Edgar Martinez sits at the center of my first really clear baseball memory. I have others, hazier ones, with moments that snap into more specific relief. I remember walking up the ramps of the Kingdome. I remember the brief moment of chill you’d experience when you entered its concrete chasm, separated suddenly from Seattle’s July warmth. I remember baseball guys doing baseball things, but which guys and what things are lost. Liking baseball, loving it, has persisted, but I don’t remember specific home runs any more than particular days of kindergarten, even though I still know how to read.
I have a hard time sussing out what of the rest of Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS is real memory and what is the result of having rewatched it, over and over and over, when I was in need of a good thing to hold on to. I do not feel confident that my impressions of Randy Johnson in relief, entering as he did to “Welcome to the Jungle,” are borne of the moment; nine-year-old me would not know to smirk at how much of his warmup was broadcast, would not have thought the hairstyles of those in the crowd funny. That’s what hair looked like in 1995.
But The Double is there. The Double I know. The Double I remember back through the years and into the corners of my living room. I recall the moment before the pitch was delivered. I remember my step-mom nervously fidgeting with the stakes of the moment and the gnawing concern about how long the game might go, how close to bedtime it would stretch. I remember yipping for joy, in that high-pitched way that kids have, annoying but pure. I remember, even if I didn’t yet quite have the vocabulary to talk about obsession and yearning, thinking, “Oh, I have to do this again.” I remember believing that Edgar Martinez was great. (I do not recall a single pitch of the Mariners loss to the Indians in the ALCS. Sometimes our memories spare us.)
I think much of baseball’s fastidious statistical chronicling is attributable to a native curiosity, a desire to be able to answer how this thing over here relates to that thing over there, even when the this and that are separated by generations. But I think a not-small part of our motivation to catalogue lies in an anxiety over the state of our own memories, whether we’re still sharp. We don’t just seek to make sure the deserving are immortalized; we seek to trust our own mortal lives, to know that we know things as they were. That we are reliable narrators. That the moments around which I built my fandom and my professional life, the root of this thing I sometimes recall more carefully than the details of my own biography, is as I thought it to be. That something so foundational need not be met with the same disquieting sensation I experience when I can recall what the third reliever on the Reds’ depth chart looks like, but for a moment, can’t muster up his name.
Edgar Martinez was a Hall of Famer, only for a long time he wasn’t one. And you start to wonder in those moments, despite knowing so many who agree with you, whether we haven’t all gotten it wrong, whether we aren’t a little less smart than we thought. Whether he was great.
And so I think it helps us to feel complete when we are affirmed in this way. We feel our memories and lives rich with detail, our mental pictures not only accurately rendered but placed in their proper context. Perhaps it takes me a beat longer than it used to to recall a player’s name from 1995, but this thing I know. I used to, as a very young person, think that Dan Wilson was a Hall of Famer. I was tiny and dumb and enamored with catchers, and there he was, our catcher and so the best catcher. But he was not the best. To Cooperstown he could only credibly go as a visitor, a witness to his friends’ greatness. I didn’t know what it meant to be great in any sort of a rigorous way back then; good childhoods aren’t often marked by an excess of rigor. I didn’t know. Except maybe on occasion I did.
After all, Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer, just like I remember him.
Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs, the host of FanGraphs Audio, and the co-co-host of Effectively Wild. Her work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.