Edgar Martinez (b. 1963) was a star player for the Seattle Mariners for 17 seasons, from 1987 to 2004, and one of the best-loved athletes in the city's history. He was raised in Puerto Rico, where his grandfather instilled his passion for baseball. He was signed by the Mariners in 1982 and played in the minor leagues for many years, but didn't stick with the major league team until 1990. In 1992, he won the American League batting championship with a .343 average. He surpassed that in 1995 with a .356 average and his second batting title. He is best known for his series-winning hit against the New York Yankees in the 1995 playoffs, known in Mariner lore simply as The Double. He went on to earn a special place in the hearts of Northwest fans for his humble personality, his decision to stay in Seattle for his entire career, and his community service. Baseball's annual award for the best designated hitter is now called the Edgar Martinez Award. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.
An Early Passion for Baseball
Edgar Martinez was born on January 2, 1963, in New York City to Jose and Christina Salgado Martinez. At age 2, when his parents divorced, Edgar and his siblings were sent to live with his grandparents, Mario Salgado and Manuela Rivera, in Dorado, Puerto Rico. His grandparents raised him and became profound influences on his life.
Dorado, just outside of San Juan, is known for its famous golf resort. Yet Edgar and his grandparents lived in the Maguayo neighborhood, a more modest area. Baseball entered Edgar's consciousness at an early age, spurred by his grandfather's passion for the game and by the success of Edgar's idol, Roberto Clemente, who had grown up only 35 miles from Dorado. All over the island, Puerto Ricans were glued to the 1971 World Series in which Clemente was named Most Valuable Player. Edgar remembered being "mesmerized" by the series at age 8 (Edgar, 6).
In Maguayo, "playing baseball was a way for me to entertain myself" (Edgar, 7). He would take a broomstick, pick up a rock from a pile in the backyard, and pretend he was Clemente. He also acquired a small glove, threw a golf ball against the driveway wall and fielded ground balls. He and his cousin would pitch bottle caps to each other and try to hit them with a taped-up toy bat. Edgar said the bottle caps never went straight, which meant they were good training for hitting breaking balls. In his backyard, he said he "developed the motor skills and hand-eye coordination that served me well in baseball" (Edgar, 10). He began playing Little League and soon realized he was the best hitter on his team.
The critical turning point in his life came at age 11, when his parents in New York reconciled and made plans for Edgar and his siblings to move back to New York. Edgar, however, had resolved not to go. He loved his grandparents, he loved Dorado and he did not want to leave. When the time came for his father to pick up Edgar and his siblings to go to the airport, Edgar hid on the roof of the house until they left. He later said that if he had gone to New York that day "none of it would have happened" -- "it" being his Hall of Fame baseball career (Edgar, 1). He believed that his father would never have allowed him to devote his time to baseball.
Puerto Rico had a vibrant baseball culture, and Edgar was immersed in it. He and his grandfather would listen to Puerto Rico Winter League games on the radio, and his grandfather would introduce Edgar to baseball strategy while second-guessing the managers. Edgar continued to star in Little League games, where he was always the best hitter, and then moved up to tougher leagues when he was 13. It took him awhile to mature, but within a few years he was excelling in those leagues as well. At age 18, he was recruited for the semipro team in nearby Vega Alta, where he soon set the record for doubles and hit over .400.
Edgar's cousin Carmelo Martinez was Edgar's role model through his teen years. Carmelo was two years older and had been intensely recruited by major league clubs. When Edgar was 15, Carmelo was signed by the Chicago Cubs and went on to a major league career. Edgar dreamed of the same, and was rapidly becoming a standout player. At 18, he earned a few major league tryouts, yet some of the scouts thought that Edgar was too skinny -- he weighed 165 -- and lacked power. He reluctantly came up with a fallback plan: He enrolled at the American University campus in Dorado, studying business administration. He also got a job at Westinghouse working with circuit breakers.
He was preparing for a life without baseball. Then, in 1982, at age 19, an opportunity arrived out of the blue. The Seattle Mariners were holding tryouts and Edgar's semipro manager had signed Edgar up. The tryouts were only 10 miles from Dorado, so Edgar finished his night shift at Westinghouse and headed for the field. As Mariners scout Marty Martinez (no relation) later said, "I liked his bat, of course. I liked his hands. And he threw the ball so accurately. A little funny motion but perfect to first base all the time. I thought he'd make a good middle infielder" ("Double Play").
Marty Martinez offered him a $4,000 signing bonus, but Edgar was reluctant to sign for two reasons. He did not want to leave his grandparents, who were unwell. Also, he felt he should have been offered $5,000, which was what the scouts offered another player at the tryout. He was being asked to give up his job, his education, his girlfriend, his grandparents and his business future for just $4,000? "It just didn't add up to me," he said (Edgar, 17). Then his cousin Carmelo told him he'd be crazy not to sign. Carmelo clinched it when he told Edgar that he'd played with dozens of pro players, and Edgar could not only compete with them -- he could surpass them.
In June 1983, Martinez embarked on a plane for Washington state. He was destined not for Seattle, but for the Bellingham Mariners, the team's short-season rookie league team, nicknamed the Baby Mariners. That first season was brutal. Edgar was homesick and chilled by Bellingham's cool climate. Worst of all, he hit .173. "It's still hard for me to fathom that number," he said (Edgar, 25). He feared his pro career was over.
To his immense surprise, the Mariners did not give up on him. At the end of the season, they gave him a vote of confidence by asking Martinez to play in the winter instructional league in Arizona. This was a slot reserved for the best prospects, and his bat immediately warmed up. He hit .340. In the spring of 1994 he was promoted to Single-A Wausau, in Wisconsin, where he hit .303 with 15 homers. His "unease" from that .173 season was fading (Edgar, 42).
No Room at the Top
Yet his path to the majors proved long and winding. After Wausau, he went back home to Dorado, where he played in the Puerto Rican Winter League – a league loaded with future major league all-stars. Then in spring 1985 he was promoted to Double-A Chattanooga, where he batted .258. He was proving to be an excellent third baseman, with an accurate throwing arm. However, in spring 1986, he did not climb the next rung to Triple-A. He was sent back to Chattanooga, where he batted .264. The Mariners scouts still considered him to be – ironically, in retrospect – a better defensive prospect than hitting prospect.
In spring 1987, he finally earned the promotion to Triple-A Calgary, just one rung below the majors. He loved Calgary and excelled at the plate, hitting .327. As soon as the Triple-A playoffs ended, manager Bill Plummer called him into his office and gave him the news: He was one of eight Calgary players called up to the Mariners for the final weeks of the major league season. He immediately called his grandparents to share the joy.
On Sept. 12, 1987, in a game against the Chicago White Sox, he walked to the plate for the first time in the major leagues -- and fouled out. He ran to first base so hard the first base coach had to yell at him to stop. He made the lineup two days later as the starting third baseman and roped a triple off the right-field wall -- the first of 2,247 hits in his major league career. The rest of the month went just as well. He hit .372 and made no errors. He believed he had earned a spot on the 1988 Mariners roster.
But he was wrong. The Mariners had a logjam at third base, and Martinez was sent back to Calgary in spring 1988. At Calgary, he excelled once again, hitting .363 and winning the Pacific Coast League batting title. He was called up briefly to Seattle, where he hit .281 in 14 games. In spring of 1989, he finally achieved one of his goals. He made the Mariners Opening Day roster, although as a utility player. "At age 25, I felt I was ready for my shot," he said (Edgar, 86).
As it turned out, Edgar had not yet escaped the minors, even though he was considered long in the tooth for the minors. In late May, he was sent back down to Calgary. He yo-yoed back and forth between Seattle and Calgary for the rest of the season. His 1989 Calgary numbers were stellar -- he hit .345 -- but his numbers with Seattle in 65 games were marginal: .240 with seven extra-base hits.
Edgar made the Mariner's Opening Day roster in 1990, but it looked like another frustrating season lay ahead. Darnell Coles began as the starting third baseman and Edgar languished on the bench as a utility infielder. But Coles faltered, and after two weeks Edgar earned a few starts. He made the most of them, and by June he was hitting over .300 and Coles was traded away. Manager Jim Lefebvre would later admit he had made a mistake by not going with Martinez from Opening Day. "After all the frustration of being shuttled back and forth to Calgary, it appeared I had finally won the job, at age 27," he said (Edgar, 97).
In the Bigs to Stay
This time, he was correct. He had won the job for good, which is not to say that rest of 1990 went smoothly. He suffered strains in his knee and in both hamstrings -- an ominous sign for the future -- and led the league in errors. However, his bat kept him firmly in the big leagues. In mid-September, his average was .296 and he went on a tear in the final two weeks to achieve his goal of hitting over .300. He finished at .302, and demonstrated new home run power. He later admitted that if he had finished even slightly below .300, he would have "felt the season was a failure -- that's the way my mind worked" (Edgar, 102). But now he was confident, he said, that he could continue to hit over .300 in the majors and possibly even win a batting title.
His humble personality and his unwavering work ethic had already earned praise. The Mariners' strength and conditioning coach said Edgar "has the kind of discipline I wish all baseball players had" ("Mister Muscle"). Fans and sportswriters loved his bat and his unassuming personality. "Edgar Martinez is too good to be true," wrote Seattle Times sports columnist Blaine Newnham in 1990 ("Mister Muscle"). Yet with emerging superstar Ken Griffey Jr. on the team, Edgar was content to stand in the background and quietly go about his work.
He came into the 1991 season with new confidence, new job security and a surgically repaired knee. "A new leg, a new man," said Lefebvre ("Tempe"). Edgar batted over .400 in spring training and stayed hot through the entire regular season, finishing at .307. That season, a new hand-lettered sign appeared regularly on the Kingdome railing: "Edgar esta caliente" (Edgar is hot). The sign was the work of a season ticketholder who considered Edgar a model of stability. Edgar, she said, was for the "serious" fan ("Edgar Esta Caliente"). That sign, along with the drawn-out chant of "Edd—gar!" would be ubiquitous at Mariners games for the rest of his career.
Martinez had another reason for satisfaction that season. He had signed a two-year $1 million contract, later extended another three years for $10 million. He used the money to pay off his grandparents' debts, including their home mortgage. It "was tremendously gratifying" to know that his grandparents "didn't have to struggle anymore" (Edgar, 130).
Perhaps the most momentous event of 1991 occurred in a hotel lobby. The girlfriend of Jim Street, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer beat writer, had noticed that Edgar was usually sitting in the lobby alone, so she said, "I know someone you would really like" (Edgar, 143). She was referring to her friend Holli Beeler, a student at Seattle Pacific University. Edgar, intrigued, gave Holli a call, but she told him she was too busy go out because she was studying. Edgar persisted, and they finally went out to dinner. The relationship clicked from the beginning, and they were married in fall of 1992. They would have three children together, Alex, Tessa, and Jacqueline. Holli went on to earn a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington, help run the family's foundation, and work as a corporate vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Batting Titles, Health Challenges
Edgar entered the 1992 season healthy, happy, and brimming with confidence. It proved to be easily the best season of his career so far. His batting average and his power numbers soared, and his third base defense improved dramatically. He was named to his first All-Star Game that summer. He got even hotter, batting .388 in July, and followed it with a .395 average in August. He ended the season at .343 and won his first American League batting title by a comfortable 10 points.
He had just accomplished one of his all-time goals, but he was not as thrilled as he anticipated. For one thing, his team had been terrible, finishing 38 games out of first place. Also Edgar had been bothered late in the season by a nagging shoulder injury, which forced him to miss the last three weeks of the season. The result, he would later say, "was an oddly empty feeling," because he had not run the race "to the finish line" (Edgar, 152).
However, he had plenty of reason for optimism entering 1993. His shoulder was surgically repaired, he was newly married, and new manager Lou Piniella was lighting a fire under the team. Edgar's optimism, as it turned out, would not last until Opening Day. During one of the last exhibition game of the spring in Vancouver's B.C. Place stadium, Edgar attempted to sprint to second base on the stadium's poorly prepared infield. He felt a pop in his left leg – a sound that would reverberate through the rest of his career. "I knew instantly it was very, very bad," he would later say (Edgar, 159-160). He made it to second base and collapsed.
It was his hamstring, but not a typical hamstring strain. It affected the stability of his knee. Mariners trainers and doctors did what they could to hasten the healing, but it was the kind of injury that could, and did, easily recur. As a result, he spent long stretches of the 1993 season on the disabled list, interspersed with periodic attempts to play on a still-unstable leg. In 1993, he batted a career-low .237 in only 42 games. At the beginning of the 1994 season, his leg finally felt better, but he suffered a different kind of mishap on Opening Day, when he was hit on the wrist by a pitch. He ended up in a cast and when he returned, he batted only .285 in 89 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Martinez was justifiably wary about the prospects for 1995. As it turned out, it would be Edgar's finest season, cementing his status as a Seattle legend. It certainly didn't hurt that the Mariners, under Piniella, had jelled into a contending team anchored by three future Hall-of-Famers: Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., and pitching ace Randy Johnson. The last two months of the 1995 season galvanized the fans, propelled the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time, and prevented what appeared to be the inevitable departure of the Mariners from Seattle. "I firmly believe we saved baseball in Seattle," Edgar later said. "It was such an improbable, thrilling rollercoaster ride, that more than two decades later, I still can't quite believe we pulled it off" (Edgar, 177).
For Edgar personally, it was the season he had dreamed of as a kid in Puerto Rico, hitting rocks in the back garden. He stayed healthy the entire season, helped, in part, by Piniella's decision to move him into the designated hitter's role. Edgar resisted the idea at first, but Piniella had logic on his side. The team had a fine third baseman in Mike Blowers, and Piniella said he needed Edgar in the lineup every day -- not on the disabled list.
At age 32, Edgar was in his prime -- smarter and more disciplined than ever, and with far more power. After he batted .402 in June, his longtime goal of hitting over .300 for the season seemed too low, so his new goal was to hit over .350. Edgar ended up at a career-high .356, a full 23 points higher than the next best hitter in the American League. It was his second American League batting title. This time, he allowed himself to savor it. "It felt so much better," he later said. "I made it all the way to the finish line" (Edgar, 152). He also hit 29 home runs, and knocked in 113 runs, nearly doubling his career highs in both categories.
As for the team's 1995 "rollercoaster ride," Edgar produced many of the biggest thrills himself, including the most important hit in Mariner history, dubbed simply, The Double. It came in the fifth and deciding game of the playoff series against the New York Yankees. The Mariners were behind 5-4 in the 11th inning. They were staring at the end of their magical playoff run -- and possibly, the end of baseball in Seattle. Edgar came up with runners on first and third, and the chance to tie or win the game. He had been given a similar chance in the bottom of the ninth -- and struck out on a split-fingered fastball. This time, however, he believed he had the advantage. He was certain that Yankee pitcher Jack McDowell would throw him that same split-fingered pitch.
"Sometimes, as a hitter, you just know," he said. "Sure enough, that's what I got, same location, just a little up. ... I lashed the ball into the left-field corner" (Edgar, 214-215). Joey Cora scored from third, and Griffey streaked home from first. The Mariners won the series and Edgar ended up in the middle of a joyful dogpile at second base. He would later say that The Double was always the first thing people wanted to talk to him about, and "I don't have any problem with that," (Edgar, 217.)
Yet it was certainly not the only thrill Edgar provided during the 1995 stretch run and playoffs. In the preceding game, Edgar set a postseason record by driving in seven runs, with two home runs. One was a game-winning grand slam. Fans were delirious with joy, and so were the sportswriters. "Edgar Martinez took a swing for eternity," gushed Seattle Times sports columnist Steve Kelley. "A line drive that cut through 18 years of ennui" (Kelley). The magic, however, ended with the American League Championship Series versus Cleveland, when the Mariners' ride ground to a stop.
'The Heart of My Career'
The Edgar Martinez hitting machine, however, was just getting rolling. Over the next four years, Edgar hit .327, .330, .322 and .337, establishing himself as the finest and most consistent designated hitter in the American League. "I felt like those years were the heart of my career, where everything was working," he would later say (Edgar, 257). He endeared himself to Seattle fans with a series of TV commercials in which his guileless delivery of such simple lines as, "I've got a little project," and "That's a problem," became Northwest catchphrases.
The Mariners were loaded with superstars -- Griffey, Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez -- so the spotlight was not always on Edgar, which suited his personality. "You never heard much from him," said his teammate and close friend Jay Buhner. "He spoke with his bat" (Edgar, 279). In 2000, he surpassed even his own high expectations, hitting 37 home runs and leading the league with 145 RBIs, the most for a player over age 37 since Babe Ruth.
By 2001, those other Mariners superstars were gone, but a new star, Ichiro Suzuki, arrived from Japan. The result was the winningest team that Edgar had ever played for -- or that anyone had ever played for. They tied the major league record with a stunning 116 wins, finishing 70 games over .500. Edgar batted .306 with 23 homers and 116 runs batted in, despite the fact that he missed a number of games with a leg injury. "It wasn't hard driving in runs that year with Ichiro and the rest of the guys always on base," he said (Edgar, 270). The only disappointment came when they lost to the New York Yankees in the league championship series. Edgar would never get a chance to play in a World Series.
The 2001 season was also the last time Edgar reached his goal of hitting over .300. A slow decline in Edgar's output ensued as age and injuries caught up with him. He later admitted that his thoughts began to turn to retirement after Buhner retired before the 2002 season. Another serious hamstring injury had hobbled him and he was about to turn 40. Yet he still believed he could be a productive member of the team and he proved it in 2003. He batted .294 -- a career year for most players not named Edgar Martinez -- hit 24 home runs, and was named to the All-Star team for the seventh time.
If 2003 convinced him he could still contribute, the first half of 2004 proved otherwise. He was suffering through back problems, along with his chronic leg problems. His batting average stood at .258. On August 9, 2004, he announced that he planned to retire at the end of the season. As he choked back tears, he said, "I've proved to myself that I won't be able to play anymore" (Edgar, 303). His wife Holli said he was "100 percent at peace with that decision" (Edgar, 304).
"At peace" was exactly the wrong phrase to describe the feelings of fans in Seattle. Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said it "felt like a funeral," or a "high hard one to the head" (Moore). PI columnist Art Thiel wrote, "There have been greater athletes, and there have been greater achievements, but almost never has the athlete and the achievements played out over such a long period by such a universally beloved figure" (Thiel).
The accolades showered down on Edgar Martinez Day, October 2, 2004, at Safeco Field. During a 90-minute postgame ceremony, commissioner of baseball Bud Selig announced that the annual award for the American League's best designated hitter would forever be called the Edgar Martinez Award, a surprise which brought Edgar to tears. Then, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced that Atlantic Avenue, outside the stadium, would be renamed Edgar Martinez Way. As it turned out, this would not be the only street named after Edgar. Calle 13 in his Dorado hometown is now known as Edgar Martinez Street.
Edgar ended with 2,247 hits, including 514 doubles. His career batting average was .312, comfortably above his longtime goal. One more accolade came a few weeks later at the World Series when he accepted baseball's Roberto Clemente Award. This award was especially meaningful to him. First, it was for community service, honoring the fact that Edgar and Holli had been involved in a staggering number of local charities and fund drives. Second, it was named after his childhood hero.
Martinez settled into a more domestic life with Holli and their three children. He and Holli continued to be involved in numerous Seattle-area charities and community organizations. He invested in an embroidery company in Puerto Rico and started a branch in Seattle. Yet he missed baseball. In 2008, he began working part-time with Mariners minor-leaguers. That worked out so well that in 2015 he found himself back in uniform in the Mariners dugout, as the major league team's full-time hitting coach. He held that job through the 2018 season.
One more accolade awaited, but the wait was agonizingly long. Martinez had become eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, but year after year, the votes came up short of the required 75 percent necessary. Finally, in 2019, in his 10th and final appearance on the ballot, he won 85.4 percent of the votes. A headline in The Seattle Times announced it with a one-word banner headline: "Hallelujah!" It was sweet vindication for Edgar, who called it "a special moment – something I can share with my family, the people of Puerto Rico, the fans and the city of Seattle" (Divish).
His induction into the Hall of Fame occurred on July 21, 2019, on a stage in Cooperstown, New York, yet the joy reverberated for thousands of miles, from Bellingham to Dorado, the places where Edgar Martinez had taken those first tentative steps toward Cooperstown.