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Saturday, September 25, 2004
Updated: September 27, 11:30 AM ET
Martinez is beloved by Seattle fans; what about Hall voters?

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Edgar Martinez has been swinging his bat in Seattle so long, he seems as much a city fixture as the Space Needle and Pioneer Square.

Unlike the landmarks, Martinez won't be on display much longer. Retirement is looming for the 41-year-old Seattle Mariners star, regarded as one of the best right-handed hitters of his generation.

"I know when I get to that final homestand, I'm going to feel very emotional about it," Martinez said. "I know I'm going to miss the competition and everything that goes with baseball."

Martinez will retire as a seven-time All-Star and two-time American League batting champion. He'll be remembered as one of the nicest guys in baseball, beloved by Seattle fans and an exceptional clubhouse presence.

"Edgar is very special person," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said. "He's a very loyal person, a great teammate."

His retirement also is likely to test the limits on one of baseball's most fiery debates. Martinez will be the most accomplished career designated hitter to contend for a plaque at Cooperstown.

"I think the writers have spoken in my case and they will again in the future," said Seattle hitting coach Paul Molitor, inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer after playing the final eight seasons of his career at DH. "They're not going to hold it against you. It's part of the game and should be included as such."

Ask anybody in Seattle whether Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame, and the answer is as certain as winter rainfall. Outside the Pacific Northwest, however, it's less clear-cut.

"If you look purely at numbers, he's borderline," Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia said.

Martinez is a career .311 hitter with 308 homers, 2,240 hits, 1,258 RBIss and an on-base percentage of .419. With 10 games remaining this season, he was hitting .268 on the year with 11 home runs, 121 hits, 60 RBIss and a .351 on-base percentage.

Martinez's 1,000 RBIss as a DH are the highest total by anyone who played at least 1,000 games at that position. The same goes for Martinez's .315 average as a DH and his 242 homers as a DH.

He's the seventh player with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles (514), 1,000 walks (1,282), a career batting average of at least .300 and a career on-base percentage of at least .400.

The others are Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. Hornsby and Martinez are the only right-handed hitters on that list.

"He was one of the most feared right-handed hitters for a long time in this league," Molitor said. "The amount of respect he has from peers speaks to the value of the offensive player he was."

Martinez is well short of the magical numbers that usually guarantee a spot in Cooperstown: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

For every rule there's an exception: Kirby Puckett was enshrined in 2001 with a .318 career average, 2,304 hits and 207 homers.

Puckett, though, was famous for his defense, something that works against Martinez, and Puckett's career was cut short because glaucoma blinded his right eye.

It's worth noting that Martinez played 563 games at third base and 28 at first before settling in as a full-time DH in 1992, when he won his first batting title with a .343 average.

Martinez hit .356 in 1995 to win his second batting crown. That year, he had the highest average by a right-handed AL batting champion since Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939.

Martinez also had the biggest hit in franchise history.

His 11th-inning double in the fifth game of the 1995 AL division series touched off a frenzy at the Kingdome when Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr. scored, lifting the Mariners to a thrilling 6-5 win over the New York Yankees.

"A lot of people remember that double when they talk about my career," Martinez said. "I'd say, yeah, that would define my career."

In "Out of Left Field," a book by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Art Thiel, former M's manager Lou Piniella called it "the hit, the run, the game, the series and the season that saved baseball in Seattle."

At the time, the state Legislature was considering funding for what eventually became Safeco Field and a local ownership group was fighting to keep the team in Seattle. The excitement of the franchise's first postseason series victory built invaluable support.

How fitting that Martinez was the player who delivered the clutch hit.

"In my mind, he's a Hall of Famer. I think he's the Tony Perez of our generation," Scioscia said. "If you talk about a guy who consistently hit the ball hard on an at-bat by at-bat basis, Edgar is in an elite group.

"You're talking about some all-time greats you would compare him to. He's definitely the one guy you didn't want to see come up there with the game on the line," Scioscia said.

Martinez said he'll just sit back and let the Hall voters think it out.

"There are a lot of different opinions about it," he said. "What I think is that the DH makes a daily contribution to the team, just like any position player who plays every day."

Martinez's meticulous preparation is the stuff of legend. He selects bats using a digital scale at his locker and begins his hitting routine under the seats three or four batters before he's due on deck.

Raised by his grandparents in Puerto Rico, Martinez credits his grandfather for his perfectionist approach. One week after each season ended, Martinez was in the weight room.

"Edgar defined the position of the DH," said Anaheim's Troy Glaus. "He was the first guy to take it on as a role, not just as a guy who's banged up and had to DH for a week. He's done it at a very high level, and that's not an easy thing to do."

Without question, Martinez's history of injuries contributed to his job as DH. He's had to play through some kind of affliction nearly every year since 1990, his first full season in the majors.

In recent years, Martinez battled a notorious hamstring injury and performed eye exercises to maintain sharpness in his vision. Last year, he played the final month with a broken toe in his right foot.

As of midweek, he hadn't played since fouling a pitch off his left foot Sept. 18. Had he ever played on a National League team, Martinez believes he could have handled first or third every day.

"And the way he hits, believe me, Edgar would have been playing out on the field somewhere," Seattle manager Bob Melvin said.

Martinez ranks among those rarest of modern athletes by spending his entire career with the same team. He signed in December 1982 and made his major league debut on Sept. 12, 1987 against the Chicago White Sox.

"It is important. Not many players do that any more," Martinez said. "I always felt great here. I love to play here. I've always enjoyed it immensely to play here. I always wanted to stay."

Armstrong noted most fans think of Cal Ripken when they think of the Orioles. With the Padres, it's Tony Gwynn. The Red Sox had Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and the Yankees had Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

"As the years go by, I believe when people think of the Mariners they'll think of Edgar Martinez," Armstrong said.