When Edgar Martinez had the most famous swing of his career — “The Double” as it’s known by in the Pacific Northwest — he was already 32 years old.
His career had a late start. So waiting all 10 years on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot before his election to Cooperstown was just another chapter in the arc of his life.
“I think the wait, I think I’m more mature right now. I think I’ve enjoyed it more at this point with my family, the way my kids are older now and it just has a lot of meaning, even more meaning now,” Martinez said. “The wait, actually it worked out well for me.”
In his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, Martinez was elected on Tuesday with 85.4 percent of the vote. His election marked a remarkable turnaround, climbing in his final five years of eligibility from an afterthought to on the ballot to and inductee.
It was a collective effort, from the Mariners organization constantly publicizing his worthiness, to die-hard fans who believed in the beloved Martinez, to voters taking a new look at the importance of a player who was primarily a designated hitter.
“I think it was really big part of why I’ve been elected,” Martinez said of the Mariners’ efforts. “They have done an amazing job sharing information about my career for the last seven years or so. and the effort and the work they have done definitely is one of the big reasons why I am talking to you today.”
He’s the second player to be inducted in Cooperstown under the Mariners umbrella. He joined Ken Griffey Jr. who until this year had the highest vote total in history at 99.3 percent in 2016. Griffey was topped by Mariano Rivera, a unanimous selection Tuesday.
“I finally got some company. ... This is one of those days that the Mariner family will never forget,” Griffey said on MLB Network.
Martinez said joining Griffey in Cooperstown made him realize how fast time has passed since they were teammates.
“We had a great time, great years together. Being elected alongside with him it means a lot. It makes me think how fast everything went, all those years,” Martinez said.
When Martinez lined Jack McDowell’s 0-1 pitch down the left-field line in the 11th inning of Game 5 of the 2005 AL Division Series against the Yankees, driving in Joey Cora and Griffey with the tying and series-winning runs, he provided Seattle an iconic moment. At that point Martinez had played just five full seasons in the majors after toiling in the minors for six seasons and missing a large portion of the 1993 due to injury that eventually ended his career as a third baseman.
It was what Martinez accomplished between ages 33 and 41 that landed him in Cooperstown. Beginning in 1996 through his retirement in 2004, Martinez hit .311 with 1,379 hits, a .424 on-base percentage and a .955 OPS. Five of his seven All-Star selections came during that span. That level of production later in his career left many to wonder what totals Martinez would have produced if he hadn’t been 27 years old before becoming a starter.
Martinez’s final ballot appearance also was the fourth straight year he saw a double-digit jump in his vote percentage. Just five years ago, Martinez was slogging at 25.2 percent and a year later was at 27 percent. But testaments from former opponents and teammates who have been inducted into the Hall, along with additional statistical analysis, bolstered his chances.
“I didn’t know exactly how I was going to feel, but the feeling, it’s an amazing feeling when you get that call and finally you’re going to be elected to the Hall of Fame,” Martinez said. “It’s a special moment. It’s something that I can share with the family, and people form Puerto Rico, and the fans and Seattle.”