City Sports Report

Mike Piazza still on deck for the Hall of Fame

Piazza

Four players were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Mike Piazza, arguably the game’s greatest hitting catcher of all-time, will have to wait another year.

To gain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame, candidates must reach 75 percent or more for election. Randy Johnson (97.3 percent), Pedro Martinez (91.1 percent),  and John Smoltz (82.9 percent) are all first-ballot Hall of Famers. Craig Biggio (82.7 percent), after narrowly missing the cut with 74.8 percent in 2014, made it on his third opportunity.

Piazza, in his third appearance on the ballot, fell just shy, garnering 69.9 percent, coming up short by 28 votes.

If the argument for Mike Piazza getting into the Hall of Fame came down to statistics, I believe he’d have been a first-ballot inductee. His career numbers include a .308 batting average, .545 slugging percentage, a 12-time All-Star, six 100-RBI seasons, and the most home runs as a catcher (396).

However, getting past the Baseball Writers Association of America for entry into the hall is no longer simply about statistics. It’s no longer being just about hitting 400 to 500 home runs, being a .300 career batting average, or even, as Pete Rose has come to accept, having 3,000 career hits. Similar to his peers, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, Piazza has has had to deal with the stigma of steroids attached to the era he was a part of. While in Piazza’s case, the rumors of steroid use have not been as strong as other notable players, the whispers of him possibly being a steroid user have been there. It’s reasonable to conclude that’s why Piazza, with all his Hall of Fame credentials, is still on the outside looking in, 28 votes short of Cooperstown, New York.

In the late spring of 1998, Piazza was acquired by the New York Mets in a trade from the Florida Marlins. When Piazza decided to sign a long-term deal to stay with the Mets, it solidified the team having a franchise player. They barely missed the playoffs in 1998, but reached the postseason two consecutive years in 1999 and 2000, with the latter resulting in a World Series appearance. Piazza would go on to launch many baseballs into the night at Shea Stadium, the most memorable being on September 21, 2001. Ten days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Piazza hit a two-run home run off Steve Karsay of the Atlanta Braves. It’s the one home run that many think of when looking back on Piazza’s career, a moment that helped lift a city. In the 972 games Piazza played as a Met, nothing was more majestic than watching one of his home runs.

Growing up a Mets fan, I was among those in the fan base energized by the arrival of Piazza.  To me, he was to them what Gary Carter was to those Mets’ teams of the mid-1980s. However, during Piazza’s time in New York, I also grew to admire his professionalism. He’ll never be praised for his defensive skills as a catcher, however he worked hard and gave everything he had to make up for wherever he lacked. In a city where hard work, hustle, and effort are requirements for professional athletes to gain acceptance from the fans, Piazza gave his all.

The era of steroid use and performance-enhancing drugs in baseball has justifiably clouded the judgement of many. It’s an unfortunate reality the players we watched and cheered for will now have their career statistics scrutinized and debated. The time spent debating if a player is or was clean has contributed to the handful of notable names still waiting to find out if they’ll be in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Piazza’s numbers on the ballot have gone up in every year of eligibility, it’s reasonable to conclude he’ll most likely gain induction into the Hall of Fame in 2016. The numbers indicate Piazza’s time to take his place in Cooperstown has come, it’s just taking longer than expected, justified or not.

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