The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Is Edgar Martinez a Hall of Famer?

Edgar Martinez announced yesterday that he is retiring from Major League Baseball at the conclusion of this season. Fortunately for Martinez, Mariners executives have been respectful enough of him and his career accomplishments to not use this announcement as an excuse to give him his outright release, as they’ve found numerous reasons (many of them valid) to release many of their opening day starters already this year. Seriously though, Martinez is a great player and a career long Mariner. That is a statement that can rarely be made about anyone today, and Edgar earned the right to remain a Mariner over the duration of his career because of his steady hitting and steady demeanor.

One lasting memory that I will have about Edgar Martinez (no, it’s not like he’s dying or anything, just retiring) is how he regularly took batting practice with a bat with donuts on it. For those of you who haven’t played the game, donuts are weights – usually about a pound each – that hitters typically place on their bats when they are waiting to hit. This allows the hitter to feel like they’re swinging a lighter bat – and to swing it faster – when they remove the donut and go up to the plate. Other than Martinez, I’ve never even heard of anyone who took as much as batting practice with a donut on their bat (although I suppose since he started doing it others have tried it too). For one, it makes your bat heavy (which could be dealt with in batting practice), and it also would introduce odd angles to your bat, which could make it possible to foul a ball into your face (or somewhere else inopportune), causing a serious injury. Edgar never really had an issue with it though – at least not as far as I ever saw. I do remember seeing him hit with a donut once or twice in person and it was quite a feat.

Edgar’s lasting impression on the field though is another matter. With his announcement yesterday, much of the talk about his retirement has centered on whether or not he will become a Hall of Famer. Personally, I do not feel that he will be, and here’s why: Edgar’s career is marked by sustained solid play, but not excellence. Edgar would always give you a solid campaign, but was rarely amongst the game’s elite of the elite (two top 10 MVP finishes). Sure, Edgar is a 7-time All-Star, but the Hall of Fame is not made up of mere All-Stars. The Hall of Fame is made up of the All-Stars of All-Stars.

One of my favorite sources for determining whether or not a player is a likely Hall of Famer or not is Baseball Reference. At the bottom of every player’s page on Baseball Reference is a list of ten players who the player’s career is most similar too. Similarity scores are a measure established by Bill James that effectively determines the differences between players by subtracting points (starting from 1000) by comparing the differences in statistical totals (using various benchmarks) between players. You can look at this overall, through the player’s current age, and for each age the player was in the major leagues versus a peer of the same age. When you look at the lists for Edgar Martinez, you see a list full of names of solid players. Players you remember and players who most definitely contributed to making their teams win. However, you don’t find a lot of Hall of Famers. Of the most similar batters to Edgar Martinez, Chuck Klein (at number two) is the lone Hall of Famer (Chuck Klein? Well, he is one of the Phillies all-time greats; a player who established many club records that were later broken by a certain Michael Jack Schmidt; you probably don’t remember Klein though because his career ran from 1928 to 1944). Other similar players to Martinez include Will Clark, John Olerud, Larry Walker, Luis Gonzalez, Ellis Burks, Paul O’Neill, and Fred Lynn. Each of these men was a fine major leaguer; almost definitely someone you would want on any ball club. But are any of them Hall of Famers? It’s doubtful.

If you doubt how effective these similar player lists can be, check out a few other guys. Barry Bonds – a mortal lock to become a Hall of Famer five years after he retires – is listed as most similar to Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Rafael Palmeiro, Reggie Jackson, and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all of them are Hall of Famers except for Rafael Palmeiro, who more than likely will also become one when he retires.

Another player with similar chances of reaching the Hall of Fame as Martinez is one of his contemporaries, and a fellow DH, Harold Baines. Looking at similarity scores alone, Baines’s top four are Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Dave Parker, and Billy Williams. All but Parker are Hall of Famers. Baines’s chances might be better than Martinez’s based solely on this list, but Baines bounced around from team to team quite a bit during his career, and he was less talkative with the media than Martinez, so he’s less likely to get overwhelming support from any particular block of writers than most players. He was though, like Martinez, a solid and dependable player over a long period of time (six All-star games and two top 10 finishes in MVP voting).

On other measures that James developed, Martinez rates a little more favorably than Baines in terms of his chance for making the Hall of Fame. James developed Black ink and Gray ink tests, which measure how frequently a player led his league or was in the league’s top ten (respectively), during his career. James found that players who usually make the Hall of Fame tend to rate highly in these accounts, apparently because these results stick somewhere prominent in the minds of writers. Still though, both Martinez and Baines rate below where the typical Hall of Famer does in terms of both Black and Gray ink. Given that both would have to overcome the stigma of being (primarily) a designated hitter, that’s probably enough to doom their chances for earning enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

But if that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, that’s pretty good. Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez were both exemplary players with distinguished careers. We should all take the opportunity to enjoy the remainder of Martinez’s while we still can.


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