The Ken Griffey, Jr. number retirement ceremony last season was a wonderful affair punctuated by a very uplifting, come from behind victory by the Mariners. The hero of that game was Shawn O’Malley, of all people; a player who has more in common with Edgar’s origin story than Griffey’s. How spoiled are we as Mariners fans to have had two of the greatest hitters in baseball history play in our backyard as they represented the ying and the yang of most baseball player stories? One, the hyped prospect and number one draft pick, destined for greatness. The other, a player who had to battle his way from obscurity, learn a new culture, and continue to sharpen his skills his entire career to produce insanely consistent results. Yet here they both are, with their numbers retired in perpetuity at their team’s stadium.
In the way that Griffey fascinated my imagination as a child learning about baseball, my relationship with Edgar is something more realistic and grounded. Griffey was the tall tale, but Edgar was your hard-working, devoted dad. Sometimes you took him for granted, but you always respected and revered him as the skilled craftsman and reliable force of good that he was.
Edgar, the career Seattle Mariner, is my definition of a fan favorite. I can remember the chants of “ED-GARRRRR” reverberating off the Kingdome walls and I even more fondly remember that same chant swirling around the always-full seats of Safeco Field in the first few seasons it was open. I may be alone on this, but the “ED-GARRRRR” chant always felt like it had the tone of half encouragement, half taunt, as if the fans were saying, “Go ahead, Edgar, do it again. We dare you. You still got it? You sure?” I know it was all love, but as a kid, part of me caught a bit of derision from that chant and I have to wonder how Edgar himself felt about it and if it drove him at all.
But I digress, because the man basically never let us down as fans, both as a player and as a person. He never left the team and even in his final season with no legs to his name, he didn’t decline to a point that drastically hurt the team. He has done mountains of charity work through his Martinez Foundation, Seattle Children’s Hospital, The Millionair Club Charity, and more places than I can even google right now. His ability to be a goodwill ambassador for the team and actually provide value to players as its current hitting coach are all truly the gifts that keep on giving.
As jaded adults and modern baseball fans who have embraced advanced statistics, there is a tendency for some of us to want to downplay the human side of baseball. A baseball player’s story is the narrative force that can sometimes become a perfect storm of emotion and baseball achievement. I think a lot about how I watched the Mariners in the mid-90’s compared to now. I think about how much I cared about their narratives, as in the Joey Coras and the Dan Wilsons of the world. I think about how much my mom loved Edgar Martinez.
It’s impossible for me to quantify the impact and value of the “Refuse to Lose” era that this team had and its effect on bringing people into the game that previously didn’t care much for baseball. Not only was the team winning, but the Mariners players had stories and personalities that people REALLY bought into in the pre-internet and pre-social media era. I don’t know how else to explain it, but there is something magical in how much Edgar Martinez and other players from those teams got my mom interested in baseball and how much joy it brought her personally, and also the joy she knew it brought her kids and husband. And I know there are countless others from the Northwest in that very same boat.
My mom died suddenly in 2011 when she was hit by a car while out walking down the street from the house I grew up in, and I’m sharing that to illustrate the point that all this 1995 nostalgia stuff is not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It’s our lives. It’s our memories. When we lose the people we experienced these happy times with, the memories are all we have. Yes, baseball is just a game, but it’s a means of human connection, too. It’s impossible for me to separate memories of being a Mariners-crazed fifth grader and my memories of my mom. She’s a part of it and she’s a part of me, and a part of my daughter. I know she’ll be with me and my family on Saturday, cheering hard for our hero.
When I watch baseball now, there is a part of me that wants to know what every player is going through at that moment. What they went through to even get to this point. What happened earlier that day that is effecting their ability to play. But there’s also the part of me that just wants high walk rates, solid wOBA, and for the love of god, no more TOOTBLANs.
Edgar melded both of those worlds through his consistent production at the plate and his leadership as a human being away from the game.
In my mind, it’s no coincidence that Edgar was at the plate for the all-time greatest moment in Mariner history, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. He was there because of his ability and drive, and he hit that double because that’s what Edgar Martinez did in a situation like that. He delivered like clockwork. Now, the replay has been run into the ground by the team over the years, but you know why? Because it’s an objectively incredible happy and unbelievable moment for ANY BASEBALL FAN OR HUMAN BEING who wasn’t rooting for the Yankees. A historically terrible team wins their first playoff series with a walk-off in front of a massive, vocal, and delirious home crowd. The two key players involved? Oh, only the two best players in franchise history. One running faster than he’s ever ran before to score from first base and the other supplying the double to get him there. What else is perfect about its catharsis? Dave Niehaus’s call of the play. My favorite part is the way Dave literally calls what is going happen seconds before the pitch and then is SO EXCITED and barely manages to get the words out so that “Swung on hardANDLINEDDOWNTHELEFTFIELDLINEFORAAAAABASEHIT” all becomes one word.
This play is ingrained into our psyche as Mariners fans (if you were lucky enough to be alive and witness it, if not, ehhhhh I’m very sorry and you deserve so much credit for sticking with this team) because it is the ultimate cathartic moment as a Mariners fan up to that point. There was no World Series parade after this moment, so this is all we have. And it’s perfect, because it was the first of it’s kind for us. The culmination of 2 months of miracle baseball victories down the stretch and following a tiebreaker game 163 to even get into the playoffs. And who do we have to thank primarily for creating this indelible moment that will always lift the spirits of the crankiest crank Mariner fan (for whom it has relevance, again, sorry young people and newer fans)? Edgar Martinez. The patron saint of Mariners fans. The greatest DH of all-time. Career Seattle Mariner. Thank you, Edgar, for this moment and for all you do.