SEATTLE -- As Ken Griffey Jr. addressed the media at Safeco Field on Friday at a press conference discussing his election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, one interested observer at the back of the room was Edgar Martinez.
There are many who believe Martinez deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown as well following his outstanding 18-year career with the Mariners, but his path won't be nearly as sure or smooth as his former teammate's.
Griffey blew into the Hall by being named on a record 99.3 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots in his first year of eligibility, while Martinez was drawing encouragement from seeing his support increase to 43.4 percent in his seventh year on the ballot.
Martinez, 53, knows as well as anyone how impressive Griffey was as a player and what a rare feat it was for him to be a near-unanimous selection.
"It's great," said Martinez, now working as the Mariners' hitting coach after taking over that post in midseason last year. "I knew he was going to get in, for sure, with the career he had. But it's always great to see when it happens. I'm very happy for him."
Martinez is seven years older than Griffey, but the two were rookies the same season in 1989. Martinez had played 27 games the two previous years, primarily as a September callup, but broke camp in '89 as Seattle's starting third baseman.
Martinez opened the year hitting eighth in a batting order, where Junior was second. That year's Opening Day lineup included a mix of veterans -- Harold Reynolds, Alvin Davis, Jeffrey Leonard and Dave Valle -- as well as rookies Griffey, Martinez and shortstop Omar Vizquel, who made his own MLB debut the same day as Griffey.
Martinez was working to make his own niche at the time, but he well remembers the 19-year-old phenom who forced his way onto the roster with an impressive Spring Training.
"The first year I could see the talent," Martinez said. "I could see he had the power, was able to hit the ball for average, and it was just a matter of time to get a few years in the big leagues and get some experience. You could tell he was going to be a great player."
Over the next 11 years, Martinez had a front-row seat watching Griffey develop into one of the game's all-time superstars.
"Some of the plays he made, I remember one in Detroit where he was almost on the other side of the fence and caught it," Martinez said. "Obviously the one in the Kingdome when he got hurt [on the 'Spider-Man' catch in 1995) was an amazing play. He was an all- around player. He could do anything -- defense, run, hit for average, power, throw. It was a lot of fun to watch."
And of course, Martinez and Griffey wound up combining for what still stands as the biggest play in franchise history when Martinez's two-run double in the bottom of the 11th drove in Griffey from first base for the winning run in a 6-5 victory over the Yankees that sent Seattle to the 1995 American League Championship Series in the Mariners' first year making the postseason.
"I couldn't believe he scored because it was down the line and actually the ball didn't go foul," Martinez said. "It was in fair territory. It tells you what he could do on the field.
"I knew when I was turning after I went up to first base, I looked and I knew he was going to go for it. One of the things about Junior, he had all the five tools, but the instincts were there also, which is amazing. He got a good jump and I knew he was going to score."
Now it's Griffey's turn to try to drive Martinez home. He's taken advantage of his own Hall of Fame election to advocate for Martinez's candidacy, something Randy Johnson did the previous year as well. Martinez's voting percentage jumped from 27.0 to 43.4 this year. It's a positive step, though he'll need to keep gaining momentum to reach the necessary 75 percent for induction in his remaining three years of eligibility.
"I think it's probably some of the sabermetrics giving more importance to the on-base percentage and things like that. I think it probably helps," Martinez said. "I was pleased with the jump. I didn't expect that big of a jump because the last few years I was going down. So I'm very pleased."
But Martinez also knows there are those who think his case is hurt by having spent the majority of his career at designated hitter or that his career numbers aren't quite enough, despite having the 21st best on-base percentage in MLB history and being regarded by many as the best right-handed hitter of his era.
Sometimes you just have to recognize that getting Hall of Fame votes isn't easy, a fact driven home again by the knowledge Griffey wasn't a unanimous choice among the 440 writers who cast ballots this year despite his obvious qualifications.
"How many votes [didn't he get]? Three?" Martinez said. "Who are they? I mean, he's a 100-percent kind of guy. But it happens."