|M's great Martinez: Best former factory worker turned standout DH|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 01 June 2007 16:16|
The deal: Years of toiling in the minor leagues before a chance in Seattle, for a signing bonus of $5,000 - the baseball equivalent of a bat rack, even in 1982.
Martinez's response: ``No, thanks.''
He eventually changed his mind, and the Mariners have been grateful ever since. The team will honor Martinez on Saturday night by making him the third player inducted in the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He'll join Alvin Davis and Jay Buhner plus broadcaster Dave Niehaus.
``It's incredible,'' said the 44-year-old Martinez, who retired in 2004. ``I'm overwhelmed.''
Martinez was 19 when he turned down Seattle initially. He wanted to keep his $4-per-hour job and the crew of 12 machinists he led at the factory. He wanted to continue his studies at American University in Puerto Rico toward a business degree and keep his good second income as a year-round, weekend third baseman in semipro leagues.
``For Puerto Rico, it was a comfortable living for a single, young kid,'' Martinez said.
He ended up securing a much more comfortable living with the Mariners, making seven All-Star teams in 18 seasons in Seattle and finished with a career batting average of .312. He was so respected that the American League named its annual award for the best designated hitter after him.
He didn't fare too badly off the field either, becoming the first Puerto Rican to win baseball's Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarian service in 2004.
And his cousin, former major league outfielder Carmelo Martinez, had to talk him into accepting that meager Mariners offer.
``Carmelo Martinez and I had an argument,'' Martinez told a luncheon in his honor on Friday. ``He said, 'Sign it! I know you can make it.'''
Buhner also spoke at the luncheon at Safeco Field, calling Martinez ``the most unheralded player ever.''
``You never asked for anything,'' Buhner said, uncharacteristically serious after a series of jokes and stories - including one about Martinez dressing up as his cinematic hero Austin Powers, rotten teeth and all, to break the daily clubhouse monotony.
``You stayed with Seattle for 18 years,'' Buhner said. ``You could have gone anywhere, in this era of free agency and big bucks. That's special.''
Martinez remains the Mariners' career leader in games played (2,055), at-bats (7,213), hits (2,247), runs (1,219), RBIs (1,261), doubles (514) and walks (1,283).
Martinez, who was born in New York and raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico, is so beloved in Seattle that the thoroughfare linking Safeco Field to the city's two main freeways is Edgar Martinez Way.
He had the division series-winning hit - known in Seattle as ``The Double'' - that beat the Yankees and got the city to its first AL championship series in 1995. That likely saved the Mariners from moving, because it led to special legislation that fall creating Safeco Field to replace the despised old Kingdome.
Martinez twice led the AL in batting, including when he hit .356 in 1995. He also led the AL with 52 doubles and a .479 on-base percentage that year, both career highs, while usually hitting behind Ken Griffey Jr.
``He is by far the worst right-handed hitter I've ever played with. I mean, he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat into Puget Sound,'' a straight-faced Griffey said in his Cincinnati Reds uniform, deadpanning in a message delivered over the stadium's videoboard Friday.
Martinez, a key to Seattle's 2001 team that won an AL-record 116 games, also was quite skilled at keeping at a straight face. Buhner recalled how Martinez once spiced up a dull spring training week, pretending to be bothered by salsa music blaring from the clubhouse stereo while he meticulously weighed his bats, as he always did.
After a couple of times turning the music down only to have it turned back up, Martinez took one of his cherished bats and obliterated the stereo. All that was left was the tuning knob - and a beat-up bat.
``Oh, that's not good. B.P. bat,'' Martinez said. He then simply returned to weighing more bats while the rest of the team stared in disbelief.
A minute later, Martinez bowled over laughing. So did all his teammates. The next day, Martinez had a new, deluxe stereo system installed in the clubhouse.