Photo Credit: George Napolitano
COOPERSTOWN – The legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra once sang these unforgettable lyrics from his iconic tune New York, New York to euphoric fans who would accompany “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at sold-out concerts while crooning this timeless classic from their seats:
If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York
This Sunday afternoon, Edgar Martínez will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and although he was actually born in New York City, the baseball gods undeniably had a different career trajectory for this phenomenal ballplayer.
As a toddler, he lived with his maternal grandparents in Puerto Rico, became passionate about America’s Pastime after seeing Roberto Clemente’s unbelievable performance in the 1971 World Series to eventually sign and play 18 seasons (1987-2004) with the Seattle Mariners.
I always wondered what if Edgar Martínez, a 7x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger Award, 2x AL batting champion, 1995 LatinoMVP Award and most importantly the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award winner actually played not in Queens (ouch…and I’m a Mets fan) but across the Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge in the Bronx?
Would his extraordinary baseball narrative been reminiscent of the Sinatra’s memorable lyrics of being on Top of the List, Head of the Heap, King of the Hill?
Think about it. Imagine the late Bob Sheppard, who was the long-time public address announcer for the Yankees, reciting Edgar Martínez’s name as he approached the batter’s box:
“Now batting for the New York Yankees, the designated hitter, number 11, Edgar Martínez.”
Although he would never play in New York, Bronx Bombers fans may not know Martínez had a .965 OPS throughout his entire career against the Yankees. But which Latino pitcher, who threw the exact pitch throughout his illustrious career, hated facing this designated hitter every time he stepped in that same batter’s box?
HINT: This weekend, he’ll be in Cooperstown at the induction ceremony.
But, if you ask Jamie Moyer, 56, an All-Star pitcher and 2008 World Series champion who also received the 2003 Roberto Clemente Award about his dear friend playing in New York I’m certain he would have said, “Papi could do anything.”
And who knows, Edgar may have responded and told his former teammate, “Tu también viejo.” – which translates to “You too old man.”
On July 30, 1996, you were traded from the RedSox to the Seattle Mariners. What are your memories on meeting Edgar Martínez for the very first time?
I met him 60 feet 6 inches away (laughter) so that’s how I knew Edgar as a hitter. Upon being traded to the Mariners, it was one of those things when I walked into the clubhouse I said, “Whew – I don’t have to face that guy anymore.”
So, my follow-up to that question is how was it facing the great Edgar Martínez?
I don’t recall anything that stands out but I do know he was a very difficult hitter to face. He was one of those handful of hitters throughout my career that when you sat down to go over a scouting report, he was one of those guys I didn’t want to pitch to if the game was on the line. If I can pitch around him, I will and if you go inside he hits it, throw it away he hits it. Mostly pitchers in our generation try to pitch to the corner or off the plate. He didn’t chase too many bad pitches. After a while, seeing him with the amount of success he had was almost to the point you would say, “Really, you did this?” But with guys like Edgar, you would throw it down the middle with movement and let him get himself out. He was a smart hitter. He looked for pitches, deleted pitches from the pitcher and he would look for locations. More often than not, he was correct.
There so much we already know about Edgar Martínez the ballplayer but what can you share about the ballplayer off the field?
He is a very kind, soft-spoken person and I would also say kind of private too. He didn’t wear what he did publicly whether it was philanthropy and things like that. His family has done so many great things; not only in the Northwest but other places I’m not aware of. Being a Roberto Clemente Award winner also exemplifies somebody who if anyone knows anything about Clemente off the field he was an unbelievable humanitarian who lost his life – not by choice – in doing extraordinary things. Having your name placed alongside Roberto Clemente I can see that from a personal side but I’m sure Edgar would say the same thing that it’s a huge honor. Of course, I never met Roberto Clemente but I’ve been around Edgar and I would guess those two personalities are very similar.
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners had an unbelievable season for the ages. Not every organization can say their record was 116-46. Obviously both of you were on that historic team. Your record was 20-6 with a 3.43 ERA while Edgar slashed .306/.423/.543. Share with me your recollections of that team and seeing Edgar up-close during that run.
It’s a season that you almost have to pinch yourself. You look at yourself in the mirror and say is this really happening? At the end of 162 games, we are startled, looking around the clubhouse and again saying did this really happen. It’s a pretty cool milestone to be part of. It took every person who put on a uniform including our coaching staff, front office to accomplish that. When you have a guy like Edgar hitting 23 homeruns, batting .306, those numbers right there make you go, ‘Wow.’ And this is 2001. We’re not talking 2019 where 23 homeruns might be an average season. But here’s a guy hitting for average, not striking out 180 times in the season, hitting homers and by the way, driving in a lot of runs. Does this happen on a regular occurrence? No. Not only was it a magical season for the team but a magical season for Edgar. To be able to watch a player work hard, dedicate himself to his craft, his team and teammates, it’s really special.
Is there a memorable game playing alongside Edgar that you will never forget?
I’m going to share something and I wasn’t on this team but it’s been talked about a lot and that’s the 1995 Mariners. It’s on television right now. What the Mariners did to keep baseball in Seattle. I was there as an opposing player with the Orioles and now that I sit back and watch the documentary on television I take a totally different perspective. You see the finishing touches that Edgar put on some of those games late in the season. When the pressure was on him, the big hits he got, driving in the runs, and the leader he was in the clubhouse. I knew it as a teammate the year after. Now off the field, the one thing I will always remember when we had ‘Kangaroo Court.’ Edgar was the judge and a different side would come out – a funny side, a human side and a lighter side. It all had meaning and it was behind closed doors. It was teammates having fun and creating that camaraderie. I will go to my grave remembering with a smile on my face. And when he was called to make a decision in our quasi-courtroom, it was always fun and he always had the right things to say; whether he was trying to lift someone up or put someone in their place. How would Edgar be as a judge in real life? I think he would have been a phenomenal judge.
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