“Edgar: An Autobiography”
The publishing info:
Triumph Books, $28, 352 pages, due to be released June 11
The review in 90 feet or less
The Angels’ series against the Mariners starts tonight in Anaheim – they’ve already played two in Seattle to start the month, losing both.
The Mariners’ signature to this season has been the home-run ball — they had one of ’em in their first 20 games to set an MLB record until they endured a 1-0 loss to at home Cleveland on Wednesday.
In his 18 year major league career, between the ages of 24 and 41, Edgar Martinez hit 309 long balls, with a high of 37 in 2000, when he also led the league with 145 RBIs to go with a .324 average.
He won two AL batting titles — .343 in ’92 and .356 in ’95, the later one that also included a league best 1.107 OPS, 52 doubles and 121 runs to go with a career best 182 hits. He was third in the AL MVP selection, the closest he ever got to winning it.
A seven-time AL All Star who came up as a third baseman, filled in at DH as needed and then became an All-Star designated hitter, also as needed.
We knew the numbers, more or less. Yet Baseball’s Hall of Fame didn’t have him on speed dial when he retired after the 2004 season.
It took until his final year of eligibility – five years past retirement, plus 10 years — for him to get enough votes (85.4 percent) from the Baseball Writers Association of America after initially getting 36.2 percent and actually falling to 27.0 percent as late as his sixth year of eligibility.
Martinez will go to Cooperstown this summer as the fifth Puerto Rican native, after his idol, Roberto Clemente, as well as Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar and Ivan Rodriguez.
It’s time to tell his story, his way, with the help of the long-time Seattle Times columnist, so we know what we’re really getting here aside from a handful of very good statistics – even he knows he didn’t reach milestones like 3,000 hits or even 400 homers, but having five Silver Sluggers and five times winning the award as the league’s top designated hitter – an honor now named for him.
The humility that exudes from this autobiography in simply telling his story of staying in Puerto Rico at age 11 to be with his grandparents when his mother went to be with his father in New York (convinced that is what made him dedicate himself to baseball) is enough to make the reader want to know more.
The fact he overcame strabismus – crossed eyes, or eyes that don’t work in tandem – since grade school but didn’t have it treated until he was in the Mariners’ system and visiting the team optometrist during a physical, is even more phenomenal.
Not only does Martinez tell the story in the first person, but Stone includes extended sidebar material from people like former Mariners optometrist Dr. Douglas Nikaitani as well as team trainer Rick Griffin provides much deeper context.
“There’s a lot of amazing things about Edgar, about his personality and his character, his morals, his worth ethic. One of the key ones was his eye condition. Probably anybody else that had it, they would not be able to play. He refused to let that get to him … (he would be doing) eye-exercise discs (when other players) on the team plane were playing cards. Visualization training to strengthen the muscles. In between at-bats. …”
Adds Martinez’ agent, Willie Sanchez: “He was at a batting cage, and there were 100 tennis balls and they had a number on them. At a certain speed, he could tell you the numbers on the tennis ball … They had the machine at 20 mph and I couldn’t see the numbers. He did this exercise every day.”
Martinez explains that in his overcompensation for his eye condition, he studied pitcher tendencies, how catchers called games and other edges he could pick up on.
“I learned that because of my condition, my mind actually helped me see better, as counter-intuitive as that might sound. I needed to visualize the fastball in order to prepare for the velocity and movement. The same with the breaking ball. I had to understand the shape, the velocity.”
Martinez now admits he had surgery just recently to correct the condition, afraid that doing it during his playing career risked a double-vision effect if he didn’t go well.
As Martinez delves further into his career, with more commentary from former teammates like Jim Presley, Harold Reynolds, Ken Griffey Jr., Dan Wilson, Mike Blowers, Jay Buhner, Alvin Davis, Bret Boone and former manager Lou Pinella, the story goes deeper.
There’s enough devoted to that 1995 season when the Mariners caught the Angels and forced a playoff – with commentary from the Angels’ Red Hudler and Mark Langston.
How it goes down in the scorebook
The Baseball-Reference.com has a way of crunching numbers to determine Hall of Fame comparisons. The most similiarity Martinez has to anyone who has played, as a hitter, is Will Clark, who will likely neve make the Hall. Then Matt Holiday, John Olerud and Moises Alou. Three more who will come far short. The “average Hall of Fame” has a standard grade of 50 according to the number system given for various categories. Martinez finished at 50.
But with the Hall of Fame Monitor, a Bill James’ creation, using a scale of 100 as a “good possibility” and 130 as “a virtual cinch” based on his point system, Martinez got a 132.
The book bio shouldn’t make any voter feel Martinez is getting on just numbers alone, or because he spent most of his career as a hired hitter with no expectations/need of a regular defensive position.
There’s an art to the DH that Martinez perfected, like a closer on the pitching staff. The best should be rewarded and acknowledged.
A fitting tribute comes near the end from Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who was the Mariners’ hitting coach for one season with Martinez: “I marveled at what he was able to do for a long time. We get way too consumed with mechanics as opposed to just having a plan against a certain pitcher, how you’re swinging, how they’re throwing, and going up there and giving yourself the best chance. … A little better health along the way and I know he could have done greater things. I still think he’s a Hall of Fame guy and I hope he gets acknowledged in that respect somewhere along the way.”
It’s a done deal, with this book out just time for this year’s ceremony.