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Wassell: Nelson Cruz belongs in the Mariners Hall of Fame

Nelson Cruz had a big impact in his four seasons with the Seattle Mariners. (AP)

The Seattle Mariners currently have nine members in the team’s Hall of Fame:

• Alvin Davis
• Dave Niehaus
• Jay Buhner
• Edgar Martinez
• Randy Johnson
• Dan Wilson
• Ken Griffey Jr.
• Lou Piniella
• Jamie Moyer

All of these guys spent a lot of time with the franchise. Alvin Davis, aka “Mr. Mariner,” has the least amount of service time at eight years (1984-91). Each contributed to the team’s success in their own way, whether it be defense, offense, pitching, etc.

I think we need to make a case for Nelson Cruz.

I don’t need to remind anyone how destructive a player he was during the four years he spent here (2015-18), but in case you forgot, here are the facts. He wasn’t just part of two teams that narrowly missed the playoffs, he was the biggest reason they were in contention in the first place. Every single time he came to bat, it was must-see tv. He could change the game with one swing on any given night.

Hitting 44, 43, 39 and 37 home runs in his four years in Seattle is no small accomplishment, especially at Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park. Yes, they moved the fences in many years ago, but it’s still not exactly Philadelphia, Baltimore or Yankee Stadium where a pop-up can carry much farther than it should. He could hit for average and get on base despite striking out a ton. He was an All-Star and finished in the top 15 in MVP voting three of the four years he was here.

I could go on and on about his on-field accomplishments, but let’s take a look at what he did away from it.

Nelson Cruz is one of sports’ good guys – no, not just a good guy, a great guy. Winning the ESPY for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award last Sunday, the country got to hear about what he’s been up to in his spare time, helping his native Dominican Republic, specifically his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz.

Here’s a little of what Cruz has provided to the community:

• A police station
• A Fire engine
• An ambulance
• Wheelchairs
• Crutches
• Dentists
• Optometrists
• Regular medical service
• Eyewear

Most importantly, he provides hope. He’s just one athlete and he’s been able to make such a huge difference in the lives of the people in that area. It would be amazing to think what could be accomplished if still more athletes would think about doing the same. I’m not saying there aren’t other athletes who don’t do unbelievable work in various communities, but it’s unclear how many have taken it to this level. Hearing his story and listening to him speak about his experiences is truly inspiring and the impact that he’s now had on the lives of so many is something that won’t soon be forgotten.

As an ambassador of goodwill, he gets the highest of marks. As an ambassador for baseball, he gets the same. As an ambassador for the Mariners, even though he’s no longer with the team, very few players in the history of the franchise have represented the team as well as Cruz. That should make up for his lack of service time here when considering him for the Mariners Hall of Fame.

Next to Griffey, I’m not sure there’s been another player that’s maximized his opportunity here more than Nelson Cruz, certainly statistically. But there’s also this little thing called leadership, something the Mariners desperately needed before he arrived. From the second he walked into the clubhouse, he carried a staggering presence. He’s listed at 6 foot 2 and 230 pounds, but appears much larger. Then there’s the smile that could light up the entire ballpark. People tend to trust that kind of expression on one’s face and it’s clear that his teammates certainly did.

As Cruz ages, he might not command big money anymore, but there’s a reason why last year’s up-and-coming Minnesota Twins squad wanted him along for the ride. Production, experience and leadership. En route to a 100-plus win year, the Twins got all of that from Nelson and he doesn’t appear to be stopping, having delivered 41 homers in 2019.

Sometimes it takes a little while before the whole picture comes together in our memories and we realize how special a certain player was. It’s tougher when that player was only here for what seemed like four hours, much less four years. I hope that in time, the Mariners seriously consider Nelson Cruz for the honor of being enshrined in their Hall of Fame, giving him the same ceremonial appreciation that we’ve seen for the other nine players who’ve already received that tribute.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom Wassell on Twitter.

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