Martinez quietly bringing fame to Seattle Third baseman remains league leader in batting

April 30, 1991|By Kent Baker

He plays in a city where the team never has had a winning season.

He plays a position where the glitter names in the league are Wade Boggs, Kelly Gruber and Gary Gaetti.

He had 27 errors last season, including a record-tying four in one game against the Baltimore Orioles, leading to a good-hit, no-field reputation that insiders on his club say is undeserved because he was injured.

But make no mistake. Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners, a player barely known east of Puget Sound, is making an impact on the American League.

Martinez quietly finished sixth in the batting race last year, equaling Boggs' .302 average, and third in on-base percentage (.397).

And, after last night, he was off to another torrid start, batting .422 -- leading the league in both categories and reaching base in every game. He also has a 14-game hitting streak, the longest of the year in the majors.

The streak has manager Jim Lefebvre batting him fourth in an order packed with line-drive hitters but little raw power.

"A lot of people think a fourth guy hits 30-plus homers," said Lefebvre. "But he's not that kind of hitter. Edgar will drive in his share of runs, basically because he's a good contact guy."

No doubt about that. For numbers buffs, Martinez is a dream. He missed on only 8.3 percent of his swings last season, the lowest in the league, and had a .270 average with two strikes on him.

"It doesn't matter where I bat," he said. "But you always like to be in the upper part of the lineup. I'm up there because I'm swinging the bat well, so my average is higher."

Defense is another matter. Critics said he had limited range, but the Mariners insist a hamstring problem and a gimpy knee contributed heavily.

"He's capable of being a real good third baseman," said coach Ron Clark. "The bad leg hurt him last year. The biggest part of infield play is in the feet. And if you're not healthy, you can't use them like you're supposed to."

"We're working with him on a few little things, first-step quickness, staying low and the crossover step."

Martinez has just three errors to date and, according to Lefebvre, has "improved dramatically. Wherever he's been, he's been a good fielder, all the way up the line. Playing with a bad knee created a lot of difficulty."

He underwent arthroscopic surgery Oct. 2 after "trying to play through games with injuries because I thought I could. Now, I think I can improve my defense." A patient and consistent hitter, Martinez draws a lot of walks, hits to and on all fields, at home and on the road and against all types of pitchers.

He seems best suited to the No. 2 spot in the batting order jTC because of his bat control, but until the Mariners acquire a bona fide cleanup man, probably will hit fourth.

That he is virtually anonymous doesn't seem to bother Martinez, who is "happy where I am. If I don't get all the publicity , I don't mind."

Edgar Martinez at a glance


Born: Jan. 2, 1963, New York, N.Y.

Height: 5-11. Weight: 175. Bats: Right. Throws: Right.

How obtained: Signed by Mariners as a free agent on Dec. 19, 1982.

Career highlights: Won Pacific Coast League batting title in 1988 with a .363 average for Calgary. . . . Ranked third in the AL in on-base percentage (.397) and sixth in average (.302) in 1990. . . . Batting average in 1990 was highest ever by a Mariners third baseman. . . . Committed four errors vs. Orioles on May 6, 1990, to tie an AL record for third basemen.

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