Will HOF voters induct Mike Piazza on the first ballot?

This year Barry Larkin was the lone inductee to the baseball Hall of Fame receiving 86.4% of the votes, in this his third year on the ballot. He played all 19 years of his MLB career for the Cincinnati Reds, where he was a 12-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. Larkin played the game right, and played it extremely well, and deserved to be elected into the Hall of Fame.

The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot has a ton of star power. It would be difficult in most years, as we have many returnees with interesting Cooperstown resumes and a voter could easily fill all 10 spots on his ballot. However, very few voters fill their ballots and the 2013 freshmen class has the two poster boys for PED use.

Here’s a list of some of the names that will be on the ballot for the first time:

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Mike Piazza
Sammy Sosa
Curt Schilling
Craig Biggio
Roberto Hernandez
Kenny Lofton

Many people will refuse to vote for the first two names because of their steroid use. While some feel that both Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame careers even before they allegedly began using steroids, it would not be surprising if they refused to vote for them in their first year of eligibility as a form of protest.
So with that, there are two players I look at on this list and think they are locks to make it: 1) Craig Biggio 2) Mike Piazza

With Biggio all you need to say is 3,000. In his 20 career seasons he only had one year with 200 hits, but he still managed to retire with 3,060 base knocks under his belt. The Smithtown native started out as a catcher, but switched to second base where he won four Gold Gloves. Along with that he was a seven-time All-Star and a five-time Silver Slugger. You wouldn’t look at one year and think “unbelievable” (besides maybe 1997 and 1998, depends on your level of believability), but he was consistent and stayed on the field.

Much more interesting for Mets fans is Piazza. Now it is necessary to point out that there are some whispers of PED use surrounding Piazza, perhaps most famously the “bacne” claims made by Murray Chass that the New York Times refused to print but that Chass has mentioned more than once now that he is a blogger. Also, Piazza was mentioned in Jeff Pearlman’s book. However, Piazza was not named by either Canseco or Radomski and he never failed a drug test.

Whispers aside, what can I say about him that we already don’t know? The best hitting catcher to play the game and although he couldn’t throw the ball at all, he did everything else extremely well for a catcher. He played the game hard and played it with class. I only saw him get ejected from a game like twice (and he also almost killed Guillermo Mota in a Spring Training game, which will probably boost his chances of getting in). He played in 14 All-Star games, won 12 Silver Sluggers, won Rookie of the Year in 1993, and finished top 10 in the MVP voting’s seven times.

The only difference with Biggio and Piazza is not whether they’ll get in on the first ballot, but which cap they will be used in their Hall of Fame plaque. Since Biggio only played for one team, he doesn’t have much of a choice; it’s the Houston Astros.

Piazza’s choice is a different story. He played for five teams during his 16 seasons in the majors, but only two teams stand out. He was drafted by and spent seven years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During his time there he hit 177 home runs with a line of .331/.394/.572. He was traded along with future Met Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for future Met Gary Sheffield, former Met Bobby Bonilla, and 30-second Met Charles Johnson (he came to the Mets in the Todd Hundley deal but was immediately shipped to the Orioles in the Armando Benitez trade), Manuel Barrios, and Jim Eisenreich.

Piazza spent just five games in a Marlin uniform before being shipped to the Mets in exchange for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz, which is one of the best all-time trades for the Mets.

Piazza went on to lead the Mets to the playoffs in 1998, 1999, and to the World Series in 2000. Piazza spent nine seasons with the Mets, and finished with a career line of .296/.373/.542 and 220 home runs. He also hit one of the most dramatic home runs in the history of the game, an eighth inning, game-winning home run against the Atlanta Braves, the first game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Although Piazza had better numbers during his time with the Dodgers, he played longer as a Met. Also, treatment by the fans when he arrived back in another uniform was much different. When Piazza came to Dodgers Stadium in a Mets uniform, he was booed. When he came back to Shea Stadium in a San Diego Padre uniform, not only did he receive a standing ovation, but he got a curtain call after he hit his first of two home runs that game.

Even in his post-playing career the Mets have treated him better. They’ve invited Piazza back to Shea Stadium/Citi Field on a number of occasions, most notably the last game in Shea Stadium, when they chose Tom Seaver and him to close down the stadium. Piazza received the last pitch ever thrown at Shea from Seaver, and the two of them walked together through the gate in center field, in a ceremony after the last game at Shea. Seaver and Piazza then reunited to throw out the first ever pitch at Citi Field in 2009.

Even Piazza said himself that if he is elected to the Hall of Fame he would like to go as a Met. He recalls that most of his career was with the Mets and everything his city and team went through after 9/11 forged a greater connection with the Mets. “I’ll never forget my Dodger days. But my time with the Mets is what I’ll remember most about my career.”

But in the end it’s not Piazza’s decision. The Hall has the ultimate say on which cap the player will wear, but the player’s preference does play a role. Given Piazza’s connection with the Mets organization, his majority of games played with them, and his absolute stellar play during his nine seasons here, I would be shocked if he wasn’t voted in as a Met.

As far as when he gets in, I believe they’ll vote Piazza, along with Biggio, in on the first ballot, showing that if you play the game the right way, you’re more respected than someone who played it the wrong way but better. That’s just what I expect to happen.

If Bonds and Clemens aren’t in the Hall of Fame it’s a tragedy the level of Pete Rose. These were two amazing players and they need to be in the Hall. And to bring up another point, they played during the Steroid Era. So even though they were using PEDs, almost everyone else was. It was almost to the point that it didn’t matter if you were cheating because everyone else was, so it made an even playing field.

This is how I see it going down:

2013: Piazza and Biggio
2014: Bonds and Clemens

While 2013 would be a great year for New Yorkers with both inductees, I really can’t wait to see the 2014 induction ceremony. Although to see Piazza and Clemens up there at the same time would be very interesting…

7 comments for “Will HOF voters induct Mike Piazza on the first ballot?

  1. 86mets
    January 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I think Piazza will be in the same boat as Jeff Bagwell, guilty by association just because they played in the same era as Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Clemens. In Bagwell’s case maybe people think he juiced because he played with Ken Caminiti. Not fair, but that’s how it goes. It’ll be the same for Pudge Rodriguez when he’s eligible because he once played with Jose Canseco. And because for years McGwire avoided admitting juicing because he played with Canseco but later admitted using, people are going to jump to the conclusion that Bagwell cheated because of Caminiti and I-Rod did because of Canseco.

    But there is NO proof that either of those players, or Piazza, ever cheated. And also going against Piazza are his seemingly unhuman stats as a catcher: .308/.377/.545 with 427 HR. People will argue that it’s impossible to put up those numbers at that position without some artificial assistance. Totally unfair to Piazza and the reputation he had as a dedicated player, but I’m afraid that we’ll be hearing that argument used against him as well. The rules for the BBWAA need to be revised to instruct voters that there needs to be concrete, verifiable proof that the player(s) in question actually USED PED’s, not anectodal evidence or rumors, but proof. Unless that happens, injustices will be done to clean, legitimate Hall of Fame performers such as Bagwell, Piazza, and perhaps even Biggio.

    • Brandon Lee
      January 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      I don’t want to come off as blasphemous, but would you be really shocked if a few years down the road we learned Piazza was using PEDs? I think one baseball official said it was like, 80% of the league was doing it in the 90’s.
      The thing with Bagwell is he did put up great numbers, he just didn’t play that long, plus he played at a position where offense is expected. Is he a Hall of Famer? It’s close. I think he should be in there, but what do I know.
      If Piazza was a first baseman and put up the numbers he did he’d be a board line Hall of Famer. But since he is a catcher, it makes the numbers far more impressive. Same goes for Biggio in a sense. You don’t see many great offensive second baseman.
      I think Bagwell will eventually get in, but he’s not a first ballot Hall of Famer. Piazza and Biggio, in my opinion are. And obviously Clemens and Bonds will be in the Hall, it’s just a matter of if the writers want to make a statement by not letting them in their first time on the ballot.

      • 86mets
        January 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm

        In fairness to Bagwell, injuries cut his career short. So did Sandy Koufax. Was Koufax not then worthy of 1st ballot election? Bagwell meets the requirement of being a dominant force for a decade in his league. Can’t blame him that he played with other dominant players at his position (Helton, Pujols, Delgado, etc.). Without the stigma of steroid use by his contemporaries he would be a 1st ballot election.

        Now, as for whether I’d be shocked to learn in 5 years or more that Piazza DID cheat, well no I wouldn’t be shocked. Because of the use of obvious cheaters (Bonds) and not so obvious (Palmeiro) I think it taints everyone unfortunately. Nevertheless, the HOF voters should be directed to vote for players worthy of induction UNLESS there is irrefutable proof of PED use. And I’ll go a step further to say that the Hall of Fame should be able to oust any player who is proven beyond doubt to have cheated even years after their induction.

      • Bus
        January 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

        Piazza should be a 1st ballot guy. Greatest hitting catcher of all time, and any PED suspicion is all he-said-she-said, BS, and Murray Chass’ obsession with his back in the locker room. Of course, him being my favorite player of all time makes me just a bit biased.

        With that said, he might not be a lock to get in on first ballot if Bagwell didn’t. Bagwell is the definition of first ballot HoF and the fact that he didn’t get in right away with over 90% of the vote is blasphemous. The only 1st baseman in history I can say are truly better are Pujols, Foxx and Gehrig. Did you ever see his 1994 season?

        Bagwell was a historically great hitter, plus-plus plate discipline, plus-plus baserunning, plus-plus defense, and 2300+ hits, 450 home runs and 80 WAR to go along with it.

  2. NormE
    January 13, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I agree that Bagwell and Piazza should be in the HOF. Bonds and Clemens are much more problematic and that may be due to their self-inflicted bad public relations. Neither one is a sympathetic figure. I’d be surprised if the HOF voters made their journey to Cooperstown an easy one, much less that they get there at all. Pete Rose is an example of what happens to a player with poor p.r.

    • Bus
      January 13, 2012 at 4:18 am

      I bet if Jim Thome, Kirby Puckett or any of baseballs other “nice guys” gambled like Rose, they would be fine. I guarantee that if Albert Belle wasn’t a tool, he would have eventually been inducted.

    • Brandon Lee
      January 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Well if it came down to being nice Ty Cobb wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. I think he was the worst person to play baseball ever. Clemens and Bonds have to make it though. Bonds is one of the best all around players ever to play the game and Clemens was the best pitcher of his generation. And don’t even get me started on Rose not being in the Hall…
      Piazza should be first ballot because he put up all those numbers as a catcher. Bagwell should get in eventually, and it would be really unfair to him if he doesn’t.

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