SEATTLE – Next stop, Cooperstown?
That was the underlying theme at Safeco Field on Saturday when the Mariners “officially” retired the uniform number – 11 – that ONLY Edgar Martinez wore during and after a stellar 18-year Major League career that included “The Double”, two American League batting championships, seven All-Star Games, and the love and respect of a legion of fans too many to count.
Many of those fans jammed Safeco to honor the Puerto Rico native who adopted Seattle as his full-time home long before his playing career ended in 2004.
With his wife, Holli, and their three children — Alex, Tessa and Jacqueline — sitting alongside, “Gar” received a 45-minute tribute, including a classy video narrated by Cal Ripken, Jr., a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 2007. The video ended with a shot of the doors at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Swing by swing, day by day and season by season,” Ripken said, “Edgar Martinez was pure dedication, always prepared to write Mariners history.”
Edgar is on the precipice of adding to Mariners history, and has two more years to make it happen. That is how much time he has remaining to be voted into Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. My prediction is he will be part of the 2019 Class. He has gradually climbed the ballot ladder, receiving 58.6 percent of the votes cast in the most recent election. Seventy-five percent is required for selection.
As it is, Martinez becomes only the second Mariner to have his number retired, joining Ken Griffey Jr., who made “24” the most popular uniform number in the Northwest and beyond. Junior was among the former Mariners participating in Saturday’s festivities, along with Gar’s cousin, Carmelo Martinez, Willie Horton, ex-coaches Sam Perlozzo and Lee Elia, Marilyn Niehaus, Alvin Davis, Jamie Moyer, Dan Wilson and Jay Buhner. Former manager Lou Piniella and HOF pitcher Randy Johnson could not attend, but contributed video salutes to one of the most popular and productive players in franchise history.
Edgar helped save Major League Baseball in Seattle during the September to Remember — in 1995.
On the verge of being sold and moved to St. Petersburg at the end of the ’95 season, the team turned a 12 1/2 game deficit in mid-August into a pulsating stretch drive that led to a one-game playoff to decide which team, the M’s or Angels, would advance to the AL Playoffs.
It seemed only fitting that the Angels were Saturday’s opponents and the losing pitcher in that game, former Mariner All-Star Mark Langston, was in the visiting television booth. That victory propelled Seattle into the post-season for the first time in franchise history.
After two consecutive losses at Yankee Stadium in the best-of-five series, the series returned to the Kingdome, where crowds of 50,000-plus witnessed three of the most memorable Mariners wins of all-time, the capper being Martinez’s two-run double in the bottom of the 11th inning that gave the Mariners a 5-4 win and made Edgar an instant icon.
Although the Mariners were eliminated in the AL Championship Series, preventing the franchise from playing in the World Series — a streak that is now 39 years and counting — Martinez did his part to give Seattle a winning baseball team.
Along the way he:
*Won five Designated Hitter of the Year Awards (1995, ’97, ’98, 2000, ’01) and the award was re-named the “Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award” by then-Commission Bud Selig in 2004.
*Holds franchise record for doubles, runs, RBI, walks, total bases, extra-base hits, games played and on-base percentage.
*One of nine players in MLB history to have at least 2,000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 home runs, 1,200 RBI and 1,200 walks with one team. Of the other eight, six are in the HOF (Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski) and another (Chipper Jones) surely will be a first-ballot selection next year.
*Won the coveted Roberto Clemente Award (for community service) in 2004.
*Has a street (Edgar Martinez Drive South) named in his honor.
From day one of his remarkable career, to Saturday’s celebration, Edgar has been one of the most humble people you’d ever know.
He took center stage behind the podium near home plate and thanked practically everyone in house for making him the player and person he became — and his. He thanked his cousin, Carmelo, for persuading him to sign his first professional contract — in 1982 as a teenager. One fan hollered out “Thank You Carmelo!” Gar saluted former teammates, coaches, managers (especially Sweet Lou), the fans and his family.
“I was so fortunate to play in front you for 18 years,” he told the crowd. “Thank you for taking me as one of your own and welcoming me into your homes. You were the force that kept me going. I am so grateful. Thank you, thank you, Seattle.”