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#EdgarHOF - Day 35

Un-der-rate-d (clap clap! clap clap clap!)

Mariners v Athletics
I’m just a boy, standing in front of a voting committee, asking them to love him

I’m sure it was cool before this, but certainly the Seahawks receivers deserve credit for bringing back the shine to being underrated. Prior to the NFCCG, ESPN analyst Cris Carter had called the Seahawks receiving corps “pedestrian,” describing them as “appetizers” lacking a main course. Mixed metaphors aside, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin took umbrage to the term, and when the Seahawks made the Super Bowl, Baldwin delivered a mot most juste in a presser when he declared, “ we’re pedestrians? Well guess what, we’re gonna walk our asses to the Super Bowl.” It used to be a slam, but today athletes love the idea of being underrated—Husky receiver John Ross even has it in his Twitter bio. Underrated is a brag (“they don’t know how good I am”) and a challenge (“let me show you how good I am”). It’s labeling yourself a market inefficiency before the market has a chance to label you.

In his 2007 book The Stark Truth, Jayson Stark takes on what he believes are the most underrated and overrated players in baseball history. Stark is no fan of the DH, which I feel skews his perspective a bit, and as such saddles poor old Ron Blomberg with the title of most overrated DH, by mere dint of being the first DH ever. But Stark has only praise to heap upon Edgar, mostly because he feels Edgar isn’t just the most underrated DH of all time, but one of the most underrated hitters of all time. In a thought-experiment, Stark wonders if someone (outside the NW, natch) was asked to name the ten greatest hitters of the 90s would include Edgar in the top ten. Stark has him ranked seventh, behind Griffey, Bonds, Gwynn, McGwire, Sosa, and Thomas, but notes that most respondents would probably answer Bagwell, Piazza, Chipper, Belle, Biggio, Alomar, and Ripken before they ever got to Edgar. Stark goes on to list Edgar’s accomplishments—an impressive list, even when one doesn’t consider advanced stats—and notes that the last right-handed two-time batting champ before Edgar was none other than Joe DiMaggio.

Newspaper articles from the time also harp on Edgar being underrated. A 1992 Times article mentions the shipments of pearl-quality bats Rawlings had delivered after becoming a leader in the AL batting race. The always-execrable Art Thiel wrote a column titled “With Edgar, Who Needs Excitement?” bemoaning Edgar’s quiet demeanor as a detriment to his ability to capture national attention that included this timely description:

Problem is, he's a virtual beige wall. In a world of jive and high five, Martinez is Ward Cleaver. He makes Paul Tsongas look like a headliner in the World Wrestling Federation.

Let this be a little writing object lesson: write like you believe what you’re writing will carry weight ten, twenty, fifty years from now, and don’t rely on cheap pop culture references to do your descriptive work for you.

But all this journalistic cymbal-clanging was for nought: Edgar himself had no interest in courting the national media. He didn’t care about being overrated, or underrated, or rated at all: all he wanted to do was go out and hit, and help his team win. He wasn’t going to change anything about his public persona, and viewed interviews as an obligation, part of his job, not a chance to expand his platform. The humble superstar is a cliché now, but also, in an age of eye-popping free agent contracts and media saturation, an anachronism. We hear stories about people like JJ Watt or Carlos Gómez googling what rich people do (eat kiwis, apparently), and it’s cute, but we also use that to hold certain players at a distance. JJ Watt’s persona has been described as “corny” or “fake”; there is a sense his humility isn’t genuine, that his persona of a selfless lunchbox guy is carefully cultured. Edgar seemed to understand, intuitively, even before the dawn of social media, that if you actively court public opinion, you also give away a piece of your identity for public dissection. And so he erred on the side of staying quiet, of not worrying about how he was rated, if he was rated by anyone, and thus ensured that he would, by all accounts, be declared underrated, if he was noticed at all. Unfortunately, the upshot of this is is, as he vies for inclusion in the Hall (vies isn’t the right word, really, as Edgar is quiet on the subject of his candidacy; it’s us who are doing the vying), sportswriters who long ago discounted Edgar Martinez are being asked to reconsider him, and consider him against the likes of big personalities like Barry Bonds and Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez. It’s a tall order for a quiet man who spent his career far from the nerve center of baseball media. However, if Edgar does make it to the Hall, he will never again be considered underrated.