On Edgar’s Near Miss

marc w · January 25, 2018 at 7:20 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It was always going to be close. In his 9th time on the ballot, Edgar Martinez had 77% of the ballots that had been made public, just barely ahead of the 75% needed for induction into the Hall of Fame. Once you include the ballots made public *after* MLB’s announcement, Edgar was included on about 80% of all of the public ballots. It wasn’t enough. Edgar fell 20 votes short, as he was selected on under 60% of the private ballots. He has one more shot with the Baseball Writers Association, and, if past trends hold, he’ll make it in next year.

Random thoughts:

1: There’s some irony in the fact that it’s taking Edgar so long despite being eminently qualified. Part of the reason why Edgar’s in this situation at all is that he simply doesn’t have the career length some voters want – a fact created by the Mariners’ bizarre refusal to give him a real shot at their line-up until Edgar was 27.

2: The gap between public and private ballots was larger for Edgar than it is for many other potential inductees, and it fits a pattern that we’ve seen for several years – one we can see thanks to the tireless work of Ryan Thibodaux and his awesome HOF ballot tracker. This gap is higher among certain player types than it is with others. The PED guys, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, were selected on far fewer private ballots, while Omar Vizquel and Trevor Hoffman actually did *better* on the private ballots. Edgar’s not a PED guy, so why does this same pattern hold?

If there’s a comparable player on the ballot, I’d say it’s Mike Mussina, another player who was overlooked by writers at the time, and whose value outstrips his name recognition or, to put it another way, his fame. Mussina, whose fWAR/bWAR would seem to make him an easy choice, got about 70% of the public ballots released before today. He got just 54% of private ballots, and thus fell well short. If your case rests on WAR – or any other newfangled metric – you’re going to struggle with the private ballots. As campaigns for deserving players take hold, and they’ve been emboldened by the successful campaigns for Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines, voters who see this as weakening the hall have dug in their heels – and refused to make their ballots public.

In short, Edgar’s a case that highlights a fundamental disagreement among voters regarding what a HOF player is, and thus what the Hall’s supposed to be. You’ve got those for whom overall career value is key, and then you’ve got those who vote for something more like impact; on how memorable a player was. You’ve got voters who’ll never vote for a designated hitter, two generations after the AL brought the position in. And you’ve got voters who’ll reliably vote for elite closers, a similarly recent development. You’ve got small-hall people who voted against Jeff Bagwell or Larry Walker, and you’ve got people who vote for Omar, Andruw Jones (or Kirby Puckett or Jim Rice) whose overall value would seem to fall short of the voters’ own standards. At the end of the day, the group favoring Edgar and Edgar-like players is winning, and Edgar will be enshrined next year. If you can get past your anger at how Edgar’s been overlooked, it’s actually a really interesting dynamic to watch play out.

3: That dynamic doesn’t map perfectly to the age of the voters, but the Venn diagram is pretty close. The Hall’s recognized that this sort of thing might happen, hence the various Veteran’s Committees that go through and elect some other worthies that the writers may have overlooked. In general – and this is something that’s been discussed in more detail and better style by other writers – the Vets have fundamentally different standards, and thus have elected far more “marginal” cases. It’s generally fallen to the Vets to select among the specialists – glove-first guys like Bill Mazeroski or, even more controversially, High Pockets Kelly.

As the game grows more specialized, the Writers Association’s now dealing with a lot of specialists. They weighed the merits of glove-first players like Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones this year, and they’ve now had plenty of time to weigh the merits of designated hitters in time to ignore their own misgivings and usher David Ortiz.

The growth of relief pitching means that starters are pitching fewer and fewer innings. The Writers clearly don’t mind closers, implying that specialists who come with their own theme music are A-OK, but their standards for starters may need to adjust. As their barometer adjusts for starters, it’s also clearly adjusting to account for a more holistic view of position players, too. Adrian Beltre seemed like a marginal case a few years ago, but a brilliant late-career surge along with writers’ increasing fluency in WAR frameworks and defensive metrics would seem to make him an easy selection. The voting’s getting better, and while it’ll take a long time, the massive gap between the Writers and the VC may start to close.

4: All of that said, I find myself caring less and less about the Hall. That’s not a pose as a cynical blogger, or a protest at voters who vote for two strange candidates and call it a ballot, or who return blank ballots to make a point. The larger issue is that so many people have very different ideas about what the Hall is, and my own view (Large Hall) is in the distinct minority.

It’s ludicrous that Trevor Hoffman or Omar got votes while Edgar didn’t, but I don’t really have the desire to trash their candidacies. If it was me, I’d let Omar in, actually. Sure, he’s not quite at Ozzie Smith’s level, but in part that’s due to the fact that Ozzie played at a time in which strike outs were comparatively rare, meaning he got tons and tons more chances. Omar spanned several eras of the game, and his statistics suffer for it. He predates the steroid era, but gets penalized for playing through it. Was Edgar a better, more valuable baseball player? Yeah, sure. But if we only induct the *best defensive shortstop of his generation* every few generations, then I think we’re getting a bit picky. Others disagree; it’s not enough to be a brilliant SS, you’ve got to do SOMETHING with the bat as well. I get that argument, and I recognize that it’s winning and will continue to win. I just don’t agree with it.

That’s been one of the frustrating things about Edgar’s 9-year odyssey on the ballot. Dealing with counter-arguments feels like playing whack-a-mole, and arguing that Edgar Martinez was great seems like arguing that the sky is blue. This isn’t the Hall’s fault, but this is what the Hall makes us *do* every winter. It’s…not fun. The downside here is that I’m not going to feel as joyous as others next year. I’ll be happy for Edgar, the M’s, the Hall, and baseball itself, but the disengagement I’ve felt this year will come back to bite me next year.


12 Responses to “On Edgar’s Near Miss”

  1. heyoka on January 26th, 2018 5:56 am

    I could say a bunch of glowing stuff about Edgar who is a more than deserving HOFer, but it’s the internet, so I have to focus on negative things.

    In AAA Calgary, he posted video-game-esque slash lines of:
    before finally replacing negative WAR Jim Presley.

    Not much later, Tino Martinez wins minor league player of the year at the AAA level TWO years in a row before replacing negative WAR Pete O’brien.

    Those M’s were special.
    Done Griping.

    Big thanks to Edgar for kicking so much ass, and big thanks to USSMariner for Mariner Content.

  2. r-gordon-7 on January 26th, 2018 4:04 pm

    Perhaps if Edgar had simply won more “Edgar Martinez Awards”. (Sarcastic eye-roll aimed at those whose ballots over the last 9 years perhaps really have no more sound stat-based excuse than that…)

  3. Westside guy on January 26th, 2018 5:16 pm

    I hold two incompatible positions.

    1) I want to see Edgar in the Hall.

    2) The moment Jim Rice made it into the Hall, I realized that being in the Hall of Fame can have very little to do with being one of your generation’s elite players.

  4. Westside guy on January 26th, 2018 5:33 pm

    I inadvertently left off the end of #2:

    … so I pretty much stopped caring about the Hall of Fame.

  5. dogkahuna on January 26th, 2018 5:53 pm

    So what’s the deal with private ballots and can these people be outed?

  6. LongDistance on January 28th, 2018 5:10 am

    dogkahuna: yes, the first 50 ballots are bought and owned by Scott Boras.

  7. mrakbaseball on January 28th, 2018 9:14 pm

    “Edgar’s not a PED guy”

    I love Edgar, he and Junior are my favorite Mariners of all time, but we can’t say anyone is not a PED guy with 100% certainty. Like it or not, unfortunately, his career contains many of the red flags associated with the “steroid era”, increased muscle mass, compare Edgar circa 1997-98 with Edgar during his first batting title year of 1992. Established career high in home runs at 37 playing in a pitcher’s park. The weird hamstring injury during the 2002 season. I love the guy but nobody knows for sure who was “clean”.

  8. LongDistance on January 28th, 2018 10:53 pm

    Edgar never denied he’d tried them. We shouldn’t generalize or try to make excuses, but I do think there was a time that PEDs were widespread. And, like a spitball, had an acknowledged but non-acknowledged place in the game. I clearly remember Edgar talking about personal use, way back when it was still possible to do so without creating screaming headlines and outrage. And he simply said he tried them, but stopped because they made him feel bloated and sick … something along those lines. And, unless I’m getting this confused with someone else, I believe he added that while it seemed he got a bit more pop for awhile, it wasn’t worth feeling bad. I know it sounds like making excuses for the home town favourite, but I honestly don’t think his career or stats reveal the sort of blip that normally happens. What I do know, is he was continually tweaking everything … swing, timing, stance … adjusting to his physique, age, and pitchers, and his achievements are way more based on that, than anything else.

  9. Dennisss on January 29th, 2018 8:43 pm

    I am not really angry about how Edgar has been overlooked, as long as he is not overlooked next year.

    I will, however, have to roll my eyes when Ortiz sails in easily.

  10. Westside guy on January 29th, 2018 11:08 pm

    But Dennisss, Ortiz is Boston Strong.

  11. msfanmike on February 3rd, 2018 6:07 pm

    Like him or not, Ortiz had a great career and was huge in the playoffs. His career and the inevitable desire by the voters to put him in the Hall is probably the best thing that could have happened for Edgar. Ortiz’ career is probably acting as a mini-tsunami that will push Edgar into the HOF, so in that way I appreciate David Ortiz. His being named within the Mitchell Report adds complications, but I believe they will largely be ignored (they mostly have been) and Ortiz will be in the HOF in his first or second run on the ballot.

  12. MKT on February 3rd, 2018 11:45 pm

    Yup, similarly I think Frank Thomas indirectly helps Edgar by establishing precedent.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.