By Anthony Locicero - New York Sports Examiner Reporter - @Anthonylocic on Twitter
This Saturday, Tino Martinez will be presented with a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
Whether or not he is worthy for induction, however, is up for debate, with a look at as his qualifications, where he stacks up with other key players in the late-1990s dynasty, his missing out on the Hall of Fame, and his place among Yankees greats at first base.
Let’s take a look at Martinez and the arguments for and against his case.
The former first baseman played 16 years in the big leagues (1990-2005) for four different ball clubs: the Seattle Mariners; New York Yankees; St. Louis Cardinals; and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He finished his career with a .271/.344/.471 slash line; 1925 hits; 339 home runs; and 1271 runs batted in.
Martinez spent seven years in pinstripes (1996-2001, 2005), batting .276/.347/.484 – slightly higher than his career averages. He tallied 1039 hits, 192 long balls, and 739 RBI during his tenure and garnered a 16.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
Martinez’s best season was in 1997. That year, the lefty-batting, righty-throwing first baseman finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting (behind former Mariner teammate Ken Griffey, Jr.). Martinez was an All-Star, had the highest single season WAR of his career (5.1), earned a Silver Slugger award, and batted .296/.371/.577, with career-highs in homers (44) and RBI (141).
Remove the 1997 season and Martinez barely averaged over 25 homers per year.
He did follow that up with a dismal postseason performance, going 4-for-18 (.222) with no home runs or RBI in New York’s American League Division Series loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Martinez was an All-Star twice in career (once in Seattle, the year before coming to the Bronx) and appeared in the MVP voting once more in 2001.
He was never the best player at his position during his career, either; not with Frank Thomas still putting time in at first.
He is remembered for some postseason heroics, but in five World Series appearances (1996, 1998-2001), Martinez batted .268/.355/.390 with three HRs and 14 RBI.
Let’s break it down even further.
1996: .091/.231/.091, 1-for-11, no extra base hits or runs driven in
The Yankees faced some tremendous pitching in that series, so Martinez could arguably get a pass there.
1998: .385/.529/.615, 5-for-13, one extra base hit (HR), four RBI, four runs
Definitely his best performance, as New York swept the San Diego Padres.
1999: .267/.353/.467, 4-for-15, one extra base hit (HR), five RBI, three runs
2000: .364/.391/.409, 8-for-22, one extra base hit (2B), zero home runs, two RBI, three runs
2001: .190/.261/.333, 4-for-21, one extra base hit (HR), three RBI, one run
Would you be shocked to learn that Martinez (five appearances) has a better slash line and as many RBI as beloved former centerfielder Bernie Williams (six) in World Series play? (I use Williams as a comparison, since they were teammates, and Williams is generally regarded as the better player. The former No. 51 will be inducted in 2015.)
Williams holds the edge in hits (25 to 22), home runs (five to three) and music albums (okay… that doesn’t actually matter).
Williams played in 121 postseason games (third all-time), compared to Martinez’s 99 (good for sixth). Williams also has more postseason at-bats (465 to 356) and hits (128 to 83) than Martinez.
Williams’ rank in at-bats and hits? Second all-time for both. Martinez’s rank? Eighth and outside of the top 10, respectively.
Williams also has a regular season batting title (.339 in 1998), was a five-time all-star (all during Martinez’s time in pinstripes), won four golden gloves and appeared in the MVP voting five times, though never finishing higher than seventh (1998).
REGULAR SEASON/ALL-TIME (AS A BOMBER) STATS
During his regular season Yankee career, Martinez never led the AL in any offensive categories, thought he did flash some great glove work: .996 fielding percentage (best in the league in 1996). He was top five from 1996-2001, including second place thrice (1999, 2001-02) and was tops in assists in 1999. But Martinez never won a Gold Glove.
Likely a product of only spending seven season as a Yankee, Martinez is only in the team’s all-time top 10 in two categories, which are both single season records. He recorded 13 sac flies (third best) and 14 intentional walks (tied for seventh best) in 1997.
FELLOW PLAQUE RECIPIENTS
This is the complete list of Yankee mangers, players and others, that have plaques in Monument Park: manager Miller Huggins (Hall of Famer); first baseman Lou Gehrig (HOF); manager Jacob Ruppert (HOF); outfielder Babe Ruth (HOF); General Manager Ed Barrow (HOF); outfielder Joe DiMaggio (HOF); outfielder Mickey Mantle (HOF); manager Joe McCarthy (HOF); manager Casey Stengel (HOF); catcher Thurman Munson; catcher/outfielder Elston Howard; outfielder Roger Maris; shortstop/broadcaster Phil Rizzuto (HOF); second baseman/manager Billy Martin; pitcher Lefty Gomez (HOF); pitcher Whitey Ford (HOF); catcher Bill Dickey (HOF); catcher Yogi Berra (HOF); pitcher Allie Reynolds; first baseman Don Mattingly; broadcaster Mel Allen (recipient of HOF’s Ford C. Frick Award); public address announcer Bob Sheppard; pitcher Ron Guidry; pitcher Red Ruffing (HOF); second baseman Jackie Robinson (HOF) [honorary]; owner George Steinbrenner.
Those are a lot of big time names. Where does Tino Martinez rank amongst them?
At his position alone, Martinez is clearly behind Gehrig and Mattingly. But is he cemented at No. 3? Or were Chris Chambliss, who also spent seven years in the Bronx, and Bill “Moose” Skowron, who played nine years in pinstripes, superior players?
(For reference, Chambliss’ Yankee stats: .282/.323/.417, 954 hits, 79 HR, 454 RBI. Skowron: .294/.346/.496, 1103 hits, 165 home runs, 672 RBI).
Martinez’s numbers – outside of his average – are clearly better. But those numbers came during the so-called “Steroid Era.” While Martinez was never accused – that I remember – and never tested positive for PEDs, offense was at an all-time high during his playing career.
Chambliss and Skowron were well before my time, so I have no visual comparison. Sometimes we are biased based on our observations.
HALL OF FAME
Martinez only garnered one percent of the vote in 2011. He won’t be elected later, as he will not appear on the ballot anymore.
There are some non-Hall of Famer players included in Monument Park and I will touch on that below.
ERA BY ERA
Just about each era is represented in Monument Park, with the Dynasty Era (mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s) players the next to be inducted.
It’s no questions that Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada – the Core Four – are 100 percent worthy of plaques. Jeter – who will have his No. 2 retired – and Rivera will definitely receive their own monuments as well.
But does Martinez deserve to get honored before Pettitte and Posada? I say no. Since Jeter is in his final season and Rivera only hung up his cleats after the 2013 campaign, I understand a waiting period.
Should Williams, who never formally retired but hasn’t played since 2006, have been honored this year instead of next? In terms of qualifications, I would argue yes.
In terms of production and fan support, the Core Four ranks way above Martinez. I’d argue that Williams – and possibly Paul O’Neill, who will be honored in August – were more popular as well. Who can forget the send off O'Neill got when the crowd chanted his name in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2001 World Series?
Martinez also took over for Donnie Baseball – no easy task.
But, this isn’t a popularity contest, though I venture to guess it played a part in the decision.
As for the Dynasty Era, are other players from that time also worthy of induction? How many other guys do you include then? Do you add Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton, two key bullpen cogs during that time? Roger Clemens? (Every time I see his name, I hear it in Susan Waldman’s voice “Rawger Clemens is in George Steinbrenner’s bawx!”) David Cone (He threw a perfect game)? David Wells (So did he, but he was allegedly drunk or hung over)? Chuck Knoblauch (before the yips)? Scott Brosius (intangibles)? El Duque (I just like his nickname)? Hideki Irabu? (JUST KIDDING!)
Why not just honor the 1996, 1998-2000 teams as a whole?
There’s also a lot of nostalgia surrounding those teams, especially with the Bombers winning the World Series once since (2009) in three tries (2001, 2003, 2009).
The only other name I could think of in the post-Dynasty Era (that didn’t play then) who could end up being honored would be Hideki Matsui. Before injuries, Matsui was one of the better Yankees and his 2009 World Series performance (.615 average, eight RBI and the MVP award) has cemented him in New York baseball lore. But he seems more of a “Thank You” ceremony or possible number retirement candidate.
To combat the induction of just any former Bomber, a set of qualifications for enshrinement should exist.
I’m not sure what measurements the Yankees use, but there should be some sort of system, as to not dilute the rich history of Yankee baseball.
How long was the player’s tenure? Let’s use seven years, barring injury or other mitigating circumstances, as the bar.
Should plaques only be reserved for surefire Hall of Famers? Future Hall of Famers or those who are inducted that spent a majority of their career in pinstripes – without a doubt. Players like Donnie Baseball, the 1985 AL MVP, and Thurman Munson, who spent their entire careers with the Yanks, had an impact that went beyond their numbers – which were great anyway before injury and, sadly, death, respectively, cut their careers short.
Jeter and Rivera are first ballot HOFers. Posada and Pettitte – especially with the latter’s steroid use admission – are borderline candidates, but undeniably all-time Yankee greats.
MY VERDICT - YOU DECIDE/DEBATE
I’ve talked to some friends and fans that mainly seem to think Tino is unworthy. What do you think? Did Martinez earn it or is this just a nostalgia ploy by the Steinbrenners?
My verdict is no, Tino should not be included. While he could – and should – certainly be applauded and thanked, I think a plaque is overboard. Tino had some good seasons in pinstripes and is a four-time champion, but rings alone can’t merit enshrinement. By adding a plaque for Tino, I believe the standards for induction are now lowered. This seems to be more about selling tickets, not truly honoring a deserving candidate.
I will debate Paul O’Neill’s candidacy closer to his August ceremony.
[Auth. note: I met Tino back in 2010 when he was doing broadcast work for the YES Network. Very friendly guy. He struck up a short conversation with me. I have no issue with Tino Martinez the man. And I enjoyed watching him play for the Yankees during the 1990s. But during his tenure, I’d rank him clearly behind the Core Four.]
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