Advertisement

As Others Jump Ship, Martinez Remains the Anchor

Gone, gone and gone. Franchise player Randy Johnson. Franchise player Ken Griffey. Franchise player Alex Rodriguez. Gone to Arizona, Cincinnati and Texas. Gone for millions and millions of dollars. Gone and forgotten.

Funny how things work out. Edgar Martinez, the 38-year-old designated hitter, the player who can’t throw or field or run, he’s the one Seattle needed to keep.

It is Martinez, introspective, fiercely serious, seriously studious, raised by his grandparents in Puerto Rico, owner of an embroidery business in Seattle, who is the base of the pyramid of Mariner dominance.

“Edgar is,” says Seattle pitcher Norm Charlton, “simply an amazing hitter and an absolute professional. He studies every pitcher. He is prepared every game. He is the best example of what a major league baseball player should be.”

Advertisement

Through all the Seattle angst of watching Johnson, Griffey and Rodriguez happily leave town, Martinez, the player without the hype, the nickname, the guy without a Nike shoe named after him, the one who just kept hitting baseballs to all fields, the one who put down roots in Seattle and who has considered himself lucky to have achieved good fortune, has been the player the other Mariners find most indispensable.

Maybe we can’t always trust the hypesters. Maybe a team doesn’t become record-setting spectacular because of the dazzling talents of one superstar or another.

Martinez has been a Mariner since 1987 and he has been a Mariner ever since. Martinez almost became a businessman. He was discouraged about his baseball skills and enrolled at American University in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Having attended the a Seattle open tryout, Martinez was offered a $4,000 signing bonus which Martinez wasn’t going to accept. But then someone pointed out that Roberto Clemente signed for $400 and did pretty well.

That little piece of information was processed by Martinez. If Martinez was good enough, he would some day make much more than $4,000. If he loved the game enough, he would take the small check, leave Puerto Rico for Bellingham, Wash., and become a minor league baseball pro.

Advertisement

Done and done.

Martinez has the highest batting average in the American League over the last six seasons and is the only major league player to hit .320 or better each of the last six years.

He is self-effacing. He was never interested in complaining about being ignored for more physically talented or more hyped teammates. He never felt compelled to scream “Hey, I’m still here,” every time another Mariner all-star took off and prognosticators predicted Seattle failure.

There is joy in watching a true pro play this game, especially at the same time the Angels can’t seem to remember to always get the lead runner out first and are committing three ugly errors.

Martinez was two for four Sunday night. He scored a run, he also doubled. In the first inning, after two were out and the count three balls, two strikes, Martinez cracked a high fastball to left for a single. Martinez takes every at-bat seriously, as something precious to be worried over in his head, to be made to last as long as possible.

“It is my single job, to be a good hitter,” Martinez says. “Of course I would want to handle every at-bat the same--with all my effort.”

His eyes widen and a smile grows until it fills his face when he is asked about the magic of this season. The Mariners, after concluding a series sweep of the Angels with Sunday’s 5-0 win, are 59-21 and 21 games ahead of the Angels in the American League West. Martinez has been on good teams before. The Mariners were in the playoffs last year and the year before.

But this team is beyond good.

Advertisement

“We can’t be great yet, not in July,” Martinez says. “Some days I wake up and look at our record and wonder if I’m dreaming. It’s hard to explain, but the season is happening so fast. It is going by and it doesn’t seem like July already.

“When something is this good and this much fun, maybe you want it to slow down and never stop.”

It is, Martinez says, a credit to Seattle’s new leadoff hitter, Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese sensation. It is a credit to the Mariners’ bullpen or their starters. “Freddy Garcia, today, that shows you what I mean about our starters,” Martinez says of Garcia’s complete-game shutout.

Martinez mentions the steadiness of first baseman John Olerud and second baseman Bret Boone. He goes through almost the whole lineup, passing out compliments and expressions of delight about all the Mariners.

Except himself.

He laughs about never being considered Seattle’s indispensable man. “No one should have put me in the category of Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey, Jr.,” Martinez says. “You need the superstars on your team. I’m not a superstar.”

But then Martinez realizes that the 2001 Mariners don’t have a superstar. Suzuki will be one soon if he keeps it up but to be a superstar means to have accomplished greatness more than once.

There will always be arguments about whether to consider a designated hitter, even the best one ever, as great, as a superstar. Maybe Martinez isn’t a superstar. Maybe being a breathtakingly consistent hitter year after year is not a great accomplishment. Martinez doesn’t think it is. He is, after all, only doing his job.

Advertisement

As our local baseball teams get built and rebuilt, though, it is worth noticing Martinez. It is worth appreciating Martinez for what he does and not carping on what he doesn’t do. It is worth remembering that superstars come and go. And that Edgar Martinez stayed.

*

Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com


Advertisement