Tick, tock. Tick, tock. . . .
Time is running out on Edgar Martinez’s pursuit of baseball immortality and unless something totally unexpected happens — he receives at least 75 percent of the 400-plus votes cast this year — the former Mariners Designated Hitter extraordinaire will have just two more chances to earn his rightful place, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
He definitely belongs in Cooperstown, N.Y. and as long as his name is on the HOF ballot I will make him one of my 10 (or fewer) selections. This marks the eighth consecutive year that I have put an ‘x’ in the box in front of his name on the ballot.
The recently-changed eligibility period, reduced from 15 years to 10 years, means Martinez’s final year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot would be for the Class of 2019. At that point another group of voters would decide his HOF fate.
The results of this BBWAA election will be announced on Jan. 18 at 3 p.m. PT. Any candidate receiving votes on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 30, 2017 along with Today’s Game Era electees John Schuerholz and Bud Selig, Spink Award winner Claire Smith and Frick Award winner, the late Bill King.
Although I am softening a little towards a few of the Performance Enhancing Drugs culprits, I still refuse to vote for the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, the Poster Children of the PED era.
Conversely, Edgar Martinez always did it the right way and went about it quietly. And now that David Ortiz has retired, and five years from now will become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the DH position that he and Martinez filled so magnificently during most of their MLB careers is being appreciated instead of degraded.
As I tell anyone willing to listen: Martinez moved from third base to DH to make his team better, not because he was a terrible defensive player. Even so, his forte was hitting and when other Hall of Famers say Edgar was the best right-handed hitter they ever saw, it’s high time the voters listen.
A .300-or-better hitter in 10 different seasons, Martinez is one of only nine players in MLB history with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average higher than .300, a career OBP higher than .400 and a career slugging percentage higher than .500. All that is worthy of Hall of Fame status.
This could be the year that Martinez, a two-time American League batting champion who spent his entire career with the Mariners, makes another major step toward the 75 percent threshold.
He made his most significant percentage increase last year, going from 27 percent in 2014 to 43.4 in 2015– an encouraging 16.4 percent increase and seventh-best vote total overall.
So what will the most recent vote indicate?
As he recently told Seattle Times sports columnist Larry Stone, “I think this year will tell whether I’m going to be close or have a chance. I will be watching and seeing how this year goes.”
Two of the candidates that finished ahead of Martinez last year (Clemens and Bonds) are still being denied the support needed for induction because of their link to performance enhancing drugs. I am still in the “not worthy” category and refuse to vote for either one.
Even with Clemens and Bonds finishing ahead of him last year, when former Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr., and perennial National League All-Star catcher Mike Piazza were selected, the competition for Edgar this year isn’t quite the same. Junior received a record 99.3 percent of the vote, being left off just three of the 430 ballots submitted.
(Note: No one has admitted to NOT voting for Griffey.)
There is no such sure-fire candidate this year, although many believe as many as three of the 35 candidates on the ballot will make the grade. That includes catcher Ivan Rodriguez, one of 19 first-time candidates.
The 14-time All-Star and 1999 American League MVP, Rodriguez played 21 seasons for Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals, winning13 Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards as a catcher.
Being a first-ballot Hall of Famer seems to be a no-brainer for this voter. I-Rod won 2003 NLCS MVP award in helping the Marlins win their second World Series title. Rodriguez appeared in 2,427 games as a catcher, the most in history. He was, without question, the best overall catcher I watched over a 40-year career. He could, hit, throw and do all the other things that make someone a Hall of Famer.
Among the top returners from last year, former Astros star first baseman Jeff Bagwell probably has the best chance to gain entry into the most prestigious Hall of Fame. He garnered 71.6 percent of the votes a year ago (his sixth year on the ballot). He would join long-time teammate Craig Biggio (Class of 2015) in the HOF – and rightly so.
Bagwell has had to deal with unproven rumors about PED use during a career that produced a Rookie of the Year Award, one National League Most Valuable Player Award, and four All-Star Game selections. He hit at least .300 six times in his 15-year MLB career.
It’s now or never for Tim Raines, the first candidate to be subjected to the 10-year rule. Despite being the NL equivalent of Hall Famer Rickey Henderson, Raines has been denied entry into Cooperstown. He received an all-time personal high 69.8 percent of the votes cast last year and is expected to reach the magic number this time. His name was checked for the 10th consecutive time on my ballot.
An All-Star selection in seven straight seasons (1981-87), Raines led the NL in stolen bases four times. He also finished in the Top 10 in NL MVP voting three times and received a Silver Slugger Award in 1986; hit at least .300 in seven full seasons and scored at least 100 runs in six, owns the second-highest stolen base percentage (84.7) of any player with at least 300 attempts, and compiled the fifth-most stolen bases (808) in major league history.
For good measure, he led NL outfielders with 21 assists in 1983 and played on two World Series championship teams.
Two great relief pitchers complete my ballot — Lee Smith, who is in his 15th and final year of eligibility, and — for the second time — Trevor Hoffman, a certain selection well before his 10-year window closes. Smith was grandfathered into the 15-year eligibility period which had been the case since the HOF was founded in the 1930s.