Martinez will put DH merits to test

Edgar Martinez is the latest test for Hall of Fame qualifications.

It has taken the better part of three decades for relief

pitchers to earn credibility among the folks who decide who will be

enshrined in Cooperstown — and even with that, former all-time

save leader Lee Smith remains on the outside looking in.

Can Martinez speed up the process for the designated hitter?

Martinez is among 15 first-time candidates among the 26

players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, which has been sent to

veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Election requires a player to be included on 75 percent of the

ballots cast.

Martinez is so identified with the DH role that the AL

Designated Hitter Award is named for the former Seattle Mariner.

Martinez was an elite hitter. The validity of his candidacy will

hinge on how dominant voters feel a one-dimensional player needs to

have been.

While Martinez did have a career .312 average in more than 18

seasons with Seattle, will the fact he didn’t come close to 3,000

hits (he had 2,247), 400 home runs (he had 309) nor 1,500 RBI

(1,261) work against him?

And does a one-dimensional player belong in the Hall of Fame?

Does defense not play some role in determining the overall

greatness of a player? In 18-plus big-league seasons, Martinez was

a DH in 1,412 games, and appeared in the field in 591 games (561

starts). He appeared in the field in 100 games in only three

seasons, and played a total of 32 games in the field in his final

10 seasons.

How much wear and tear did Martinez avoid by not playing in

the field?

And when he did play in the field it was primarily at third

base with an occasional game at first base, two positions where the

emphasis is on power and production.

How voters respond to Martinez will create a baseline for

future DH candidates.

THE STRONGEST CANDIDATE for first-time election is

second baseman Robert Alomar, a 12-time All-Star during his 17-year

career, who played on world championship teams in Toronto in 1992

and 1993, won 10 gold Glove awards, and was a career .300 hitter

with 474 stolen bases.

Among the 11 holdovers from last year, the biggest puzzle

remains former Detroit shortstop Alan Trammell, the heart and soul

of the ’80s Tigers. Trammell will be on the ballot for the seventh

time, but has yet to be named on even 20 percent of the ballots

cast. His high point was 18.2 percent in 2008.

The only holdovers who were on more than 50 percent of the

ballots cast a year ago were Andre Dawson (67 percent) and Bert

Blyleven (60.7). It’s been a strong climb for Blyleven, the only

member of the 3,000 strikeout club not enshrined. In his first year

of eligibility, 1998, he received support from only 17.55 percent

of the voters.

Will the 13th year be the lucky year for Blyleven?

NO DOUBT Commissioner Bud Selig declined a

contract extension, as reported during the weekend, but don’t read

too much into that. Selig’s current term is scheduled to expire

after the 2012 season, by which time a new labor agreement will be

in place. He says he plans to retire so he can pursue other

interests.

Yeah, right. Selig is a history buff, but he has one passion

— baseball.

The only reason Selig would step down after the 2012 season

is because he will be 78 and might not want to deal with the grind.

But if Selig still feels strong, it is hard to believe he will not

accept another contract.

History being a good predictor of the future, consider that

when Selig became interim commissioner after the ouster of Fay

Vincent in 1992, he was adamant that he would not accept the job on

a full-time basis. After six years as the interim commissioner,

Selig finally had the interim removed from his title. In 2003, he

said he would retire when his deal expired in 2006, and in 2006 he

said he would step down after the 2009 deal.

The irony of Selig’s tenure is initially there were concerns

about an owner in the job, but in reality it has probably been a

critical part of a growing ability of the owners and the Major

League Baseball Players Association to work together, and to have

avoided a work stoppage since the 1994 player strike.

There no longer is any pretense that the commissioner is the

overlord for all in baseball. The owners always have hired and paid

the commissioner, and the efforts of some, including Vincent, to

act as if they were not controlled by the owners only led to an

inability to address issues and look for solutions.

THAT CHUCKLE is coming from former Minnesota

general manager Terry Ryan. Ryan, who has never been given full due

for the wonderful job he did in making the Twins a consistent

contender, was ridiculed by many when he opted to take high school

catcher Joe Mauer with the No. 1 pick in the June 2001 draft.

Even though Mauer was given a $4 million signing bonus,

critics called Ryan cheap because he chose a local kid from St.

Paul, instead of the highly publicized Mark Prior, who went No. 2

overall to the Cubs, and signed for $4.6 million.

As usual, Ryan had a plan and it worked. Prior flamed out. In

five full big-league seasons, Mauer has earned the AL MVP in 2009,

three All-Star selections, two Gold Glove awards and three Silver

Slugger awards.