Bob Nightengale has made a career out of penning the written equivalent of that juice that collects in the bottom of your crisper if you leave a bunch of cilantro in there for three months. We know he is awful, and surely he must know he is awful, or how could he continue to roll out columns that read like they’ve been kept in a movie theatre’s grease trap, marinating in a batch of Thalidomide? The most recent trainwreck of his that comes to mind, "Chemistry Still Matters in Baseball," deserves some sort of prize for Frankensteining up the hoary anti-saber-sentiment (um actually it’s Nightengale’s Monster), although let’s not forget the breathless, self-congratulatory article he published—not 24 hours after the tweets themselves!—on how the Mariners needed to Facebook Live video of team officials drawing and quartering Clevenger immediately or they were the baseball equivalent of the lady screaming at one of the Little Rock Nine. Drew Margary has an excellent takedown of a Nightengale article praising the selfless, quiet Cardinals who can’t shut up about how selfless and quiet they are, which I will link to since it comes through a third party; such a density of smug, self-satisfaction cannot be viewed with the naked eye, as it will smoke your retinas like a Virginia ham. His collected works are a rich tapestry, if that tapestry was made of pure American bullshit.
But last week, Bob made himself a Belgian waffle sandwich at the hotel breakfast bar, stuffed it with bath salts, and sat down at his computer to best himself with the single worst take he’s ever had:
David Ortiz, who should have DH award renamed in his honor, wins the Edgar Martinez DH of Year for 8th time, an award Martinez won 5 times.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 30, 2016
Twitter did rally impressively in the responses to this stratospheric level of idiocy, including the official team account and Jonah Keri, in what must be a Guinness record number of ways to suggest that someone delete their account. I haven’t enjoyed this much dogpiling guilt-free since the great #PaulasBestDishes of 2013. But it did get me thinking about how many of us are willing to go to the mat for Edgar, who has himself been fairly quiet on the HOF debate. He’s certainly not out there campaigning nor stumping for himself, like some of the other candidates. And that’s Edgar, as we know him. His emotions always ran underwater, not for public consumption. Hit a game-winning home run? High fives and handshakes. Strike out on a pitch that was so far outside it was in Tacoma? Most of the time, maybe a slight twitch to the mustache would be all the emotion he’d betray.
Except for one day.
2001 is a season that lives fondly in the hearts of Mariner fans who were around to see the record-setting 116 wins. What sticks out to me, however, is win 112. The Mariners were playing in Anaheim against the Angels. The Angels were about 6 games under .500; the Mariners were about the same number of games over .500, if you add a zero. Predictably, the Mariners took an early lead, jumping on pitcher Jarrod Washburn for three runs in the second. The Angels caught up in the next inning, but not for long, as Mike Cameron would blast a three-run home run to put the Mariners back on top. The Mariners would add another run to give them a 7-3 edge. They would eventually win 14-5, but they would do so without their star DH.
Things got weird in the sixth. To understand how weird, first you have to understand Lou Pote. There’s nothing particularly impressive about Lou Pote in 2001. He carries a 4.39 FIP, and his 17.4% K rate is offset but a BB% of 8.4%. He is the kind of reliever Edgar Martinez should chew up and spit out. Pote, with two runners on base and only one out, pitching to one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, tried to sneak a fastball up and in, but missed. It hit Edgar in the arm and ricocheted up to strike his helmet, and Edgar fell to the ground, stunned.
He was only down for a second, though, before getting up and charging the mound. He had to be restrained:
Later, Pote would plead innocent, and to most watching the game, it seemed unintentional, making Edgar’s reaction all the more curious. However, as Mike Cameron pointed out, the Angels staff at the time was full of young pitchers trying to pitch up and inside, and failing to control the pitch.
Edgar would be suspended for two games after the incident, his only career suspension. (The ejection was his third career ejection; the other two had been for arguing balls and strikes.)
In a career that was long and quietly masterful, this remains the strangest outlier. Lou Pote was trying to do his job, and doing it not especially well. Why would the mild-mannered Martinez react so strongly? Russell Carleton has written some about the fight-or-flight response in baseball, which he says is triggered by fear or a stressful situation. Having a major league fastball chucked at your head/tender meaty parts/livelihood would certainly qualify. In teacher training we were warned about the amygdala hijack and how to avoid getting into situations with confrontational students that would lead to losing control of the classroom (no teacher is as ineffective as the yell-monster). Once your brain is hijacked by all that adrenaline, it can take a full half-hour to flush it all out; time a major leaguer doesn’t always have. See ball, hit ball; see ball come towards you, charge mound.
From the Times story:
One Mariners player said he tried to offer Martinez a cup of water afterward on the bench "and he knocked it out of my hand and said he didn't want any damn water. I mentioned it to him later and Edgar said, 'I did that? I don't remember.' "
This is what happens when the limbic system takes over and stuffs your system full of chemicals that are meant to protect you but actually make you seem kind of crazy in modern society. It’s a moment from his career I’m sure Edgar would not count among his highlights, but he shouldn’t feel any shame about it—he was, after all, just being human.