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Edgar Martinez Following Reese’s Unfortunate Path

The 2012 Hall of Fame voting results were really never in question — this was Barry Larkin‘s year. The only question would be how close certain other players could inch towards their own home in Cooperstown. A few took steps forward — Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines enjoyed substantial gains. Others, like Mark McGwire, took steps back.

Edgar Martinez was a member of the final category — those that moved laterally, showing little to no momentum. Martinez debuted on the ballot in 2010 with 36.2% of the vote, slipped back to 32.9% last year, and just managed to claw his way back to his starting point this year, landing 36.5% of the vote. Although there have been a few players to start in the same vicinity as Martinez and make it to Cooperstown — Rich Gossage and Eddie Mathews, for example, these players have typically gained large amounts of support in their second or third years on the ballot before making it in. Martinez’s stagnation instead is reminiscent of a current Hall of Famer who had to rely upon the Veteran’s Committee for induction: Pee Wee Reese.

Reese’s candidacy opened at 36.3%, and much like Martinez’s, it struggled to get off the ground early. He would never make it over 50% of the vote in his 15 years on the ballot.

On the field, Martinez and Reese were complete opposites. Reese was a slick-fielding shortstop for the Jackie Robinson-era Dodgers, appearing in the All-Star games in 1942 as well as every year from 1946 through 1954 (missing 1943-1945 due to World War II). His reputation as a fantastic defender is backed up by TotalZone, which rates him as a +117 shortstop over the course of his career, including five seasons at +10 or better. However, he had a fatal flaw in the eyes of the Hall of Fame voters: a merely average bat. Reese finished with a career 104 wRC+, but much of this value was based on plate discipline. His .269 average and 126 home runs apparently didn’t add up to much in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters, but the strength of his glove and a solid .366 on-base percentage make him a Hall of Fame-quality player through the lens of WAR, as his 69.7 mark finishes right around players such as Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar even though he lost his age 24 through 26 seasons to the war.

It is the reverse argument which is likely to keep Martinez out of the Hall. Martinez’s incredible .312/.418/.515 line is clearly a Hall of Fame level bat — only 34 other players have a higher wRC+ than Martinez’s 148 with at least 5000 plate appearances. However, Martinez’s status as the designated hitter has been the deciding factor for a litany of voters to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Perhaps with Martinez there is a bit more of a question than Reese — Martinez’s 69.9 WAR is less impressive than Reese’s 69.7 given the loss of prime years to military service for the latter, and other players with similar marks have been left out (Alan Trammell, Dick Allen and Willie Randolph, for example). But personally, I believe Martinez and his bat deserve enshrinement despite his limitations as a fielder.

Pee Wee Reese did eventually (and deservedly) gain his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, but only thanks to the Veteran’s Committee. Unless the voters for the Hall of Fame drastically change their stance on the designated hitter in the next few years, it would seem Edgar Martinez will need to take the same route to Cooperstown.