When Brooklyn diocesan hero Mike Piazza retired after the 2007 MLB season, there was really only one question: Would he wear a New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers cap after being voted into the Hall of Fame five years later on the first ballot?
However, following the vote of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) on Jan. 9, the baseball world has been left scratching its head. For the eighth time since the Hall of Fame’s inception in 1934 and the first time since 1996, the BBWAA failed to elect a player to Cooperstown.
Eligible players need to attain at least 75 percent of the vote in order to be enshrined. Piazza received 57.8 percent, while former Houston Astros second baseman and Kings Park, L.I., native Craig Biggio – who currently ranks 20th all-time with 3,060 hits – was the closest to selection at 68.2 percent.
Piazza certainly has Cooperstown-worthy numbers. The 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger hit the most career home runs by a catcher (396) and sported a .308 career batting average in 16 seasons, eight with the Mets.
“We hope in the not-too-distant future that Mike Piazza will take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame,” Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement the day the votes were released. “The statistics he compiled during his career as a catcher were unmatched by anyone in the history of the game. We are optimistic one day soon Mike’s plaque, with a Mets cap, will be hanging in Cooperstown where it truly belongs.”
Of course, I am not a member of the 700-plus-member BBWAA, and I therefore have no say in Hall of Fame voting. But as a student of the game and someone who grew up watching him play every day, I strongly believe Piazza, a devout Catholic and the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, was robbed.
The main issue surrounding the voting this year was the first-year eligible players who allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs during their careers, including home-run king Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
Based on numbers, these players are clearly Hall of Famers, but the perception that they all used steroids has clouded their stellar careers. Though none ever submitted a positive test, I would not vote for these players because significant evidence exists that they cheated.
In Piazza’s case, there is only one potential tie to steroid usage and it carries little weight. A beat reporter covering the Mets noticed the disappearance of Piazza’s back acne around the time steroid testing was implemented in 2003.
Back acne is a common side effect of steroid use, and maybe this anecdote was enough evidence for some writers to not vote for Piazza this time around.
So many players – even if they never used performance-enhancing drugs – are now tainted by the “Steroid Era” of the 1990s. But for such a lack of evidence against Piazza, it’s troubling that he did not receive the necessary votes, which does not bode well for the future of the Hall of Fame.
To say that Piazza never used steroids would be a huge assumption on my part. He never tested positive and was not listed in the 2007 Mitchell Report that named 89 players who are alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs. But still, the only one who knows for sure is Piazza himself.
On Feb. 12, Piazza will release his autobiography, “Long Shot,” in which he hopefully addresses the issue of steroids in his career. Maybe the BBWAA writers need to hear it from Piazza’s mouth that he never used steroids in order to then cast their vote in his favor.
If waiting one year to see Piazza elected results in the elimination of steroid allegations against him, I’m willing to be patient. Sure, I think he should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer, but if he is elected next year, he’s still a Hall of Famer either way.
And when that day eventually arrives, both Piazza and I hope that he’s wearing a Mets cap on his Cooperstown plaque.
“I’ve always honored my Dodger past; it was a great organization to be a minor leaguer,” Piazza told The Tablet in June, 2011. “That was the first chapter of my life, but coming to New York…it was meant to be that way. The adversity and the frustration that I went through eventually paved the way for the satisfaction and the personal achievement that I had here as well.”
At least on the bright side, Piazza not being elected this year increases the chances of both he and the iconic Gil Hodges highlighting the Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
What a monumental day that would be for the Diocese of Brooklyn!