Of all my favorite Edgar facts, this is one I love best: Edgar Martínez is the first Latin-born player to accrue 100 walks in a season. Consulting the BB-Ref list of walk leaders by season, certain things stand out: the 148 walks recorded by Eddie “The Brat” Stanky in 1945 (facing less-than-optimal pitching that year, we can assume). The quartet of Killebrew, McCovey, Mantle and Yaz all battling for OBP dominance in the late 60s and early 70s. And the fact that the first Hispanic name on the list doesn’t appear until the early 80s—San Francisco-born Keith Hernandez. There is a Martínez who pops up in 1985: Carmelo Martínez, Edgar’s cousin, the one scouts preferred when they went to tryouts together and who had to talk Edgar into trying out for the Mariners, took 87 walks that year. But it is not until 1995 that the other Martínez, our Martínez, appears on the list, with 116; the first time a Latin-born player had ever cracked 100.
The famous refrain among Caribbean players is “you can’t walk off the island.” Home runs and extra-base hits are what can catch a scout’s eye in a crowded field, goes the conventional wisdom; no one comes back to the States gushing over a player’s ability to lay off an inside fastball. Dominican players, especially, were notorious for being swing-happy, as anyone who’s ever seen a Ketel Marte at-bat, where the eight-year-old operating the controller chooses “power swing” each time, can attest. Those numbers might be in retreat now, but this was close to gospel in the late-80s and early 90s, when Latin players didn’t populate the league as they do now and OBP was still not valued as much as hitting for power or average.
Edgar had established a reputation in the minors for being a patient hitter, consistently putting up above-average walk numbers, and this ability did not diminish in the major leagues. Excepting 1992 (9%), Edgar never put up a single-digit walk rate, and in the year he broke the 100-walk mark he also set a career-high for BB%, at 18.2%. Edgar understood the importance of walks, because he understood the importance of OBP before statisticians came in and measured how much it factors in a team’s win. He understood it in the way geniuses understand things, implicitly and instinctively, like it was part of his genetic code. No one taught Edgar that taking walks was important; most likely, he was encouraged in exactly the opposite direction. But his inherent genius for baseball told him the simplest truth—only hit the pitches that are worth hitting—and he was humble enough to listen, and partially thanks to that, he currently owns the 21st-best OBP in baseball history.