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By Sean Hartnett
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Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio should have been surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers.
There wasn’t a positive drug test or smoking syringe implicating them. They weren’t dragged in front of committees on Capitol Hill to explain themselves, and their names haven’t been tarnished by clubhouse trainers.
Still, Biggio fell 39 votes shy of induction. And Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, only received 57.8 percent of the vote. For the first time since 1996, the writers elected no one. The 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame class won’t have any celebrated stars taking the podium. So much for those cheering crowds.
Protecting the credibility and splendor of the Hall of Fame is integral to the soul of baseball. It should be a celebration of what’s wonderful and innocent about our National Pastime. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro — all their names have all been stained to the point where there’s a strong chance they’ll never reach Cooperstown.
Keeping Piazza and Biggio, two top players of their generation with clean resumes, out of Cooperstown reeks of paranoia — suspicion before innocence — among the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Biggio and Piazza have paid at least a temporary price for playing in baseball’s “Steroids Era.”
Here’s to hoping they follow the path of Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin and eventually get elected in their subsequent years of candidacy. As a general rule of thumb, a player receiving over 60 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility tends to be elected in his second year. That’s good news for the 68.2 percent that Biggio received, but not for Piazza who garnered 57.8 percent.
The Old Man And Mike Piazza
Piazza’s absence is large and unexplainable. He stands alone as baseball’s all-time home run leader at catcher with 396. His career home run total is a lofty 427 and he carries a lifetime average of .308. Piazza was a ten-time Silver Slugger recipient and was elected to 12 All-Star games.
The only suspicions of Piazza using performance-enhancing drugs came from the musings of former New York Times writer Murray Chass and questions raised by Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
Chass’ vendetta against Piazza has reached the point of absurdity. He continues to cling to the tenuous belief that Piazza’s back acne is reason to lump him in with well-documented cheaters. Chass claims that Piazza’s back was covered in acne before drug testing began and magically cleared up once drug testing was introduced. Perhaps, it should be considered that Piazza may have sought out clinical treatments to rid himself of his back acne.
Piazza admitted to the New York Times in 2002 that he used androstenedione for a brief period before the drug was banned by MLB.
Biggio’s First-Ballot Omission Hard To Justify
It seems in Biggio’s case, voters felt more like he wasn’t first-ballot worthy rather than someone who tarnished their game through PED use. His rare collection of achievements weren’t enough to receive that extra 6.8-percent push to get to Cooperstown.
Biggio is only one of three players since 1900 to collect over 3,000 hits, 200 home runs and 200 steals. The other two? Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor. He is also one of seven players in MLB history to record 3,000 hits and 400 steals.
The seven-time All-Star excelled at multiple positions in the field, winning four Gold Glove awards, was a lifetime .281 hitter and won five Silver Sluggers. Biggio has scored the 15th most runs in baseball history.
They both should have been welcomed into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Enshrined will be the deceased trio of former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, 19th-century catcher Deacon White and umpire Hank O’Day — guys who won’t be able to speak for themselves.
J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient Paul Hagen will be the only man speaking at Cooperstown in July. It’s a shame that Piazza and Biggio won’t receive their plaques in 2013. More importantly, large crowds of celebrating fans — young and old — won’t be making their annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown.
Looking Ahead To The 2014 Class
The big question will be answered in January 2014, when voters will have their opportunity elect Piazza and Biggio to the Hall of Fame in their second year of eligibility. Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina will become eligible for the first time.
Already, Maddux and Glavine are considered likely entrants into the Hall of Fame. Should Biggio, Piazza and a newly-eligible player of Thomas’ prestige miss out in 2014, baseball has a real problem.
There wasn’t any evidence against Thomas, whose numbers leap off the page. “The Big Hurt” slugged 521 homers and was a lifetime .301 batter with a career on-base percentage of .419. He was the most dominant hitter of the mid-1990s and won back-to-back American League MVP Awards in 1993 and 1994.
Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself, and prominent hitters without a direct link steroids will receive their call to Cooperstown.
Did baseball writers get it wrong by not electing Piazza and Biggio in their first year of eligibility? Send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN and leave your comments below…