The Seattle Mariners in the 1990s were one of baseball’s best teams, anchored by pitchers like Randy Johnson and their formidable lineup consisting of players like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Jay Buhner.
One player who is often overlooked on these Mariner teams is Edgar Martinez, the right-handed designated hitter.
Martinez gave the team a solid middle-of-the-order slugger and veteran leadership, and it is hard to see the Mariners reaching the same heights without Martinez in their lineup.
A seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger winner, Martinez was one of baseball’s first iconic designated hitters, paving the way for future players like David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz.
— Joshua Schweigert (@thejschweigert) January 26, 2022
Martinez’s contributions to baseball were awarded in 2019 with his induction to the Hall of Fame.
Early Life/Minor Leagues
Edgar Martinez was born on January 2nd, 1963 to parents Christina and Jose Martinez in New York City.
He went to live with his grandparents in Dorado, Puerto Rico a short time later after his parents divorced.
Martinez watched the 1971 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles on television, where he became entranced with Pirates’ star Roberto Clemente, baseball’s biggest Puerto Rican star.
He became obsessed with baseball and began playing the game anytime he could.
Martinez and his cousin Carmelo would use bottle caps, rocks, sticks, brooms, anything they could find in order to practice the game they loved.
Upon graduating high school, Martinez began attending American College and worked a number of jobs while still chasing his dream of becoming a Major League player.
He began playing semipro baseball, honing his skills, and gaining experience against other talented Puerto Ricans.
Eventually, Martinez attended a tryout and was soon offered a contract to sign with the Seattle Mariners for little money.
While he was making more money playing semipro baseball in Puerto Rico, Martinez was persuaded by Carmelo to take the offer and try to reach the big leagues.
Martinez reported to the Northwest League at 20 years of age for his taste of minor league play.
Playing for the Bellingham Mariners, Martinez initially struggled offensively while adjusting to life in the Pacific Northwest.
Scouts and team officials were not impressed with Martinez’s subpar average and low power capabilities.
Martinez moved to the Midwest League the next year, where he significantly improved offensively with a .303 average but was only considered a borderline prospect.
Bouncing around the Mariners’ minor league system, Martinez had varying levels of success.
He officially broke out during the 1987 season with the Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League.
He was the team’s best hitter, leading the team in walks, batting average, and doubles.
The Mariners rewarded Martinez with a promotion to the big leagues in September of that year, where he quickly made a good impression with his work ethic and performance.
His stay in the Major Leagues did not last long, however, as he began the 1988 season back in Calgary after spring training.
While he had a few brief stints with the Mariners throughout the season, Martinez made his mark by winning the Pacific Coast League batting title with a .363 average.
The 1989 season was much of the same for Martinez.
He once again had brief call-ups to the big leagues but spent the majority of the season in AAA after struggling to begin the year.
Wanting to be with the Mariners permanently, Martinez returned to Puerto Rico to play in their Winter League for more training and experience.
He was the league’s best player, earning co-MVP honors with Carlos Baerga and lead the league in hitting.
Martinez finally caught on in the big leagues in 1990.
After starting the season as a backup on the Major League roster, he quickly filled in at third base and picked up where he left off in Puerto Rico.
He played in most of the Mariners’ games that season and became one of the team’s best hitters after years of minor league play.
He finished the year leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage and would never look back from there.
The 19991 and 1992 seasons cemented Martinez as one of the game’s best hitters, and he earned All-Star honors for the first time in 1992.
Martinez had joined the team around the same time as Ken Griffey Jr., and the two of them would form the foundation of the Mariners for the next decade.
Despite being overshadowed by the flashy and powerful Griffey, Martinez proved to be an offensive force of his own, batting over .300 on the season.
Martinez was a jack of all trades for Seattle, batting in multiple spots in the lineup over the course of the season and playing multiple positions.
The Mariners rewarded Martinez’s production just a month after he made the All-Star team in 1992 with the most expensive deal ever signed by a Mariner to that point, 3 years, $10 million.
Martinez won the American League batting title the same year with an average of .343.
Martinez would miss the majority of the 1993 season after tearing a muscle in his knee during an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
While attempting to steal second base, Martinez’s knee popped due to the lack of footing on the field.
This would be his worst season as a Major League player, playing in just over 40 games with a batting average in the low .200s.
The 1994 season presented more difficulties for Martinez, as he went on the disabled list and was still trying to bounce back from his injury the previous year.
The season was also shortened due to a player’s strike, with regular-season play halted in August and the postseason canceled.
1995 was a bounce-back year for Martinez, who used the extended rest to heal and prepare for a healthy full season.
He became the Mariners’ full—time designated hitter and made his second All-Star team while lighting the American League on fire with his bat.
The Mariners would win the N.L. West Division title off the back off Martinez’s best year of his career.
At the end of the season, Martinez was recognized as one of the league’s best hitters, leading it in on-base percentage, batting average, and doubles.
He finished third in the A.L. MVP vote.
The most iconic moment of Martinez’s career came in the 1995 ALDS against the New York Yankees.
In a highly contested series, Martinez was on fire and drove in seven runs off the backs off two home runs in a pivotal game four, helping the Mariners tie the series at two games each.
In the 11th inning of game five with his team losing by a run, Martinez doubled down the left-field line, scoring Joey Cora.
Ken Griffey Jr. scored from first on the play, winning the game and the series for the Mariners.
It was the first postseason series win in franchise history.
The Mariners would go on to lose to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, but Martinez’s walk-off hit became Seattle legend and is known as “The Double.”
Martinez continued his hot hitting over the next couple of seasons, notching two more All-Star selections in 1996 and 1997.
He hit .327 in 1996 and spent over 20 games on the disabled list, but played a full season in 1997 where he won another Silver Slugger.
The Mariners again made it to the ALDS in 1997 but would lose the series to the Orioles.
Martinez struggled in the series.
At this time of his career, Martinez was Seattle’s full-time designated hitter, the best in the league.
By the 1998 season, Martinez had become one of baseball’s best on-base men, hitting the .400 on-base percentage mark multiple times.
That year he continued his hitting dominance, batting to a .327 average.
In 1999, Martinez was diagnosed by team doctor Douglas Nikaitani with strabismus, a condition that prevents coordination between the eyes.
For a Major Leaguer, this diagnosis came as a death sentence.
Martinez was determined to not let the condition derail his career, however, and he worked with Dr. Nikaitani to mitigate symptoms and retrain his eyes.
Martinez faithfully followed the doctor’s eye exercises.
When Martinez suddenly had trouble seeing pitches, Nikaitani set up additional exercises that involved making Martinez swat down tennis balls while solving math problems.
These exercises prevented Martinez from retirement and he remained a productive hitter for the rest of his career.
Martinez had some of the best years of his career after the diagnosis, leading the league in on-base percentage in 1999 and being named to another All-Star game in 2000.
The Mariners made another ALDS in 2000, where Martinez had another spectacular series reminiscent of 1995.
Seattle would win the series against the Chicago White Sox but went on to lose to the Yankees in that year’s ALCS.
The 2001 season was the best in Mariners history, winning 116 games, tied for the most in baseball history.
The 38-year-old Martinez was the Mariners’ de-facto veteran leader, as Ken Griffey Jr. had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds and Alex Rodriguez had signed with the Texas Rangers.
While newcomer Ichiro set the baseball world ablaze by winning both the Rookie of the Year and A.L. MVP Awards, Martinez quietly had another outstanding season, hitting .306 and winning another Silver Slugger.
Despite winning 116 games, the Mariners failed to make the World Series after again losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.
Injuries were beginning to catch up to Martinez in the early 2000s and he began spending more and more time on the disabled list.
He specifically was battling a number of hamstring injuries, limiting his time on the field and his production at the plate.
Despite these injuries and disabled list stints, Martinez was still a productive hitter by normal standards, hitting over 20 home runs in 2003 en route to another All-Star game and Silver Slugger, the last of his career.
In August of 2004, Martinez decided to retire at the end of the season, telling fans at Safeco Field:
“I have decided that this will be last season. I am very fortunate and grateful that I have been able to play my entire career with the Seattle Mariners. The fans here have always been and continue to be great.”
At the time of his retirement, Martinez had come a long way from playing with sticks and stones in his native Puerto Rico.
He finished his Major League career with 68 WAR, over 2,000 hits, 309 home runs, and a career batting average of .312.
He spent the entirety of his career with the Mariners, helping to lead them to the postseason multiple times in the most successful era of Seattle baseball.
He finished his outstanding 18-year stint in the Major Leagues with seven All-Star selections, five Silver Slugger Awards, and five Most Outstanding Designated Hitter Awards.
The award was named after Martinez following his retirement.
Life After Baseball
After retirement, Martinez and his wife Holli started The Martinez Foundation, a charitable organization that aids students of color to gain entrance into the teaching profession.
They founded the Foundation to address the lack of diversity in education in Washington State, where just eight percent of those working in education are people of color.
It offers scholarships, career coaching, and training.
By attempting to make the Washington education system more diverse, the Foundation aims to improve school dropout rates among people of color and give more people the opportunity to connect with their teachers.
Martinez and the Mariners have stayed in touch during his retirement, with the Mariners honoring Martinez for his years with the team.
In 2007, the Mariners inducted Martinez into their team Hall of Fame.
Martinez remains the team’s all-time leader in batting average, walks, games played, hits, and doubles.
The City of Seattle renamed a section of street near T-Mobile Park (Formerly Safeco Field) “Edgar Martinez Dr. S.” after his retirement in 2004.
In 2019, Martinez was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the ultimate reward for a Major League Baseball player.
First becoming eligible in 2010, Martinez was elected on the 10th ballot with 85% of the vote after nine years of falling short.
Primarily a designated hitter during his career, many baseball writers expressed a disinterest in electing someone to the Hall of Fame who did not play a position on the field.
As advanced statistics and sabermetrics continue to take over the game of baseball, Martinez’s career has been elevated and the role of the designated hitter has become more respected.
Martinez’s election paved the way for another long-time designated hitter, David Ortiz, who was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year.
During his induction speech, Martinez spoke about how nervous and anxious he was to gear up to deliver it.
He admitted he had rehearsed and rewrote his speech dozens of times.
His speech lasted just over 12 minutes and showcased the humility he had become known for during his time in Seattle.
He reflected on his time growing up and learning to play baseball and how he was inspired by Roberto Clemente.
“From my grandparents who raised me and instilled in me values like hard work, respect, and discipline, to my whole family, teammates, and coaches. In Maguayao my time was consumed with baseball, the game I love. I am so fortunate to be raised in Maguayao, Dorado, Puerto Rico.”
Before the 2015 season, Martinez was hired as the Mariners’ hitting coach.
He held the position from 2015 to 2018, when he changed roles to organizational hitting instructor, working at all levels of the Mariners’ organization.
While with the team, many have spoken of his impact on the team and players, from hitting instruction to general advice on life as a Major Leaguer.
Martinez decided to step down from hitting coach to spend more time with his family, as the constant travel was difficult to maintain.
Edgar Martinez was one of baseball’s best hitters in the 1990s and early 2000s.
From his time growing up in Puerto Rico watching Roberto Clemente play, to learning to play baseball with bottlecaps and broomsticks, to working night shifts, to toiling in the minor leagues, to finally becoming one of the Mariners’ most iconic players, Martinez’s humility and elite performance brought success to the Pacific Northwest and the Mariners.
Along with Ken Griffey Jr., Martinez helped the Mariners become relevant and garnered immense support from Seattle fans.
As a designated hitter, Martinez played a large role in changing how the baseball world thinks about the position, paving the way for designated hitters today.
Martinez’s story is one of baseball’s great underdog stories, and he remains an immensely influential and popular ambassador for the game of baseball in his native Puerto Rico, in the Seattle area, and the world as a whole.
He will go down as one of the best pure hitters in baseball history, and his career is one of the most interesting stories of recent memory.