THAT'S WHAT THEY DESIGNATED HIM FOR: In a few days, an electorate that ranges from insightful to barely literate will mail in its Baseball Hall of Fame ballots, and too few of those ballots will have Edgar Martinez on them.
The case for Edgar Martinez is simple. He was, in his 16+ seasons, one of the game's elite hitters. His career numbers -- depressed by a subpar final season and the three years he spent leading AAA in batting, thus shortening his peak -- include a .312 batting average (including two batting titles and seven top-8 finishes), a .418 OBP (including three OBP titles and 11 top-6 finishes), and a .515 slugging percentage (including six top-10 finishes). His career OBP is 22nd of all time; his career OPS is 34th. Other than Shoeless Joe Jackson (banned from baseball), Ferris Fain (1947-55), and Max Bishop (1924-35), Edgar has the highest OBP of any HOF-eligible player who is not in the HOF; only 10 members of the HOF have higher OBPs than he does. Edgar had eight seasons with an OPS+ greater than 150, and as ESPN's David Schoenfeld points out, only 24 other players can say that, all of whom (a) are in the Hall of Fame; (b) will be in the Hall of Fame; (c) are formally or informally barred from the HOF for steroid or gambling reasons; or (c) are Dick Allen. That he did all of this with a degenerative eye disease, as a right-handed batter (his 1992 batting average was the highest for a right-handed hitter since 1959), playing a significant portion of his career in Safeco (which disfavors RH hitters in a way that park adjustments don't reflect) is simply icing on the cake. With those numbers, plus the fact that he is, by all accounts, a wonderful human being (he is one of 8 MLB players to have been inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame), if his hat said "NY" or "B," he certainly would be in the Hall of Fame.
There are two, and exactly two, things that will keep him out. The first is that he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. Some of the people who make this argument believe that the DH is not a valid baseball position (and perhaps is just a passing phase), or at least is less valid than others. To these people, I say: (a) the NL is more likely to adopt the DH than the AL is to jettison it; (b) the DH is now old enough to run for President, and its children can vote for it; (c) nobody ever argues that AL pitchers should be excluded from the HOF because they don't bat; (d) the HOF includes, legitimately, a number of relief specialists whose contributions to the game are subsantially inferior to Martinez's; and (e) the HOF is already a little bit pregnant -- a third and a quarter of the games played by Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Jim Rice (two players whose offensive stats were inferior to Martinez's) were at DH. Those two would not be in the HOF but for their performance as designated hitters. A more sophisticated argument is that Martinez should be penalized, not excluded, for being a DH. The response to this is that: (a) using Fangraphs's positional adjustment of -17.5 runs/season for a DH, Martinez's stats suffer, but he remains above the HOF cutoff; but (b) who penalizes players for defense, anyway? Under this argument, Edgar still comes out only slightly behind, say, Manny Ramirez (a somewhat better LH hitter, but a spectacularly bad fielder playing a -7.5 defensive position) and substantially ahead of Jim Rice (a worse hitter playing a -7.5 defensive position badly). More generally, in response to both of these arguments, look: DH is a position played, pursuant to the rules of professional baseball, by professional baseball players. If baseball recognizes the position, shouldn't baseball's Hall of Fame recognize the greatest DH of the first 30 years of that position?
The other argument that people raise with respect to Martinez is that his rate stats are great, but his counting stats are so-so. Me, I'm a big fan of rate stats; not so much a fan of career counting stats. They reward people who hang on too long and who hurt their teams by making a lot of outs while pursuing a few hits and homers. But if you care about those things, then consider this: (a) one of the reasons that Edgar has too few hits is that the idiot Mariners left him to abuse AAA pitching for three years while Jim Presley stunk up the hot corner in Seattle; and (b) another is that he walked so often -- he theoretically could have traded many of his walks for somewhat fewer hits, but that would have hurt his team. The fact is that when Martinez came to the plate, pitchers did not say to themselves, "I should pitch to him -- he doesn't have that many career hits." Pitchers knew that Martinez would punish them if they threw him anything to hit, and he did, which is why they often didn't give him anything to hit.
Edgar Martinez won't be in the Hall of Fame this year, but he should be.