Hot To Trot At 37, Edgar Martinez has suddenly caught fire as a home run hitter, while keeping his average well above .300

July 16, 2000

Everywhere he goes at the ballpark Edgar Martinez carries his bat
and a disgusting-looking doughnut. Not the dunkin' kind, but the
two-pound weight that slips over the bat handle and slides down
the barrel. The doughnut's original bright-red plastic cover is
darkened by old smears of pine tar and is ripped in places,
revealing the metal ring inside. Dirt and sand are pounded into
one side of the doughnut, and on the other, in crude black
marker, is printed GAR.

"You want to know why Edgar is so good?" says Jay Buhner,
Martinez's friend and longtime Mariners teammate. "It's that
doughnut. I wouldn't be shocked if he sleeps with the damn
thing."

When lefthander Jamie Moyer joined Seattle four seasons ago, he
was awed not by Martinez's stature as a hitter but by the
strangest batting practice technique he had ever witnessed.
Martinez would show up for early BP with that doughnut on his
bat and not take it off when he stepped in to take his cuts.
"The first time I saw it, I thought, What in the world is this
guy doing?" says Moyer. "Then I just watched--and wow! I've seen
him do that for years, and not once has the ball hit the
doughnut. Do you know how hard that is? Not hitting the
doughnut...not once?"

"Hitting a baseball isn't easy, so you do everything you can to
stay sharp," says Martinez, the humble 37-year-old designated
hitter who, despite five All-Star Game appearances, two American
League batting titles and a .321 career average, remains one of
baseball's most unheralded stars. "That's why I use the doughnut.
It adds weight to the bat and it makes swinging [in batting
practice] more of a challenge."

In his 14th major league season, at an age when most sluggers are
either being fitted for dentures or auditioning for the Devil
Rays, Martinez was batting .354 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs at
the All-Star break. He is having not only the best year of his
career but also his best year when the West Division-leading
Mariners need it most--in their first season sans Ken Griffey Jr.
Ever leery of praise, Martinez refuses to link Junior's departure
for Cincinnati with his own increased production. The power
spike, he says, has to do with slightly more uppercut in his
swing. "Normally I would try to correct something like that,"
says Martinez, who hit 24 home runs last season and a career-best
29 in 1995 and '98. "But when I'm doing well, it's better to
leave things alone."

Manager Lou Piniella sees things a little differently. The extra
RBIs, he says, are partially a result of Griffey's defection. In
previous years, with shortstop Alex Rodriguez usually batting
second, Griffey third and Martinez fourth, "the bases were often
cleared when Edgar came up," says Piniella, noting Martinez's 86
RBIs all last season. Now, however, Martinez bats cleanup mostly
behind centerfielder Mike Cameron (.355 on-base percentage) and
Rodriguez, who mixes extraordinary pop (24 home runs) with an
equally gaudy .439 on-base percentage. Martinez's first-half RBI
output beat the team All-Star break record of 84, set by Griffey
three years ago. "He's such a good hitter, every at bat is
different," says Brewers righthander John Snyder. "You can't
establish a pattern or he'll kill you. He's the Tony Gwynn of the
American League, just a hitting machine."

Since the start of the 1995 season, Martinez has a combined .336
batting average, ranking third in the majors in that span, behind
Gwynn (.351) and the Rockies' Larry Walker (.342). "None of his
hits are cheap," says Buhner. "His legs are so worn, they can't
be." Despite his slowness afoot, which is partly the result of
three off-season knee surgeries over the years, Martinez's .427
career on-base percentage is bettered only by the White Sox'
Frank Thomas (.440) among active players.

His secret is his dedication to physical fitness. While most
Mariners surely--and understandably--sleep into the afternoon after
a night game, Martinez often pops out of bed before the sun is
high in the sky over his home in Kirkland, Wash. He pulls on swim
trunks, jumps into his backyard pool and performs a series of
aquatic arm and leg exercises. "Once Edgar reached 30," says Rick
Griffin, Seattle's head trainer, "he changed his workout habits
and he changed his nutritional habits. He knew that age makes it
harder to maintain your conditioning, so he adjusted and
dedicated himself to being as well-conditioned as he could be."

That includes daily off-season weight training and running, as
well as another BP habit that Moyer calls "downright unique."
During spring training Martinez begins his sessions by watching a
slew of perfectly thrown strikes sail by. "That's something you
don't see other guys do," says Moyer. "Edgar's game is tracking
the ball, so he'll just stand and track."

Martinez isn't the only big leaguer sustaining his high skill
level late in his career. The Diamondbacks' 35-year-old
centerfielder Steve Finley, who last year had career-high homers
(34) and RBIs (103), is on track for 46 and 129 in 2000. Orioles
shortstop Mike Bordick, who turns 35 on July 21, already has more
home runs at the break, 14, than in any other year of his career.

"Older players who survive learn some secrets," says Martinez.
"When you're young, the season ends and you can take two months
off to relax. Now I take one week. When you're older, your body
starts to go. You have to do everything you can to fight that.
You can't let go."

For all his achievements, perhaps that is Martinez's most
admirable. He hasn't let go. Not even close.

COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN

Alive and Kickin'

Edgar Martinez had 23 home runs and 87 RBIs through the Mariners'
first 86 games, a pace that could eclipse power and productivity
marks for players 37 and older: Hank Aaron was 37 when he hit 47
homers for the Braves in 1971, and Babe Ruth was the same age
when he drove in 137 runs in 1932. Here are five players in their
mid-30s who are having career years in both categories in 2000.

Career Highs 2000 Projection
Player, Team Age HRs RBIs HRs RBIs

Edgar Martinez, Mariners 37 29 113 43 164
Steve Finley, Diamondbacks 35 34 103 46 129
Mike Bordick, Orioles 34 13 77 26 102
John Vander Wal, Pirates 34 6 41 19 85
Ron Coomer, Twins 33 16 85 20 99

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)