It’s Hot Stove season, which means several of us are anxiously refreshing our Twitter feeds to see if any of our favorite players have been traded. It’s also a good time to reflect on how one of the greatest seasons ever turned in by a player wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform almost didn’t happen.
Those who think the Mariners’ payroll today is miserly probably don’t remember the 80s and early 90s, when the team was mostly owned by California real estate mogul George Argyros, who had a penchant for trading away players just as they reached their athletic peak and threatened to cost more. My grandfather refused to get attached to any one player because, as he said, the locker room was more like a subway platform. Even under new ownership in the 90s, the team continued its wartime salary rationing, and prior to 1995, they looked for places to cut from a then-high payroll of 26 million. Edgar was slated to take up 3.3 million of that, or roughly the amount of money Giancarlo Stanton gets per day for putting on his left cleat, and rumors were flying that he was to be traded. Remember, this was 1995 and we were all still asking each other for a/s/l in AOL chat rooms (I think I went by the entirely original, and totally stupid, handle of KTWryter); it wasn’t like anyone could open Twitter and get up-to-the-second trade rumors. What came out leaked into locker rooms carried by human voices, not binary ones, and they bothered Edgar. GM Woody Woodward spoke openly about the possibility of a trade. The word “expendable” became linked to Edgar’s name as he prepared for spring training in Peoria in early April: early to the facility for a workout, then practice in the morning, then the weight room again until early afternoon, then a long evening of driving around until he got hungry enough for dinner. (Some people will romanticize the pre-Internet, pre-smartphone age. Do not listen. Life was boring and uninformed.) Each day, he walked into practice not knowing if he would be ending the day in the same uniform colors he’d worn since 1982. He developed a code with the sportswriters who were covering spring training: one of them, a writer or Edgar, would ask, “todavía?” (“Still?”) and the other would answer, “todavía” (“Still.”)
Ironically, the injuries that depressed Edgar’s numbers and forced him to the DH spot may have been the saving grace that kept him with the team. Being a DH, the number of trade partners was immediately cut in half, and being 32, with a lengthy injury history, might have scared off enough teams that the Mariners didn’t feel they could get good value back. By April 18, the Mariners announced there would be no big-name trade: no Edgar trade, no Randy Johnson trade, no Buhner trade (the Mariners had let Buhner and his 4.35 million dollar salary walk in free agency and then re-signed him for about 4 million). Edgar would go on to reward the Mariners’ faith in him by putting up the best season of his career, leading all of baseball in WAR, OBP, and OPS, tying with Bonds for WPA, leading all of baseball in doubles, and—putting those injury concerns to rest—tying with Frank Thomas for most games played. The offensive leaderboard for 1995 is the Edgar Martinez show, featuring some backup singers. There’s a good argument to be made that Edgar Martinez’s 1995 season is the best single season performance by any athlete in Seattle history. And it almost didn’t happen, but it did, and those of us lucky enough to see it will remember it forever.