With Ken Griffey Jr. getting a statue last week at Safeco Field, determining the next Mariner to be honored in bronze is not as easy as one might think.
Two hours, three hours, four hours before the game — it doesn’t matter. You walk past Safeco Field these days, you’re going to see somebody posing in front of the newly-erected Ken Griffey Jr. statue.
That’s how it should be, though. An iconic Mariner is now a permanent fixture in front of the park his former team calls home.
Still, when humans have been given a taste of something, it’s a natural reaction for them to want more. And with Ichiro back in town with the Marlins this week — not to mention Felix Hernandez and Edgar Martinez wearing Seattle uniforms — it’s appropriate to ask: Who’s the next statue for the M’s?
Below are the candidates.
Griffey spent 11 seasons in Seattle before signing with the Reds. Ichiro spent 11½ seasons in Seattle before being traded to the Yankees.
Griffey won AL MVP with the Mariners and made 10 All-Star teams. Ichiro won AL MVP with the Mariners and made 10 All-Star teams.
Griffey was an icon and the first true Mariners superstar. Ichiro was an icon and first Japanese position player to rise to superstardom.
Can you see where this is going?
Ichiro might not have been considered one of the game’s top players for as long as Griffey was. His game didn’t operate at the same aesthetic level Griffey’s did, either.
But when 2,533 of your 3,031 (and counting) MLB hits come in a Mariners uniform, and when you set the season hit record at Safeco Field, and when you have a near 100 percent chance of getting at least 90 percent of the Hall of Fame votes on your first try, it’s fair to wonder if there’d ever be a statue in your honor.
Have you ever thought about it? Ichiro was asked Monday night.
“This is a special place,” he said through an interpreter. “But I think it’s disrespectful to Griffey to compare me to him. You can’t compare me and him.”
Debatable. But we’ll look elsewhere for now.
He’s the man, he’s the man, he’s the ma-an. We’ll, at least he is according to the Aloe Blacc song that plays whenever he walks out to the mound for a start.
There was a six-year stretch in which King Felix was the most dominant pitcher in the American League. He’s got a Cy Young Award, two Cy Young runners-up, and two ERA titles to prove it, too.
He has also spent all 13 years of his career in an M’s uniform, and is under contract to spend three more. What he hasn’t done, however, is reach the postseason or log enough quality seasons for a Cooperstown ticket.
But Hernandez just turned 31 and still has Hall of Fame potential. And if he were to play a principal role in a World Series run, he would endear himself to the fan base in a way that surpasses legends of Mariners past. To do that, though, he’ll have to elevate himself from this good-but-not-great plane he’s been stuck on these past couple of years.
I’m doing something on who the next statue should be, and …
“It should be Edgar,” said Felix before I could finish my sentence. “No question. He’s the man here. He’s been here his whole career.”
What if it’s you one day?
“I’m still playing,” Hernandez said. “It should be Edgar first.”
Well, what would it mean if you got one?
“That means a lot.”
He is the most beloved Mariner not yet in the Hall of Fame. He might be the most beloved Mariner, period. And it’s not just because he played every season of his 18-year career in Seattle — it’s because he repeatedly abused baseballs like they were miniature pinatas.
Martinez led the American League in batting average and doubles twice, OPS and RBI once, and on-base percentage three times. He is a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner whose No. 11 will be retired alongside Griffey’s No. 24 later this season.
It’s hard to think many M’s fans would oppose an Edgar statue on or near the Safeco premises — but does that mean it’s deserved?
Image-sculpting isn’t an honor reserved for just any Hall of Famer. It’s not even an honor reserved for first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Go to Staples Center and you’ll see statues of Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaq, but you won’t see one of Elgin Baylor. You won’t see one of Scottie Pippen outside United Center despite his six rings, either.
Fair or not, it took Martinez eight tries to crack the 50 percent barrier on his Hall of Fame ballot, and he still hasn’t reached 60. That’s significant. But it’s also significant that he has an autograph line waiting for him whenever he steps on the field.
So who’s the next statue, Edgar?
“There’s no way to tell who it will be,” said Martinez, who already has a street and in-stadium cantina named after him. “It will probably be down the future — somebody that we don’t know.”
So you don’t think we’ve seen him yet?
“I don’t know,” he said.
What about you?
“That’s not my place to say.”
Someone we haven’t seen yet
Hey, there haven’t been any Seahawks or Sonics honored in bronze. A metallic enshrinement like that is rarified air. Just ask the Dodgers, who despite their storied history, erected their first ever statue of Jackie Robinson last week.
Griffey was the face of baseball for years and garnered the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history. There hasn’t been a Mariner on par with his prowess or productivity yet.
So perhaps we’re going to have to wait a while. A long while.
Or maybe it’s Taylor Motter.
Taylor, is it you?
“I think Edgar and Ichiro are the next two in line,” Motter said. “I think I’m a little bit further down the road.”