Tommy Lasorda was one lucky guy because he was loyal to a childhood friend. His pal was named Vince Piazza and Vince had a son named Mike who played some baseball. Tommy, Vince said one day, can you do me a favor? Can you draft my son Mike, make him feel good? Since Lasorda was manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and had a little sway with the organization, young Mike got picked by the Dodgers.
Mike Piazza was chosen in the 62nd round of the draft, the 1,390th player taken. Now he should become a Hall of Famer because while he was then a junior college first baseman, now he is the greatest hitting catcher in Major League history.
Piazza was one of those give-it-all-you-got players at the risk of bodily injury as he rose to stardom playing for Lasorda. He is only 44 now, and it wouldn’t be difficult to picture him DHing somewhere in the American League except for the fact that he has worse knees than a pro football running back of the same vintage. Piazza made it through 16 seasons in the majors with a .308 life-time average. He holds the record for most homers by a catcher with 396, and hit 427 in all.
Initially brought to the majors by the Dodgers, Piazza was traded around a couple of times and settled with the New York Mets. He is closely identified with both of those teams with semi-forgotten stretches as property of the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Oakland Athletics. He won the National League rookie of the year award for the Dodgers, was a 12-time All-Star, and a 10-time winner of the Silver Slugger award as the best hitter at his position. Piazza led the NL in fielding once with a .997 percentage, though his fielding was so-so and his arm was below average.
If there were indicators about Piazza taking performance-enhancing drugs at any time during his player career, I missed them. There have been some rumors since he retired, but he was not named in the Mitchell Report and never failed a drug test. But now, in this year when he is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and there are other premium players who at one time or another were linked to those types of drugs I am hearing some people are ratcheting up their suspicions. It doesn’t seem fair.
This is a crazy year for Baseball Writers of America Association voters for the Hall. The first-timers on the ballot include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. None of them ever served a suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs, but considerable smoke has surrounded their careers and others have said that they did. The ballot is also cluttered with Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended, and Mark McGwire, who later admitted taking the banned substances.
Many voters have indicated they are torn about what to do. Many others have indicated they won’t vote for any player who in their minds is in any way tainted. It takes a 75 percent approval rating among the 600 or so voters to be elected to the Hall, so just what will happen when the polls close Dec. 31 is a mystery.
On the numbers alone, Bonds, Clemens and Sosa should be in the Hall, but there are indications that’s not how this vote is going to go. If those who want to claim moral high ground and vote against that trio, and those who want to make theirs a one-year protest vote leaving that trio off their ballots, they can still vote for others.
It is my contention that Mike Piazza is at the top of that list, and that no matter which players are on the ballot, or which players have been slathered with suspicion, he should be selected. Piazza has Hall of Fame credentials and let us hope the writers recognize that.