I know there’s a chance it might not happen. I’m still realistic about that possibility.”
That’s what happens when nine years of ballyhooed Hall of Fame announcements in mid-January have brought nothing but disappointment of varying degrees to Martinez.
There was the promising start, a solid 36.2 percent his first year on the ballot in 2010, which seemed a viable jumping-off point. But by Year 5, Martinez was down to 25.2 percent, and then stymied at 27.0 in Year 6.
He was seemingly going nowhere — and, oh yeah, about that time the Hall of Fame changed the rules. Candidates previously had stayed on the ballot for 15 years, but starting in 2014 that number was reduced to 10. The door to the Hall of Fame was shutting even faster.
The consensus was that it would take a miracle to get Martinez to Cooperstown, at least via the BBWAA. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened. With appreciation for analytics growing, with passionate and convincing arguments on his behalf appearing with greater frequency, with an increasing number of his peers advocating on his behalf, with space on the clogged ballot starting to free up, Martinez’s vote total began to soar.
From that seemingly hopeless 27 percent in 2015, Martinez jumped to 43.4 percent in 2016, 58.6 percent in 2017 and 70.4 percent last year. And now, according to the invaluable (and ardently scrutinized and refreshed) Hall of Fame tracker run by Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), Martinez is poised to take that final step beyond the necessary 75 percent for induction.
According to votes tracked by Thibodaux, Martinez on Saturday had received 171 of the 188 publicly revealed (and anonymous) ballots — an astonishing 91.0 percent. That represented a crucial 18-vote gain from those who bypassed him last year, nearly all of the estimated 20 gains he’ll need to make the cut.
A proviso: That accounts for only 45.6 percent of the estimated 412 votes that were cast by the Dec. 31 deadline. The non-revealed votes tend to be less favorable to Martinez; last year, he sat above the 75 percent threshold in Thibodaux’s final reckoning — leading to hopes that 2018 was the year — only to drop 6.9 percent in the final tally.
That said, Thibodaux is bullish on Martinez’s chances, which is another highly positive sign. No one understands the voting trends — and potential pitfalls — more than him. And several analysts who take Thibodaux’s numbers and project statistical odds for candidates have placed Martinez as close to a lock.
“Up to this point, he’s basically made the gains he’s needed to make,” Thibodaux said. “I don’t think you could have realistically expected him be in better position through 45 percent. He looks to be in excellent shape.”
In fact, Thibodaux added, “Honestly, it would take some sort of strange catastrophe we haven’t seen in the last few years for him to fall shy of 75 percent. He’s in the best position you could expect him to be.”
With the growing sense of inevitability attached to Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy, I contacted several members of what I will dub “Edgar’s Army” — a group of devoted fans who have spent years, in some cases decades, showing their support for him in a variety of powerful ways.
Just ask Thibodaux — there’s nothing quite like Edgar fans. Or in many cases, Edgar zealots.
“It’s absolutely unique,” he said. “They are the most rabid fan base as far as the Hall of Fame I’ve encountered. … It wasn’t even like this for Griffey (former Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr., who was elected in 2016 with a record 99.3 percent of the vote). Probably half the people that follow me and tweet me, it’s (on behalf of) Edgar.”
Thibodaux even noted with some melancholy, “I’ve been thinking this entire voting cycle, I’m going to be a little sad when this year is over. For the most part, they’ve been great and really passionate. I get the sense everyone is getting their hopes up … and trying not to get their hopes up.”
• • •
Speaking of not getting one’s hopes up, Tim Raetzloff says, “I’m still gun-shy. I was hopeful last year, and it all faded at the end.”
Few, if any, people jumped full-bore on Edgar’s Hall of Fame bandwagon earlier than Raetzloff. The Edmonds resident can pinpoint the day, in fact. It was the summer of 1999, and he was on family vacation in Klamath Falls, Ore. While his wife and three children were at the swimming pool, Raetzloff stayed in the hotel room and watched Baseball Tonight on ESPN. Tim Kurkjian was making the case that Martinez was starting to put up Hall of Fame numbers.
Raetzloff’s curiosity was piqued. When he got home, Raetzloff crunched the numbers himself — numbers that would grow even more impressive in subsequent years — and came even more firmly to the same conclusion as Kurkjian.
In 2001, Raetzloff created a website (http://www.abarim.com/edgar.htm) devoted to Edgar’s Hall of Fame credentials, with the banner, “Bound for Cooperstown!” It remains up today, though Raetzloff, now 71, stopped updating it after his wife’s death. He remains a walking computer of Martinez statistics that he is eager to share.
For years, he thought he was fighting a losing battle.
“But I persevered,” he said. “It’s interesting. Of the people who contacted me over the years, others than those locally, the place I heard most from was New York. They appreciate good baseball and also appreciate what Edgar did against their team.”
And if the call goes Edgar’s way Tuesday?
“It’s going to be happiness, because I feel he’s been overlooked,” Raetzloff said. “I grew up here, and I guess I have a chip on my shoulder that Seattle is always overlooked and treated like a backwater place.
“Edgar deserves it. Look at the happiness he gave to hundreds of thousands, or millions, in Western Washington. He’s the one who stayed (with the Mariners, instead of leaving for another team as a free agent). It’s a shame, because if he had been more flamboyant, a pushier, ‘Look at me’ type of player, he’d probably be in the Hall of Fame already.
“But he wouldn’t be Edgar.”
• • •
The ‘Edgar esta caliente’ creator
After Mary Harder’s father died in April 1990, she started going to Mariners games on Father’s Day at the Kingdome as a way to feel close to her dad. The hitting of Edgar Martinez, and his aura, captivated her.
“Every day, I’d read the newspaper, and if he got a hit, it would make my day,” she said. “I got hooked.”
Harder bought Mariners season tickets. She absorbed herself in Martinez’s career. One day her then-husband suggested she make a banner for Martinez. So Harder spread out a big piece of blue felt on the living-room floor. Her husband suggested, “How about, ‘Edgar esta caliente’?”
So that’s the banner Harder made. She lugged it with her to every game at the Kingdome and hung it behind home plate. The phrase “Edgar esta caliente” (Spanish for “Edgar is hot”) caught on and became popular among Mariners fans. It made Harder a minor celebrity among the hardcore fans, especially after it was mentioned in a Seattle Times article.
One day, she was at her seat — Section 201, Row 1, Seat 1 — when Edgar’s fiancee Holli Beeler approached her. She asked if Mary would like to go to the wedding.
“When I walked to my car, I felt 12 feet high,” Harder said.
At the wedding, when Martinez went through the receiving line, the shy Harder said, “I’m going to kiss you,” and gave him a peck on the cheek.
For years, Harder kept a Martinez scrapbook. The “Edgar esta caliente” banner still sits at her home. When he became the Mariners’ hitting coach in 2016 and Mary saw him for the first time during the broadcast, “I went to the TV and kissed it.” And when the Mariners retired his uniform number, 11, in 2017, she went to the game, “and of course I cried the whole time.”
What is it about Martinez that touched her heart so deeply? Harder is 68 and still living in Seattle. The question strikes a chord.
“His seriousness, his consistency, the respect and honor,” she said with a catch in her voice “I loved my father — I’m going to start crying. He was a civil engineer, a gentleman, a wonderful man. I miss him. I substituted Edgar for my father. He made me happy.”
And if and when Martinez goes into the Hall of Fame?
“Oh, I’m going to be thrilled,” she said. “I want to be there.”
• • •
In the early 1990s, when social media as we know it was just a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, Scott Sistek joined an email distribution list devoted to the Mariners. Among the 40 to 60 fans were his future wife, Michelle, and (unbeknownst to him at the time) a rising local politician named Greg Nickels.
At one point, as Martinez’s exploits grew, Sistek typed out, “Edgar is great. Some day they should honor him by naming Atlantic Street after him.”
Says Sistek now, “I threw that into the woods, kind of went, ‘Hahaha,’ and pretty much forgot about it.”
But then Nickels was elected mayor of Seattle, and one day out of the blue in 2004 he sent Sistek an email.
“Scott, remember way back when you suggested to name a street after Edgar? Stay tuned. I’m working on something, and I want you involved.”
Cut to a man named David Crocker, who in 2004 was on his own mission to make Edgar Martinez Drive a reality. Working independently of Sistek, he set about raising the money necessary to cover the cost of the signs.
While Crocker was doing an interview on KJR-AM with Mike Gastineau to present his case, former Mariners outfielder Dave Henderson called in and pledged half of the money still needed. Gastineau covered the other half. A Detroit native, Crocker was moved to the effort by his remembrance of Al Kaline Drive outside Tiger Stadium.
Mayor Nickels invited Sistek and Crocker to the news conference unveiling what he termed “an 800-foot lined Drive” in Martinez’s honor near what was then Safeco Field. Every time he drives past the freeway sign for Edgar Martinez Drive, Sistek says, “I get a little smile. It’s my little part of history left on Seattle.”
More than a decade has passed. Sistek just turned 46 and is a web meteorologist for KOMO news. Crocker is 52 and runs a mortgage protection insurance company in Gig Harbor. And they remain enthralled by Edgar Martinez.
Crocker explains that Martinez is why he lives in Seattle. He had lived in Portland, but as an avid baseball fan, he wanted to move to city that had a team. He was tired of the three-hour drive up Interstate 5.
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Crocker was scouting out potential locations for the family’s next move. Seattle was on the list, but in the mid-90s, when it appeared the Mariners would move to St. Petersburg, Fla., he began checking out job opportunities in Denver or Southern California. Then came the Mariners’ 1995 miracle comeback that galvanized the efforts for a new stadium to keep the Mariners in Seattle.
“My wife will hate for me saying this, but if Edgar doesn’t hit the double (against the Yankees in the ’95 playoffs), the Crockers don’t live in Seattle,” he said.
“I love that he was our guy,” Sistek said. “He played his whole career here. He was the longtime forever Mariner. Griffey got all the attention. I’m a quiet and shy guy, too. Edgar was kind of the quiet guy who would just go out and get the work done, and let others carry the torch.”
On Tuesday, Martinez stands to receive the greatest honor a baseball player can receive — an accolade that once appeared unattainable. And if and when his name is called, those who carried the torch for Edgar — the ones I just mentioned and untold others — will celebrate right along with him.