On Sunday, Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
In advance of Sunday’s ceremony, we asked The Herald’s former Mariners beat writer Kirby Arnold to share some of his memories of Martinez.
Arnold was the sports editor of The Herald from 1987-1998 and served as the newspaper’s baseball beat writer from 1999-2011, a stint that included the final six seasons of Martinez’s 18-year career in Seattle.
Herald: What was it like covering Edgar Martinez and did you get a sense that he would one day be in Cooperstown?
Arnold: You know, I didn’t even put it in my mind early on, the whole Hall of Fame aspect of it, but then when you assemble it all together and the guy is getting toward the end of his career … you start thinking about it.
I remember thinking that this has got to be the best right-handed hitter that I’d ever seen with my own eyes and I just came to appreciate what Edgar could do with an at-bat and how he could work an at-bat and go up there with a plan and stick with it. He was a guy who never got rattled, no matter if it was a dire situation in the game where he had to come through, whether he was down 0-2 in the count or whatever. He was still the same hitter. I really appreciated everything he was able to do on that front as a hitter and in the field.
And personally, covering him was a lot of fun. (He was) just such a humble guy. Probably one of the two most humble athletes I’ve ever covered. … I’ll give you an example. He might have a game where he went 4-for-5, a double, a home run and a couple RBI and reporters would be standing around his locker afterwards. … He would walk up to the locker and we’d be standing there waiting for him and he’d have this surprised look on his face like, ‘Oh, you guys are waiting for me, you want to talk to me?’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah we want to talk to you. You were kind of the star of the game today.’ But that was Edgar. Very humble, quiet guy. Went about his work, very talented at his craft, but worked so hard to basically make himself a Hall of Famer.
Herald: How much of a leader was Edgar?
Arnold: He’s definitely a leader. I think in a lot of ways he was a quiet leader. I remember in 1999 or 2000, the Mariners had a guy on the team, he was a backup player, his name was Jon Mabry, just a good solid pinch-hitter, utility-type guy and I was talking with Mabry one time early afternoon before a game about Edgar and what made him so good and what type of guy he was in the clubhouse. (Mabry) said, ‘Well, look over there. Look at his locker.’ And there was Edgar doing exercises with a piece of surgical tubing and working his upper body … and then he would sit down and do his eye exercises. He was always working, always doing something.
He wasn’t leading by being vocal at that point, but every one could see what he was doing to make himself a better player. All you had to do in that clubhouse if you were on that team, especially if you were a young player, was look and see what Edgar was doing. … That was the kind of leader Edgar was.
But he was also a guy who could have great conversations with people. I remember talking to Bret Boone just a couple months ago, because Bret had a monster season in 2001. … And he said he had sat down with Edgar before that season and told Edgar, ‘I know I’m a .300 hitter, what can I do to make myself a .300 hitter?’ And Edgar told him, ‘Why do you just want to be a .300 hitter? Why don’t you be a .330 hitter? Set your mind in that place.’ And that sparked basically a few years when they were teammates a friendship. They would sit on the airplanes and talk hitting and go to dinner all the time and talk hitting.
Herald: What was your reaction when you first heard Martinez was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?
Arnold: I was happy for him, I was happy for everybody who believed he was a Hall of Famer. I always believed he was a Hall of Famer. I voted for him every year before he became eligible. I just felt like he could take over a game in a lot of ways. What he did in Game 4 (of the 1995 American League Divisional Series) — everybody thinks of Game 5 when he hit the double to win the series — but in Game 4, if Edgar doesn’t hit the two home runs, including the grand slam, and drive in seven runs in that game, the Mariners probably don’t have a Game 5. … He didn’t have, let’s say, the basic traditional numbers that were an old-style measurement of a Hall-of-Famer, but if you look deeper into his statistics and what he was able to accomplish, very few hitters, especially right-handed hitters, had the combination of success he did offensively.
Herald: What do you think Edgar’s induction will mean for baseball fans in the Northwest?
Arnold: I just think there is so much pride there because Edgar was a guy you could be proud of. He represented his team, he represented the city, he represented the game so well. He still does. I can just see this whole region just sitting there watching on TV on Sunday with so much pride at what he was able to accomplish. I know there’s going to be a lot of people in Cooperstown as well, because when (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) went in three years ago, there were people there with Edgar jerseys chanting Edgar’s name.
He’s one of the most beloved athletes a region can embrace.
This interview originally appeared on the The Herald Sports podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or anywhere you get your podcasts.