USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 24 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in advance of the Jan. 24 election results. The countdown is based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.
Today: No. 10 Edgar Martinez
Martinez was good enough to have an award named after him, but the position that award represents has dragged down his case for the Hall of Fame.
Recognized as one of the top three designated hitters ever along with Frank Thomas and David Ortiz, Martinez has been belittled because of his limited contributions as a fielder. He started 1,396 of his 2,055 career games at DH, compared to 532 at third base, his primary defensive position. He wasn’t much of a baserunner either.
But Martinez’s Hall chances have surged in recent years as his voting totals rose from 27% in 2015 to 58.6% in 2017, his eighth year of eligibility, partly due to campaigning by the Seattle Mariners that prompted voters to reexamine his case.
Standing at the plate in a distinctive stance with his bat parallel to the ground, Martinez uncoiled with an uncanny ability to make hard contact and earned acclaim as one of the great pure hitters of his era during an 18-year career spent entirely with the Mariners.
Martinez did not establish himself in the majors until 1990, at age 27, and despite decent defensive marks at third base was shifted permanently to DH five years later after enduring two injury-shortened seasons.
The combination of his late stardom – he first became an All-Star at 29 – and the limitations of the DH role have conspired to keep Martinez out of the Hall, though his candidacy has gained momentum.
The case for: A seven-time All-Star, Martinez was one of the key figures in the Mariners’ ascent from perennial doormats to four-time participants in the playoffs from 1995-2001, reviving and possibly preserving major league baseball in the Northwest. Perhaps no player has been more beloved in the area than Martinez, who played alongside Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson as well as a young Alex Rodriguez.
Martinez won two batting titles and became known as the consummate professional hitter, registering a lifetime batting average of .312 with 309 home runs and an OPS of .933.
No less an authority than Pedro Martinez, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2015, called Edgar Martinez “the toughest guy I faced.’’ All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera echoed those sentiments.
Even has he grew into his power – Martinez didn’t reach the 20-homer mark until age 32, but then averaged 26 home runs from 1995-2003 – he maintained his remarkable batting eye. Only once, in his final season at 41, did Martinez strike out as many as 100 times in a season, and his career on-base percentage of .418 ranks 21st all-time, right behind Thomas.
Martinez also delivered the most iconic moment in Mariners history, hitting an 11th-inning double that drove in the tying and winning runs in Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series against the New York Yankees, with Griffey scoring the clinching run. It was the first postseason appearance in franchise history.
The case against: Martinez played at a time of enhanced offensive production, also known as the steroid era, and in that context his hitting exploits were less impressive. He didn’t drive in as many as 75 runs until his ninth season, in 1995, when he began a stretch of six 100-plus RBI seasons in seven years.
Martinez’s 309 home runs rank only 132nd on the all-time list, and his 1,261 RBI are just one notch higher. Martinez batted .303 with plenty of doubles in his first eight years, some truncated by injuries or limited chances, but was far from a slugger until his early 30s.
He also finished in the top five in the MVP voting just once, third in 1995, when he led the AL in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage, runs, OPS and OPS-plus. By comparison, Griffey was a top-five finisher in the MVP race five times during their 11 seasons together.
X-factors: Martinez’s character was highly regarded beyond Seattle. He won the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award for his combination of outstanding on-field performance and work in the community.
And as the one Mariners icon who remained in Seattle his whole career as Griffey, Johnson and Rodriguez departed, he gained extra appreciation from the Northwest fans.
Martinez also somewhat made up for his late start with longevity, earning his final All-Star nod with an .895 OPS and 98 RBI in his next-to-last season at 40.
Consensus: Martinez falls short on the so-called counting stats, but has a strong case when looking at his rate production. His adjusted OPS of 147 is on par with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell, and the same figure as Jim Thome, another former corner infielder who spent considerable time at DH and is on the ballot for the first time this year.
Those kind of comparisons are helping Martinez’s candidacy, which figures to come up short this year but may get over the 75% threshold in his final attempt.
Gallery: 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot