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Edgar Martinez And The Hall Of Fame: Eliminating The Worst Argument

Edgar Martinez probably isn't going to make the Hall of Fame this year either. That's a shame, but there's one argument against him that's particularly annoying.

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The debate surrounding Jeff Bagwell and the Hall of Fame has been thoroughly examined on this site, but it's still bizarre to think about. He makes it based on the stats. He should make it under the Most Feared clause that was invoked for Jim Rice, even. He won an MVP, made the All-Star team four times, and put up career stats that would be Hall-worthy if he had put them up in Fenway Park. But for over half of his career, he played in the Astrodome, where each game had two starting times because different sides of the stadium were in different time zones.

Yet Bagwell isn't the weirdest omission on a lot of the ballots that have been released. He's being left off because of weird critical-thinking errors and not-in-my-America righteousness. It's horrific, silly, and ugly, but it's not incomprehensible. It's not as if the reasons are a mystery. The reasons are just stupid.

The most bizarre omission for me every year without fail is that of Edgar Martinez. Two salient facts to kick the discussion off:

  • The rules of baseball have, since 1973, required that every team in the American League fill a position known as "the designated hitter"
  • Edgar Martinez was the best designated hitter in the history of the sport

Frank Thomas is probably the best hitter to play more than 50% of his games as a DH, so maybe that last point is a bit of a fudge. But it's also worth noting that no one is disputing Frank Thomas's viability as a Hall-of-Fame candidate. He might even make it on the first ballot because he's, rightly or wrongly, seen as one of the only pure great players of the Steroid Era.

Edgar Martinez should also be seen as one of the great players of whatever name you want to give that era. He was certainly one of the best hitters. He lead the AL in on-base percentage three times, made seven All-Star teams, and finished with a career OBP over .400, which is good for 18th-best all-time, though he has a ways to go to catch up to the career OBP leader for players who appeared in more than 1,000 games.

There are 19 players who finished their careers with a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500. Two of them played for the Rockies, pre-humidor. Two of them might never make the Hall of Fame because of scandal. Three of them will make the Hall of Fame unless they're caught up in a scandal. The rest are super-inner-circle-gold-star Hall-of-Famers. Jimmie Foxx. Mel Ott. Stan Musial. Those types.

But you knew all of this. And if you're looking for a comprehensive statistical argument for Martinez, there are better places to look. This isn't an article to convince people who wouldn't vote for Martinez because he wasn't a great hitter for long enough. That's a reason that's at least worth debating. It's wrong, of course, but it only gives me the urge to be a condescending internet jerk, not the urge to throw a chair through a window.

What baffles me is the argument that Edgar Martinez isn't a Hall-of-Famer because he was a designated hitter. It's like not voting for Greg Maddux because he didn't rush for enough yardage. It's a total non sequitur -- it's an invented reason that makes no sense. A reprise of the facts from above:

  • The rules of baseball have, since 1973, required that every team in the American League fill a position known as "the designated hitter"
  • Edgar Martinez was the best designated hitter in the history of the sport

Relievers don't pitch every day, and when they do, they usually pitch a small portion of the innings in that game. Can you imagine a writer expressly refusing to vote for a reliever?

Mariano Rivera is by most accounts the greatest reliever of the modern era, if not all-time. But he's only been worth 56 rWAR over his career, fewer than Willie Randolph, Willie Davis, and Willie Clark. If those guys can't get in, well, certainly a reliever can't make it.

Ludicrous. Laughable. Yet not that dissimilar. Other comparable arguments:

And if second basemen are so great, why aren't they shortstops? There's a stink of failure around every single second baseman. Someone had to look at them and figure that they couldn't handle it at short. Can't vote for any of them.

What's the deal with right-handed throwing first basemen? I get it if they throw lefty -- they didn't have the option to play wherever they wanted. But right-handed first basemen? They just clogged up a position, eliminating a lineup spot that most teams fill with top-tier hitters. That hurts their team, and I refuse to consider them.

There is a position called the designated hitter. It's in the rules and everything. Therefore, those baseball players should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. You don't get to remove the gannet from Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds because they wet their nests, and you don't get to eliminate DHs entirely from the Hall of Fame. I'll deal with stupid arguments -- and we'll have to as more ballots get released over the next couple of weeks -- but I'm not a fan of invented parameters.

Martinez received 36.2% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. That dropped to 32.9% last year. It doesn't look good for Edgar, at least not yet. But for over a decade, Edgar Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball. It matters where he played -- that's why we consider Alan Trammell but not J.T. Snow -- but playing the wrong position shouldn't exclude anyone. Any argument to that effect is legitimately depressing.