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#EdgarHOF - Day 52

the Ghost of Christmas Almost

Edgar Martinez
bring it back

On Christmas morning, I was gifted several pieces of Edgar memorabilia by my family, who knows about this series and are grateful for the ready-made gift ideas. Having a collection is the best gift you can give to people if you are hard to shop for. It’s not too hard to track down Edgar memorabilia, thankfully, because he played here for so long, and so many things were cast in his image. But it’s hard for me not to remember, on my tenth or so viewing of the seminal Muppet Christmas Carol (this season), that, like Tiny Tim’s crutch leaning on an empty chair, the Mariners almost had an empty DH slot.

This isn’t about all the times the club thought about trading Edgar, a rumor that cropped up intermittently throughout his time in Seattle but probably most aggressively the year before his 1995 season, where he left Edgar-sized holes all through the AL leaderboards.

No, this is about 1997, when baseball was looking at realignment—specifically, realigning the Mariners to the National league, eliminating Edgar’s position. Could Edgar have played first base? Maybe. But in 1997, he was 35, with an injury history longer than a James Joyce novel. First base would have also required him to learn an entirely new position, although the Mariners did run him out at first 26 times between 1992 and 2001. In 1997, perhaps preparing for realignment, the Mariners had Edgar play almost 60 innings at 1B. He recorded a passable .986 fielding percentage and only made one error with an RF/9 of 10.98, and that was with an infield comprised of 23 Russ Davis and Joey Cora (the Alex Rodriguez part wasn’t so terrible, I guess). But all throughout 1997, the threat of realignment loomed.

Radical Realignment was, like many bad things, a brainchild of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. With the 1998 addition of expansion teams the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose owner had been promised they would become an NL team, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Selig proposed realigning teams to condense everyone geographically. The entire West Coast would become National League; the entire East Coast, American. The Mets and the Yankees in the same division and the inevitable bloodshed of the civil war that would then erupt captured the majority of realignment headlines, but something big was quietly brewing in Seattle, too. In interviews, Edgar expressed disappointment over the idea he would be sent to a new club, far from the life he’d established in Seattle. Furthermore, he felt like this Mariners team was close to being able to contend, and he recognized this might be one of his final shots to play for a winning ballclub. He suggested he might retire if traded into a situation he didn’t care for. Chief among his concern, as always, was his family. He didn’t want to uproot his wife, Holli, with whom he was planning siblings for then four-year-old Alex. His brother Elliott had recently moved to Seattle to be closer to improved medical facilities for his eight-year-old son with muscular dystrophy. “I have to be happy to help my family be happy,” he said in a 1997 interview, leaving the threat of retirement unspoken but palpable.

Thankfully, Radical Realignment was recognized as the trashcan full of demons it was, and once the big-money TV types realized that in two-team markets, multiple games where they were essentially playing themselves would eat into their exclusive broadcast earnings, this plan died the fiery death it deserved. Yankee fans were no longer forced to consider the horrible reality of sharing a division with the Phillies and seeing an influx of cheesesteak-greased fans tumble out of Penn Station once a month. And in Seattle, Mariners fans were guaranteed another few years with their star slugger. At least, until the next time the trade rumors started up.