Now entering Cooperstown -- led by Edgar Martinez--the designated hitter.
Validation for the DH came Tuesday when Martinez, a seven-time All-Star who played his entire 18-year career with the Mariners, earned election to the Hall of Fame in his 10th and final year on the ballot of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received 85.4 of the vote, with 75 percent required for admittance.
Martinez, 56, will be joined at the induction ceremonies in July by Harold Baines, who fell off the BBWAA ballot after six tries but was elected last month by the 16-member Today’s Game Era committee.
Martinez said his career, along with that of Baines and recently retired David Ortiz, gives a higher profile to the DH.
“Obviously it's a position where the DH can help the team like in any other position,’’ he said on a conference call. “I think the fact that Harold Baines and me got in this year is gonna help the future of DH for years to come. I think it will make a difference.’’
Martinez said he reluctantly became a DH after injuries took him away from third base.
“At first it was hard to take,’’ he said, “because the first thing that came to my mind is like what's going to happen to my career, you know, if I have a bad year. It was an unknown to me what was ahead...We had a good team in the fact that if I was in the lineup the team was going to be better, so I just have to think about the team and that really helped. It makes a difference in my approach to the position.’’
Martinez started 1,396 of his 2,055 career games at DH, 532 at third base. He appeared in 68 percent of his games as designated hitter, the highest of anyone in the Hall. The others, by percentage, are Baines (58), Frank Thomas (56) and Paul Molitor (44).
Martinez was a full-time DH at age 32. He won two AL batting titles and had a career batting average of .312. He hit 309 home runs. Martinez was a punishing hitter against the Yankees, batting .317 with 22 homers and 103 runs batted in.
Martinez will join Ken Griffey Jr. as the second player representing the Mariners in Cooperstown. Griffey had received the highest percentage (99.3) of votes until Mariano Rivera’s unanimous selection, also on Tuesday. Martinez hit .579 lifetime against Rivera. Asked how, Martinez responded, "I don’t know,’’ during an interview on the MLB Network. ‘’Facing Mariano for so many years, you never felt like you had a good at-bat against him.’’
The DH was brought to the American League in 1973 to spark more offense. Former Yankee Ron Blomberg became the first DH to make a plate appearance when he walked with the bases loaded in his first at-bat against the Red Sox on Opening Day of the '73 season.
“This is a major, major, major, big story,’’ Blomberg said last Friday as it became clear Martinez would be elected. “People said that the DH isn't going to last, it's a fantasy position. Now it’s a validated position. Now it's going to change a lot about baseball. I became the egg of the DH. Now it exploded. Edgar opened up the egg. It’s a real baseball position now. Everybody said it wouldn't be in the game long. Each year kept on growing and growing.’’
Blomberg, 70, believes the election of Martinez could be the impetus for the universal DH in the big leagues. “I think,’’ he said, “the National League is forced to have it now.’’
Not many players can say they owned Mariano Rivera, but Edgar Martinez had his fellow Hall of Famer's number. His career stats against the Yankees' iconic closer:
HITS/ABs 11/19 (,579 BA)
EXTRA-BASE HITS 5
SLG PCT. .652