Edgar Martinez is a legend in my adopted hometown. In a city where the baseball history has been...spotty, Edgar is a symbol of some rather impressive years. While he was not the absolute best player on those teams - Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez would all weigh in on that debate - he was maybe the most loved. While the others all went on to play elsewhere, Martinez came up as at age 24 and retired as a Mariner at age 41, and never played anywhere else. Dude has a street near Safeco Field named after him.
But being one of the greatest Mariners of all-time is probably not enough to get you inducted into the Hall of Fame. Guess we'll have to look deeper.
The case for Martinez as a Hall of Famer
The case can be pretty much boiled down to .312/.418/.515, Martinez's career triple-slash line. And while he wasn't one of those guys who compiles all the big counting numbers, it is not like Martinez was a flash in the pan. He played in 18 seasons, including 12 with 500+ plate appearances. His final year was not pretty, but at age 40 in 2003, he put up a .294/.406/.489 line. The guy could flat out hit.
Here's another look at that batting line - 95/21/68. Those are his all-time ranks. The guy was one of the best ever at getting on-base (he walked more than he struck out in his career), and he was certainly Hall-caliber in batting average. But it's not like he was a pesky slap hitter who managed high averages - he could crush the ball, as well.
His OPS is 34th all-time, and before you go and tell me "steroid era," his wRC+ was 34th and his wOBA was 57th. Even in the context of when he played, even when going deeper than just OPS, the guy was one of the best hitters who ever lived. He's not Ted Williams or Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, but almost no one is.
But 240 players have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, to date, and 74 are pitchers. Even if we assume that half of the remaining 166 got in because of their defense (which is definitely not true), Martinez was undeniably a Hall-of-Fame caliber hitter in terms of his ability to get hits, get on base, and hit for power.
The case against Martinez as a Hall of Famer
There are two issues here, both of which were hinted at above. One is that Martinez was basically a full-time DH his whole career, playing only 592 games in the field out of 2055 total in his career. Almost all of those games were at 3B where he was nothing special, to say the least.
Depending how you count Frank Thomas, who played 971 of his 2322 games at 1B, there are either no DHs or only one DH in the Hall of Fame. And Martinez, while great, is not Thomas
The second issue is that he did not, as noted above, compile the big counting stats. He had 2247 hits (not 3000) and 309 HR (not 500). He did break 500 doubles (514) but the 500-double Club is about twice the size of the 500-HR club.
My Two Cents
This is one of the hardest cases I have had to deal with. By WAR, Martinez is better than the average Hall of Fame 3B or 1B, and had a better peak than the average at either position, as well. But had he played POOR defense at 3B and taken away from his WAR, he might have fallen just below those numbers.
But my goodness those rate stats. The guy could flat out rake, and he could beat you any way imaginable - with a walk, with a hit, with power.
But here is what this comes down to, for me. Like closers/relief pitchers, DHs are a part of the game - it is a legitimate position that has to be filled and the best of the best at filling that position should be in the Hall. If you are going to put in Mariano Rivera (which you are), and Dennis Eckersley (which you did), and Lee Smith (which you also did), and Trevor Hoffman (which you might), you also need to put in the best of the best at DH.
And that is Edgar. There are four players who played a decent amount of DH (players whose careers were greatly impacted by being able to DH) with a career wRC+ over 140 - Thomas, Martinez, Jim Thome, and Jason Giambi. Only Thomas (154) and Martinez (147) are over 145.
Thome will get in. David Ortiz (who has a 138 career wRC+) is probably going to get an awful lot of support. Giambi is going to be an interesting case.
And for me, as either the best or second best DH in the history of the game, Edgar Martinez needs to get in, too.