It’s late, very late. I have been putting off writing this story all day, although really I have been putting it off longer than that, ever since I realized that this year would be the last year I wrote any kind of real-time accounting of Edgar Martinez’s ascent towards the Hall of Fame. This is it: this is the last year of eligibility. It’s the final door, the big boss at the end of the level, a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth of an elimination game. Something will happen, or it will not, and that will be the end of this particular chapter. The curtain will go down, the house lights will come up, and the illusion that we can at all control the outcome of the situation—the little lies we tell ourselves, the cautions we whisper to the characters on-stage—will evaporate in that sudden flood of light.
Of course we cannot will Edgar Martinez into the Hall of Fame.
Of course we believe that we can.
That quality of belief is part of what makes fandom magical, immersive, special from all other human activities that do not trade so heavily on wishes. We believe, and so it is. We clap, and Tinkerbell does not die. We silently plead with Dickens not to kill off Tiny Tim, and are later told that “to Tiny Tim, who did not die, [Scrooge] was a second father.” (What a rat, that Dickens, pinning that tiny little life into a pathetic dependent clause.) We mail items en masse to a television station and make them renew our favorite program. We retweet to get that kid out of that final. We wear our lucky t-shirt and the team wins.
Twitter has introduced a new kind of magical thinking: the idea if enough people make their voices heard on something, they can effect change. Online petitions, likes and retweets, getting ratio’d, comments sections, instant-vote polls: there are a great many ways to say something. All it requires is an attendant belief that one is being heard.
Perhaps the BBWAA writers savvy enough to use Twitter are willing to listen. Perhaps the Mariners’ untiring efforts in spreading the Gospel of ‘Gar, mailers and packets and video packages and bite-size facts sprinkled across Twitter, have made an impact. Perhaps the warriors bearing the shield of #EdgarHOF from all corners of the internet have made that hashtag unavoidable, a moral imperative, the will of the many eclipsing the privilege of the few. Maybe it’s the already-recognized greats, like Randy Johnson or Ken Griffey Jr. or Pedro Martinez or Mariano Rivera—whose induction is a lock—speaking on behalf of Edgar. Or maybe it’s respected voices in the industry like Brian Kenny or Jay Jaffe championing his cause that has unlocked some of the more reticent members of the electorate. (I hope that every voter who does not tick the box next to Edgar’s name feels a sudden chill about it, even for a moment, a sensation that they are Doing Something Wrong even if they believe they are completely in the right.)
The BBWAA is trending younger, more diverse, more inclusive in its philosophies, and perhaps this is the reason Edgar’s vote totals, after almost stalling out at a lousy 25% in 2014, rose sharply in 2016, and again in 2017, and again in 2018, when he barely fell short of induction. Writers who were breaking new analytic ground in the late 2000s are eligible to vote now. All of this adds up to a grand sensation of heard-ness. It’s a beautiful, democratic idea: that the will and knowledge and love and effort of a group of people can make something happen, that an injustice can be corrected in real-time. That the world, after all, can be fair.
Being a Mariners fan has been terribly unfair since day one. The Seattle Pilots were meant to enter the league in 1971, alongside the Kansas City Royals. But Stuart Symington, the esteemed Senator from Missouri and not, I swear, a name I cribbed from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, threw himself a hissy fit and got the date moved up because what was the Kansas City Royals had moved to Oakland in 1969, and the honorable Senator Symington—not himself a Kansas City native, it must be acknowledged—thought it was unacceptable that a town with such a proud baseball history as Kansas City should be made to go baseball-less for any number of years, and threatened to revoke MLB’s anti-trust exemption if the timeline was not moved up. And so the Seattle Pilots were born into a world they weren’t ready for, that perhaps wasn’t ready for them. They made it one season before team owner Dewey Soriano sold them off to a car salesman named Bud Selig, who toted the team off to Milwaukee. Soriano and Selig had been meeting in secret for months before he hung a SOLD sign on the Pilots and rolled them out to eastbound I-90.
What else to enumerate on our Mariners Bridge of Sighs? The dormant time of the near-decade it took to get Major League Baseball back to Seattle? The torpor of the 1980s teams as they struggled to cobble together an identity while a penny-pinching owner used them as his personal tax writeoff? The attempted thievery of the team to Tampa Bay in the 90s, the actual thievery of the Sonics? The years upon years upon years of disappointment: sporadic playoff appearances going nowhere on the ladder leading to the World Series, the failure of an indefatigable 116-win team, team after team that came up short. Promises of rebuild and the systematic failure to convert top-tier draft picks into impactful major leaguers. Failure, even in the brightest moments.
It’s not fair. It offends the most basic sense of fairness. It ought to have been, at one of these points, our turn. The joy should have lasted.
“Fair is the stupidest word humans ever invented,” sneers Shawn, the demon-antagonist of NBC’s excellent show The Good Place. The thing is, he’s right. There is something in the concept of fairness that feels a little naive, innocent, trusting, foolish. Fair is the apple-cheeked milkmaid with two braids, and the world is the cow that kicks her face in. The world isn’t fair, we’re told from infancy, a sword pressed in our small palms. The implication is: make the world fair for you. And if that makes the world a little less fair for everyone else, well, that’s your job to work out. Some have (money, good health, joy that lasts), and some have not. The world itself is indifferent. So why not be indifferent to it?
It is not fair that Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Junior and Randy Johnson could not lift the 1995 Mariners to greatness. It is not fair that only two of that trio are enshrined in the Hall of Fame (Edgar being the second highest player by WAR on that 1995 team, at 7.0 WAR). It is not fair that six years later, a 38-year-old Edgar would again miss his chance to ascend to the highest level of baseball an active player can reach. It’s not fair that he’s had to wait ten years to be recognized for who he was as a player. It’s stupid, and naive, and human to want things to be different. To want things to be fair.
I own an Edgar Martinez signed bat that I have had since I was twelve, when it was made available in our school auction (the Mariners PA announcer’s kids attended our school, so there was always some pretty sweet Mariners loot available to bid on). There was a collector there who was bidding hard for the bat. When my dad came home with the bat gripped in his hand, he told me people were throwing money on his table as the price rose.
Where the system fails, when fairness fails, a community built on love and appreciation and hellbent on justice can set things to rights. Margaret Mead’s famous quote is shopworn and softened at the edges by time and overuse, but the silvery truth at the heart of it still glints sharp as steel:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Today, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens will, I hope, have changed the world; at least the world of Cooperstown and all it represents. They will have elected the first, and greatest, Designated Hitter—a part of the game since the time of Senator Stuart Symington holding all of MLB hostage—into the Hall of Fame.
And all of us at home in our t-shirts, clapping as hard as we can—we have a little part of it too, here at the terminus of I-90 West: Edgar Martinez Drive. The road that took the Pilots away has given us back a little piece of our history.
Because before he belonged to the ages, he was always, first, our Edgar.