Bradford: J.D. Martinez bracing himself for another MLB popularity contest

Rob Bradford
June 01, 2018 - 10:47 pm

HOUSTON -- When Frank Thomas opened the door to a conversation regarding how J.D. Martinez ranked compared to the world of big league hitters a few weeks ago, the Red Sox slugger jumped right in.

"To me, baseball has their guys and they're going to advertise them," Martinez said. "If you're not one of those you better walk on water. That's what we always laughed about, saying, 'Bro, you have to walk on water to make that show.' It's cool to at least get some recognition."

Now his theory is going to be put to the test like never before.

The ballots for this season's Major League Baseball All-Star Game were released Friday. The first takeaway when it came to Martinez? His position.

"It sucks but it’s part of it I guess," he said regarding being classified as a designated hitter. "It’s part of it. Every time they mention me now it’s as a DH. I don’t have any control over it. It’s just something they want to label me as. I have my take on it, but I don’t want to come out and say what I really think."

But with the Red Sox carrying three outfield candidates -- Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- on the ballot, there was probably not going to be any way around putting Martinez at DH, where he has started 29 of his 54 games this season.

The real issue is what is very likely awaiting Martinez when all the votes are counted.

Among the players the Red Sox' star will be facing in the fan balloting when it comes to earning the starting DH spot are the Angels' Shohei Ohtani and New York's Giancarlo Stanton. Neither can come close to matching up to what Martinez is doing, yet there is a very real possibility that the Red Sox rep could finish third. Why? Because of a perception problem that Martinez continues to insist permeates MLB's promotion's department.

"It’s not the frustrating part about not making it, it’s more the frustrating part of not being noticed by certain people," Martinez said. "Because the players know who I am. People who watch baseball know who I am but people outside baseball don’t. That’s where all of that plays into this. It’s more of a popularity contest than it is about performance."

He added, "The only year I only made it was when I was voted in by the players, which is who I think should vote. One hundred percent. Because that’s how you know who your All-Stars really are. The fans don’t know. The fans like to think they know. But they only know what MLB puts out there and who they post on their Instagram, who they post on their Twitter and who they talk about, stuff like that. They push certain people and it sucks for other guys who have great years and get overlooked. That’s why I always say the players should (pick). I understand the MLB’s side of it. They want to get fans involved."

Martinez has never come close to earning even Top 10 honors when it comes to fan balloting, making his only All-Star team in 2015 thanks to a tip of the hat from his MLB colleagues.

It should be fascinating few weeks now that voting has kicked off, with Martinez seemingly benefitting from playing in the biggest market of his career. Yet both Ohtani and Stanton represent exactly what Martinez has talked about -- players MLB desperately want to build their marketing campaign around.

The numbers for both candidates don't come close to Martinez, who took the MLB lead with his 19th home run Friday night. Stanton entered Friday hitting just .248 with 11 homers and a modest .793 OPS. Right now the four-time All-Star hasn't earned the right for another berth, but he still might get it. And Ohtani? He has probably performed well enough to legitimately get a nod as either a position player or pitcher.

The reality is that it would be a shock if any of those statistics truly matter when pitting the duo against Martinez. And, as the Sox hitter points out, that's the problem. He knows how it is, pointing to when as young fan his ballot was exclusively Miami Marlins. But now that he's in the world of big-league baseball, the view is a whole lot different.

"It’s not the frustrating part about not making it, it’s more the frustrating part of not being noticed by certain people. Because the players know who I am. People who watch baseball know who I am but people outside baseball don’t. That’s where all of that plays into this. It’s more of a popularity contest than it is about performance," Martinez said. 

"Honestly, I don’t care. I’m past that. When I was younger I did. When I was younger I was worried about the B.S. My numbers are better. This and that. The same story every year. Now, honestly, I don’t really care. I’ll go home, take my four days. If I go it’s great."

It's a conversation that should go on before, and after, the All-Star starters are announced. It's shaping up for a great test for what is truly important when it comes to identifying the best of the best.

"It’s something we can talk about afterward," Martinez said with a chuckle. "It’s still early."