On Edgar Martinez

In the last round of Hall of Fame voting, Edgar Martinez set a new high in his percentage for the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, for Martinez, that percentage was barely more than a third of eligible voters. While usually such predictions are left to our Nostradamus of the Hall of Fame ballot, Chris Jaffe, it seems a safe bet that, though Martinez will spend the full 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, his chance of being elected is relatively low.

And if it were up to me, that’s just the way it should be. Though Martinez has his adamant supporters—his Baseball-Reference page is sponsored by a fan linking to an article by ESPN’s David Schoenfield in favor of Martinez’ case—I remain largely unimpressed.

Before we get into the reasons I don’t believe Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame, it is only fair I point out that were he to earn election, he would hardly be the worse choice. The list of players worse than Martinez in the Hall is not a short one and includes names like Lou Brock, Ross Youngs and everyone’s favorite recent inductee Jim Rice.

Having said that, there are three reasons I believe Martinez does not belong in the Hall. These are presented in no particular order, although I’m saving the most subjective—and by extension, probably most debatable—point for last.

(1) He Didn’t Play Enough

This was part of the comment I made explaining why I did not support Edgar in the THT Hall of Fame vote. It was not until Martinez was 27 that he received 500 at-bats in a season. It is almost indisputable that Martinez should have been playing long before that. In 1987, coming off a year when he put up a .329/.434/.473 line at Triple-A Calgary, Martinez earned a September call-up with the Mariners. In just under 50 plate appearances, Martinez hit .372 and slugged .581 for a mediocre (78-84) Seattle team.

image
Like Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz does not spend enough time doing this (Icon/SMI)

Instead of giving their obviously ready young hitter a chance, in 1988 the Mariners stuck with the dreadful Jim Presley who hit .230 and posted a .635 OPS—worse than all but fourteen batting title qualifiers that year. In a related story, the Mariners went 68-93. Meanwhile, Martinez proved he had nothing else to learn at Triple-A, hitting .363 with a .983 OPS, putting the power into the Calgary Cannons.

The Mariners still didn’t learn from this as it was not until 1990—at age 27, as I mentioned before—that Martinez finally earned a full-time job. Unfortunately for Martinez, though he would be a regular when healthy for the rest of his career, health issues (and later interleague play) limited his action. Martinez played until he was 41 but still only had 10 seasons of 550 or more plate appearances.

For his career, he only came up to the plate 8,672 times. Had the Mariners given Martinez a job when he deserved one—likely before the ’87 season—and he had the benefit of better health, that might be enough to push him over the top of Hall of Fame worthiness.

(2) His Best Wasn’t Quite Great Enough

There’s no denying that at his best Martinez was a tremendous hitter. In 1995, he won the American League batting title, while also leading in good measure in runs, doubles, and slugging percentage. Just to prove this was no fluke of the hitter-friendly Kingdome, Martinez led the league in OPS+ by six points over Frank Thomas. Further cementing his legend, Martinez terrorized the Yankees—and by extension, my 11-year old self—in the ALDS putting up a ridiculous .571/.667/1.000 line which included the series-winning double.

Despite this, Martinez simply does not have the numbers to support his induction. As someone whose Hall of Fame has to be defined entirely by offensive production—and despite playing in a strong hitters ballpark for much of his career—Martinez’ ranks in offensive statistics are underwhelming. In the “Black Ink Test,” which rewards a player for leading his league in meaningful statistics, Martinez accumulated fewer points in his entire career than names like Ryan Howard and Don Mattingly. As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.

(3) Being a DH is Easy

As mentioned earlier, this one is subjective. Nonetheless, I think it is a major part of why Martinez does not belong in the Hall of Fame. For his career, Martinez played less than 600 games in the field. After suffering an injury—something of a fluke owing to a temporary field at Vancouver’s BC Place stadium—before the 1993 season, Martinez was essentially finished as a defensive player. Martinez’ last season of more than 100 defensive games was in 1992, and by the time the strike was resolved prior to the 1995 season it was clear that Martinez’ days as anything but a DH were essentially over. (And indeed, from 1995 until he retired, he played well under 50 games in the field.)

This means that from 1995 on, Martinez had all the benefits that being a DH has. He could train in the off-season able to focus entirely on hitting, with no concerns for his defense. Martinez never had to come to the plate after spending a day in the field in roasting August heat or freezing April sleet. A DH never has to bat having just endured a rough slide on a double play, nor had the wind knocked out of him diving for a ball in the outfield.

Most statistical measures attempt to account for a DH in some manner, usually centered on penalizing them for their defense—or lack thereof. This is something which obviously needs to be accounted for, but I remain convinced that the standard for a full-time DH needs to be set tremendously high when you consider the multitude of inherent advantages.

As I said at the outset, while Martinez would hardly be the worst choice for the Hall of Fame—I’d still rather see him in than Jack Morris—I would not be giving him my vote, a view it appears I share with the majority of the Hall’s voters.

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Comments

  1. DC said...

    On a serious note, I believe being the first truly great DH in baseball should account for something. His playing career is nothing but excellent, and a player should not be faulted when his team refuse to play him over atrocious options.

  2. John DiFool said...

    As DC intimated, if you adjust DH numbers from the defensive side of things, then if you truly wish to be objective you have to adjust them from the offensive side of things too.  There’s been plenty of players who, when moved to DH, simply couldn’t hit as well there as they did when they played the field (this remains true even if you adjust for aging curves, as players tend to play more at DH when they get older).  Having a guy like EMart or David Ortiz who can rake from the position for an entire season is pretty invaluable.

  3. Richard Barbieri said...

    Has anyone ever made a real study of players moving to DH and compared their hitting? It seems like a lot of the examples that it negatively affects players are anecdotal and often influenced by outside factors.

    I don’t dispute there might be an adjustment to be made, but I stand by the general sentiment of what I wrote in #3.

  4. Ed said...

    Your third point is awfully subjective. If you’re going to weigh that against him (when studies have actually shown that DHing full-time makes hitters worse—I’m trying to find the article), you should probably take into account that he suffered from an ongoing eye problem that regularly diminished his depth perception or left him unable to follow the ball entirely. Combating that left him with a lot less time to focus on his training.

    Meanwhile, he put up a .312/.418/.515 batting line, one of what, 18 players to ever top .300/.400/.500 for their career. To put it another way, his 69.9 career WAR (per Fangraphs) is nearly twice that of David Ortiz at 35.8.

    70 WAR is generally held as the baseline for a solid Hall of Fame career. Which Edgar achieved despite, as you point out, despite being left in the minors 2-3 years too long.

    I’ll try to find that article about how DHing negatively impacts hitting.

  5. db said...

    I agree with Rich.  Edgar was a great hitter, but not great enough, long enough to deserve to be in the HOF.  For an offense only type player, I think bilestones matter.  So I would leave Edgar off, while I would vote Frank Thomas (who was about as nifty with the leather as Edgar was) in.

  6. Ed said...

    Tangotiger’s study here shows that players who DH hit worse than they do when playing other positions:

    http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/is_where_you_play_on_the_field_conducive_to_better_hitting_performance/

    Conclusion: over the course of an average season, DHing full-time costs a hitter 9 runs, or nearly one win. It’s unclear how much of this is related to players DHing because they’re injured and thus less productive. (And when it comes to positional adjustment for DHs, they err on the conservative side to reflect this uncertainty. In other words, DHs may currently be undervalued by ~0.4 WAR/season.)

    However, in this article, we see that batters perform notably worse when pinch-hitting than when playing complete games:

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=5404&mode=print&nocache=1172518606

    So it probably isn’t just about health. There appears to be something about not fielding/playing the whole game that actually makes hitters perform worse.

  7. Marc Schneider said...

    I don’t find your last point persuasive because plenty of guys are out there only for their hitting and are a negative in the field.  I was at a game last year sitting in the outfield and saw Lance Berkman eating sunflower seeds in left field.  I doubt he was worrying about his defense. I’m sure someone would have thrown Edgar out somewhere to keep his bat in the lineup.  Unless you are saying he literally would not have been able to field a position (e.g., couldn’t catch a routine fly ball), I can’t hold being a DH against him.  Whether his offense is enough to get him in is another question.

  8. Paul G. said...

    I find the argument that he didn’t play long enough to be plausible.  He probably should have at least two more good seasons on his resume, but if you rate him on that assumption then you’re rating him on hypotheticals as opposed to what he really did.  There be the dreaded “What If” ball.

    However, in my mind accepting argument #1 invalidates the “DH is easy” argument.  Even if we assume it is true (debatable), Edgar actually did put up those impressive numbers.  Would he have put up those numbers if he wasn’t a DH?  I don’t know.  Would he have had two or three more good seasons if the Mariners weren’t run by idiots?  Edgar is getting both barrels of “What If” ball here; it gets invoked when it hurts him and revoked when it helps him.

    You can argue #1.  You can argue #3.  You can argue #1 or #3, and let the audience choose one.  But I don’t think you can argue #1 AND #3.  My two cents.

  9. Alaska Pete said...

    db said:  “I would vote Frank Thomas (who was about as nifty with the leather as Edgar was) in.”

    Edgar has pretty decent defensive numbers at 3rd base, right around league average.  This would seem to be a significantly better defender than Frank Thomas.

    I’m in the camp that your 3rd point is terribly weak.  As others have pointed out, multiple studies (and a mountain of anecdotal evidence such as many former players testimony like Cliff Floys) point to DHing actually depressing offensive numbers. I’m not going to say that being a DH actually HELPS Martinez’s case, but I don’t think you can hold it against him.  WAR has a built-in HUGE penalty for DHs, and Edgar still has the career WAR of 70.

    I think it kind of boils down to whether you’re a total stats guy or a rate stats guy.  By rate stats he is EASILY elected.  By totals he is very marginal, which is all you’re talking about in your second point.  Your failure to discuss his elite status by some of the more advanced metrics that consider rate of production, for me it invalidates your 2nd point for the most part.  A lot of his value was from a high walk and doubles total as well as high OBP, 3 things not traditionally highly esteemed by the casual fan (such as most HOF voters).  The other problem with your second point was this sentence:  “As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.”  How dominating of a hitter do you remember David Ortiz as?  I’m not taking the time to give this the response it deserves, but stealing from a comment from this fangraphs article (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/jesus-montero-cabrera-konerko-karim-garcia/)…

    “Not to come back to Edgar Martinez, but a 3 WAR DH is a very good hitter. a 4 WAR Ortiz is impressive. a 6 WAR Edgar Martinez is just ridiculous, and he was ~5 WAR or better 9 times (Ortiz only 3 X’s). I bring that up just for perspective.”

    If you’re an east coast guy and more into total counting stats than rate stats (most HOF voters), Edgar probably “wasn’t quite great enough.” Lastly, regarding “I would not be giving him my vote, a view it appears I share with the majority of the Hall’s voters.”  You say this like it’s a good thing.  : – )  I appreciate you sharing your thought process regarding EM’s HOF candidacy, but anytime you’re in line with the Luddites of the BBWAA you know you’re in trouble!  : – )

  10. BobDD said...

    “. . . Ryan Howard and Don Mattingly. As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.”

    No, he was better!  He was better than Howard and Mattingly; anyone who would take the career stats of those two over Edgar Martinez would permanently reside in the cellar of any Strat or APBA league as penalty for not understanding true babeball value.

  11. Micah Rose said...

    I guess you wouldn’t put Sandy Koufax in either? His period of dominance was 4 years, and he only one 165 games out of 397 appearances. No Roy Campanella either (not to pick on the Dodgers)? I know it’s different as both those players had their careers ended by injuries. However, you are essentially arguing that his lack of playing time due to mismanagement and injuries means he wasn’t one of the most dominant of his generation, like K

    It irks me that hall voters will put in closers, who only influence one inning of most games they pitch in, come in with a lead, and affect maybe 35 games a year for their career, but penalize a player for being the best DH of all time, an every day player. Edgar was also one of the best hitters of the 90s, and he did it without steroids. All the other people who’ve put up numbers like Edgar are in the hall, except for Shoeless Joe.

    Edgar has better numbers than plenty of Hall of Famers. Using Rice was a stupid example. Try better than Tony Gwynn, on par with Yount in less seasons and without the positional adjustment of playing SS/CF, and on par with Ozzie Smith. He also did it in a shorter career. Edgar being a DH doesn’t negate his candidacy, just like being a defense w/ SB shortstop doesn’t negate Ozzie Smith, and being the best closer in the history of the game won’t negate Mariano Rivera. Edgar is the best DH in the history of the game, and one of the best offensive players, by rate stats.

    Your arguments make no sense.

  12. David P. Stokes said...

    I don’t find the arguments against Martinez persuasive.  He has minimal to no defensive value, considering his career as a whole, but there are plenty of players in the Hall with little defensive value who are there because of their hitting that weren’t as good an all-round hitter as Edgar.  As for career length, even with his late start, he had a longer career than many Hall of Famers, and as far as being good enough goes, he was plenty good enough.  Leaving Pete Rose and players tainted by steroids out of it, who was good enough to still be a regular at age 41 who isn’t in the Hall?  I don’t know the exact answer, but if Edgar were to be left out, he’d be one of a very few who would be in that category.

  13. David said...

    So, I don’t buy your premises.

    1)  “Say, I don’t think that Greenberg fellow belongs in the Hall of Fame.  His career wasn’t long enough!”  6096 PAs, WAY less than Martinez.  Greenberg’s OPS+ = 158.  In 33% more PAs, Martinez’s is only 11 points lower.  Pretty comparable, I’d say.  Greenberg was in the War, which Bill James talked about as “circumstances beyond a player’s control.”  Oscar Charleston had zero ML PAs.  Satchel Paige hardly had any innings pitched.  I’m not going to hold segregation, WWII, or an incompetent organization against a player.  That’s just silly.

    2)  His black ink isn’t great, but his gray ink is decent.  Much better than Howard’s.  And his Hall of Fame Standards is equal to an average HOF player, and his Hall of Fame Monitor is an excellent score.  Plus, while Martinez didn’t dominate the black ink, a good chunk of that may be because he played a bunch of his career in a pitchers’ park.  If he had played in Boston, he probably would have won 4-5 batting titles, not just 2, and that would have made his candidacy look VERY different.  Plus, black ink is biased towards the “Triple Crown” stats, because it’s supposed to reflect HOF VOTING, not HOF WORTHINESS.  His three times leading the AL in OBP garner him a big, fat goose egg in terms of Black Ink points.  The fact that he rarely struck out or ground out does nothing for him.  It’s just a frivolity, not meant to actually measure worthiness, so it shouldn’t be used in a way to make an argument for or against induction.  Barry Larkin’s is a 0, and he deserves induction.

    3)  Martinez (as mentioned above) would have been at least a competent 1B.  You’re telling me he would have been significantly worse than Frank Thomas?  I don’t buy it.  He would have been fine at 1B.

    So, essentially, all three things you dislike about Martinez were beyond his control – he couldn’t choose when his team would call him up; he couldn’t choose the field his team played on, and he couldn’t choose which position to play.  And yet those things should keep him out of the Hall?  I don’t think so.  Sorry, but I don’t think your arguments hold up to scrutiny.

  14. jmarsh said...

    I believe Edgar is a borderline candidate, but am skeptical of some of your reasoning.  As you said, the third point is controversial.  It’s not that he couldn’t play the field.  He was just valuable at DH and fit there.  I’m sure if he were on an NL team, they would’ve handed him a 1B mitt and sent him out. 

    I don’t get Point 2.  He was one of the best hitters.  He hit for a good (but not extraordinary) average, walked a ton and had a high SLG based mostly off doubles, exactly the underrated categories most voters don’t look at.

    The reason I believe he is borderline is Point 1.  He simply didn’t play long enough and it’s a shame because he was absolutely ready.  If he’d had a few more years, he would be a shoo-in my opinion.  This coupled with the fact that he played DH, when theoretically could’ve been playing first and it seems like the M’s did everything they could to sabotage his HOF case.

  15. Tree said...

    “I’m not going to hold segregation, WWII, or an incompetent organization against a player.”

    I understand the thought, but one of these is not like the others.

    Segregation and a military draft are a totally different order of magnitude when it comes to “beyond a player’s control”. I’m not sure I would even put a late call up on the same scale as beginning a career in Japan.

  16. bucdaddy said...

    You can take Edgar’s five best seasons and mix them in with Ted Williams’ career and I’d defy you to tell the difference. That kinda sounds like an HoFer.

    OTOH, he was on a team with three other certain HoFers (a team that didn’t win anything) and I’d easily take any of those three in their prime over him, and maybe Buhner too. That doesn’t sound much like an HoFer.

  17. Klatzy said...

    Many of your arguments are subjective and unsubstantiated.  The worst is the “DH is easy” one, which is complete bunk as others have mentioned.  There’s a DH hitting penalty for many. 

    Second you mentioned he hit for most of his career in a hitters park.  But you fail to mention he spent 6 seasons in a pitcher’s park (Safeco) that crushes right-handed hitters.  His best season in Safeco: .324/.423/.579. 

    Manny Ramirez, who has the offensive stats for the HoF, ranged from below average to terrible in the field.  And yet the defense (ignoring other issues) isn’t really going to keep him from the HoF.  If you include defense as WAR (wins above replacement) does, Manny’s career WAR is 69.6. while Edgar’s is 69.9.  Don Mattingly’s is 45.8.  Ryan Howard’s is currently 23.1

  18. philosofool said...

    That the THT could publish an article in which Edgar’s ability to hit is called “not great enough” is a sad indication that this site is badly failing its readers.

    Seriously? (1) and (3) are important considerations, but if you think the Edgar wasn’t an all-time great with at the plate, you should be learning about great hitting, not writing about it. His career OPS+ is greater than A-Rod’s. I’m not saying he’s more hall worthy, but that comes down to points (1) and (3); he was a better hitter during his career than A-Rod has been in his.

  19. Chris said...

    Of course you are entitled to your opinion but I think the actual numbers dispute every single one of your points. Here goes.
    Point #1- He didn’t play enough- He had more plate appearances than Johnny Bench, Duke Snider, Bobby Doerr, Hank Greenberg and Yogi Berra. In fact, more than MANY HOFers. This renders this point moot.
    Point #2 – He wasn’t quite great enough. Edgar’s career OPS of .933 ranks him 17th AMONG HALL OF FAMERS. 17th! His career OBP of .418 ranks him 14th AMONG HALL OF FAMERS! His numbers dispute your not great enough theory.
    Point #3 – Being a DH is easy. I suspect this is what really belies your entire argument. A bias against DHs. DH is a legitimate position in the American League. If Edgar is excluded from the HOF because he is a DH, than NO DH should be eligible and it’s not fair to eliminate an entire position from eligibility because of an old-school traditionalist bias.
    Edgar was one of the top ten hitters of the past 25 years. He belongs in the Hall and it’s a shame he is not there already.

  20. hopbitters said...

    647 RCAA, 33rd in the modern era
    .933 OPS, 34th in the modern era
    .173 OPSv, 42nd in the modern era

    Easy decision.

  21. george s said...

    Do Keith Hernandez and/or Donnie Baseball rate over Edgar, because of their defensive contributions and, perhaps, era differences?

    just a question on my end at this point, am curious how folks would weigh these guys. Right now it is just that reading this invoked a subjective, admittedly NY-driven impression that these 2 guys might have been more significant than Edgar as historical figures.

  22. hopbitters said...

    I’d put Hernandez in purely based on hitting. With his defense, he’s a no-brainer, but I’d still rank Edgar higher. I’d count Mattingly as borderline based on offense, but I’d say everything else pushes him over (with my admitted NY bias). The era differences come out when you compare to league average. FWIW, if you add in Fielding Runs Against Average, Edgar still ranks 42nd all time, even with his negative score.

  23. CircleChange11 said...

    The study on DH vs. position hitting is relegated to 25-29yo players. It’s not really applicable.

    What we need to see is some studies on players that spend half of their careers at DH and how they “age” versus guys that played positions.

    My opinion is that the DH penalty is “not enough” for these guys over their career.

    Sure, many guys don’t hit as well as a DH due to them moving to the position as an aging or ailing player, same deal with 1B.

    So, we’re basically comparing a player’s non-prime situations to their prime situations.

    The “career DH” scenario is IMO completely different that DH for a season or DH for partial season stuff.

  24. hopbitters said...

    I’ve been thinking about the DH argument in a different way. What’s the difference between an average fielder (0 FRAA or whatever your defensive favorite metric is) and a DH with the same offense? What’s the difference between a DH and a below average fielder with the same offense? Is the position player more valuable even though they cost you runs?

    Ultimately, any player’s value is how many runs they account for on either side of the plate. If that total is more than the next guy, does it really matter what combination of pitching, offense, and defense generated that total?

  25. Paul G. said...

    @hopbitters
    And hence the problem with metrics that measure against an “average” basis or have +/- values.  Win Shares, for all its flaws, does have the right idea that 0 does not mean average or replacement level or whatever.  It means 0, as in no value at all.  Even an absolutely brutal fielder has some value just for the sake that they occasionally field something.  When you try to shoehorn a DH into a fielding metric working off average, insanity ensues.  Though insanity can be fun.

  26. BobDD said...

    Well Paul, the measurement would be against replacement – against what is next available – which again means Edgar’s hitting.  A DH will not get any fielding credit, but Edgar is still more than double the (pick your stat) of the average DH and that is his value.  His non-fielding does not subtract from that.  He was the all-time best hitter for a full-time DH, which means nothing towards value I guess, but I just don’t see how a hitter that in just about any lineup is a 3 or 4 hitter can be explained away.

    hopbitters, you can only have one DH which has even less value than LF or 1B defensively so there is no way they can be equal in defensive value to someone who can actually play there.

    I agree that there is no necessity to have a DH or reliever in the hall, unless of course they are good enough.  I don’t think any full-time DH was until Edgar.  Not Baines, or Baylor, or Ortiz for that matter.  The idea that Edgar is the greated DH ever is not what qualifies him for the hall, but his advanced level of hitting is what will get him in or not.

    Look at poor fielding Jim Rice and terrific fielder Andre Dawson’s numbers compared to Edgar Martinez – Wow!  One of those dwarfs the other two as a hitter.  So three judgment calls.  Personally, I don’t particularly care for what the HOF has done in any of the three cases so far.

  27. BobDD said...

    greated DH?  How cheesy sounding

    why do I only see the typo’s after submission?

    with all the errors I make, I’ll have to start insisting that my range makes up for it

  28. hopbitters said...

    Forget the metrics and the comparison point. Winning games is determined by the runs you score versus the runs scored by your opponents. Every player accounts for some number of runs scored offensively and runs prevented (whether by pitching or defense). However you determine and calculate those value for each component, they all add up to some number and a positive or negative (or no) contribution to the team’s total runs. Now you can (and will) argue all day long about how to arrive at that actual figure, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. When you determine who won the game, all that you count is the total runs of each team. So why then would you separate the player’s value into the individual components rather than the total?

  29. David P. Stokes said...

    Hopbitters, the reason you’d separate the values is that you have to figure the components separately in order to get the total.  And there doesn’t appear to be a consensus as to how to figure the defensive and offensive components in a way that lets us just add the two together to get the total value.  Yes, we have access to a lot of metrics that try to do that, but obviously we don’t place a lot confidence in them (if we did, then the question of the value of a pure DH compared to a really bad fielder would be trivial).

  30. hopbitters said...

    @David I’m not talking about determining a number and assigning it to a player. I’m talking about separating a player’s theoretical value into offense and defense and pitching and saying x player didn’t contribute to the defense or the pitching, therefore he has no value, no matter what his offensive contribution was, which is the crux of the anti-DH argument. If we say that we could compare a DH (zero defensive value) to position player with poor defensive skills if we had reliable and comparable metrics, then we’re saying that there is some point where the metrics would zero out (no defensive value) and a position player with zero defensive value would be equal in total value to a DH with the same offensive value. Now you can argue depending on your metric that there is no such thing as a zero defensive value position player, but there is a theoretical point on the scale that defines “no value”. Therefore, for whatever defensive value a player might have, there is a corresponding offensive value a DH could conceivably have to offset it. Again, I’m not talking actual statistics or numerical values here, but just the concept that the contributions offensively and defensively are comparable in some way and that it’s disingenuous to dismiss the DH simply because the defensive component of the overall contribution is zero.

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