By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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In his first year on the ballot in 2013, he received just 57.8 percent of the vote.
The year after he fell short again, getting 62.2 percent.
Needing 75 percent to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mike Piazza is hoping that this is the year. The Mets legend will learn his fate on Tuesday afternoon when the results are announced.
It’s a baseball crime that the former catcher wasn’t elected in his first two years on the ballot, and if he’s shunned a third time it will be a full-blown disgrace.
Piazza was not only the greatest-hitting catcher of his generation. He is, unquestionably, the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game.
The statistics, on their surface, speak for themselves. And, after all, the Hall of Fame is really about numbers, isn’t it?
A 12-time All-Star, the slugger hit .308 in 16 seasons. He belted 427 home runs, drove in 1,335 runs and posted a .377 on-base percentage. The 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner hit over .300 nine times, smacked over 30 home runs nine times and had 100 RBIs in six different campaigns.
A classic opposite-field hitter who had power to all fields and always found the gaps, Piazza had 2,127 hits — 344 of which were doubles — and scored 1,048 runs. He also had a keen eye and was disciplined at the plate, striking out 90 times just once (93 was his career-high in 1996). To give that some context and put it into perspective, Alex Rodriguez has struck out 100 times or more in 13 seasons.
Rounding out his accolades, Piazza was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and the All-Star Game MVP in 1996.
Not too shabby.
What many don’t acknowledge — and what’s truly remarkable — is the fact that Piazza put up these numbers while playing catcher, the most physically demanding position on the diamond. Not only did he not appear in as many games as his offensive counterparts, but he was constantly banged up and playing through pain.
During his prime, from 1993 to 2002, the backstop averaged 137 games per season. Imagine the damage he would have done had he gotten as many at-bats as a first baseman and not been fatigued. Or had he not spent the majority of his career hitting in Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium, notoriously spacious pitcher’s parks. He would certainly be in the 500 home-run club.
What’s also overlooked is the fact that Piazza was a very clutch player. He only played in 32 postseason games, but Mets fans will remember that he had a knack for hitting dramatic home runs in important spots. Unfortunately, the Amazin’s only provided Piazza with two opportunities to shine in October.
And just to reinforce the notion that Piazza is, indeed, the best-hitting catcher in baseball history, consider where he ranks all time among those who played his position: first in home runs, fourth in RBIs, fourth in batting average, ninth in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, eighth in doubles and fourth in total bases.
But for all those mouth-watering numbers, there are two significant factors working against Piazza’s Hall of Fame case. One is fair; the other not so much.
There’s no denying that Piazza was a mediocre catcher at best. He had an inaccurate and weak arm and always struggled to throw out runners. When speedy men were on base, Piazza was a liability behind the plate.
When it came to calling a game and blocking the plate, however, he was more than respectable. He was relatively sure-handed and protected his pitchers when their stuff got away from them.
And, frankly, the cleanup hitter’s offensive prowess more than made up for his defensive shortcomings. If a voter doesn’t include Piazza on his ballot because of his subpar glove, then he doesn’t deserve to cast a ballot at all.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. Say what you want, but it’s PEDs that have kept the beloved Met out of Cooperstown in his first two years of eligibility.
Piazza has never failed a drug test or been linked to illegal performance-enhancing drugs, mind you. But because he played in the heart of the so-called “Steroids Era,” he’s lumped in with such embattled sluggers as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
Many writers have simply abstained from voting for hitters who played in this era, which of course is ridiculous. It’s about proof. Being muscular and reportedly having acne on your back is not sufficient evidence.
In his memoir, Piazza admitted to using substances — androstenedione and Ephedra — before they were banned by baseball. He insisted he never took anything that would have put him in violation of MLB rules.
“I just don’t understand what part of ‘no’ people don’t understand,” Piazza told WFAN radio in February 2013. “I guess it’s just something that, unfortunately, is a black mark on the game. And I hate the fact that it happened in the game because I’ll always love the game. It’s given me everything.”
According to BaseballThinkFactory.org, a website that tracks ballots made public by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the iconic catcher is on the fence.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Piazza will miss the cut yet again, though he’ll receive more votes than last year.
Whether it’s on Tuesday, in 2017 or in 2020, Piazza will be enshrined in Cooperstown. But one of the most feared bats of the 1990s shouldn’t have to continue waiting.
He deserves to have a plaque. He deserves to be honored. He deserves to be recognized among the game’s legends and all-time greats.
And he deserves it now.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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