The Case for Cooperstown: Mike Piazza
With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.
Previous Cases – Jack Morris – Jeff Bagwell – Lee Smith – Tim Raines – Alan Trammell–Edgar Martinez – Fred McGriff – Larry Walker – Mark McGwire – Don Mattingly – Dale Murphy – Rafael Palmeiro - Bernie Williams - Barry Bonds - Roger Clemens - Craig Biggio
Year(s) on ballot – 1st
Credentials – 16 years in MLB (parts of eight with New York Mets, seven with Los Angeles Dodgers), career .308/.377/.545, 427HRs (most all-time as a catcher), 1,335RBI, 2,127 hits, 1,048 runs, 12-time All-Star, 10-time Silver Slugger, 1993 National League Rookie of the Year
The Case For –
Michael Joseph Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher to ever play the game of baseball. He’s the all-time leader in career OPS (.922), all-time leader in career home runs as a catcher, no catcher has won more than his 10 Silver Sluggers in a career and did so while playing in two of the toughest markets in baseball, Los Angeles and New York. If you wanted to expand it further, the only player in MLB history to win more Silver Sluggers is Barry Bonds, who as 12. Nobody else has more than nine, and that would be Barry Larkin, who is a Hall of Famer.
Twice in Piazza’s career, he finished as the runner-up in the National League MVP voting. He placed behind Ken Caminiti, who was a unanimous winner in 1996, and followed Larry Walker’s remarkable season in 1997, one we’ve already detailed in these breakdowns. He finished third in the 2000 voting, a year in which he led the New York Mets to their first World Series appearance since 1986.
Nine times in his career, Piazza had a .300 or better batting average. Nine times, Piazza crushed 30+ home runs without playing in a home park that favored hitters, and twice Piazza swatted 40 home runs even. Six times, Piazza drove in 100+ runs. Six times, Piazza finished the year with an OPS+ above 150.
The Case Against –
Piazza was the greatest offensive catcher to ever play the game, but played during the most offensive era in baseball history. He played the prime of his career in the middle of the Steroids Era. Despite never being connected to PEDs at any point in his playing career, there seems to be a doubt that lingers over him, just like it lingers over Jeff Bagwell.
My main counterpoint to the rumors that maybe, at one point in his career, maybe Mike Piazza juiced is this:
Mike Piazza played in New York and Los Angeles, markets where you can’t blow your nose without the media knowing what type of tissue you used and how hard you blew. The media hawked him so much in New York that this is the same guy that had to hold a press conference to tell reporters that he wasn’t gay. How in the world would Piazza have been able to juice without anyone getting wind of it?
Piazza would’ve had to have been the most careful man in all of New York not to have one reporter get enough wind of that story not to run with it. New York is the city where the media loves to tear down heroes even more than it loves to build them up. It’s what makes the city incredibly hard to play in and maintain a long run of success. Again, the city got enough wind and speculation that they tried to throw Mike Piazza out of a closet he may not have been in to begin with. How would he be able to hide his PED use? I just don’t see how it could be possible.
When you analyze Piazza’s career, there is a logical point in his playing days, much like there was for Jeff Bagwell, where he stopped being the superstar that he was earlier on. Once Piazza turned 34, he was still a powerful offensive catcher, but he was no longer in a position to be a full-time catcher or even a catcher at all. He was never a good defensive catcher, which is part of the reason why his WAR is below 60 for his career. But, he always put up the offensive numbers to justify playing him behind the plate.
Look, it is impossible for me to be unbiased about Piazza. I’m a die-hard New York Mets fan that idolized Piazza when he came to the Mets. He was the first true star I had the pleasure of watching as a very young kid. He made the Mets relevant again when they weren’t for what felt like such a long time after their success in the late-80s. He is responsible for some of the biggest moments in Mets history in the last 25 years, including his feud with Roger Clemens, his three-run home run to cap the 10-run inning against the Braves and of course his game-winning home run in the first game back in New York after September 11th.
Again, Mike Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher who has ever lived. He deserves to have his #31 retired by the Mets this season and he certainly deserves to go into the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque. I have long circled 2013 on my mental calendar as the year I go to an induction ceremony, because it’s the year I get to see my idol go in.
To have stubborn baseball writers who think they control how fans should remember the game potentially take that away from me is a travesty. An absolute travesty.