If you think Mike Piazza is worthy of Cooperstown, you're not alone. For the third year in a row, he drew votes from the majority of the Hall of Fame voters.
…But not quite enough to actually get into the Hall of Fame.
A candidate needs 75 percent of the vote to be elected into Cooperstown. When the voting for 2015 was revealed on Tuesday, four players were over that threshold: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.
|Top HoF Voting Percentages for 2015|
|Player||Year on Ballot||Vote %|
Piazza, however, juuuuuuust missed with 69.9 percent. Though an improvement over the 62.2 percent he received in 2014, it means another year of waiting for the former Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets great.
Piazza is surely disappointed, but don't expect to hear him complain. When it comes to the voting for the Hall of Fame, he knows what the deal is.
“The way history has always gone, it has always been a process,” Piazza told Ted Berg of USA Today. “In this day and age there’s so much attention on it, and now there are so many outlets for analysis that it gets more and more scrutinized.
“Hopefully it happens. I’m optimistic, but it’s out of my control.”
Going forward, Piazza should continue to be optimistic. He may not be in yet, but ESPN.com's Jayson Stark noted just how close he is:
There's a good chance Piazza will get those votes. Support for him has increased each year he's been on the ballot, and one thing that's for sure is that it's not what he did on the field that's holding him back.
Piazza is often cited as the greatest offensive catcher ever and rightfully so. Beyond being a career .308/.377/.545 hitter with 427 home runs, Piazza holds the following distinctions:
- His .922 career OPS is tops among qualified catchers.
- His 143 career OPS+ is also tops among qualified catchers.
- He's the all-time leader in OPS as a catcher at .942.
- He's the all-time leader in home runs as a catcher with 396.
Piazza has other things going for him as well. He broke in as the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and went on to become a 12-time All-Star and a 10-time Silver Slugger. And though his overall postseason numbers are lacking, he was a monster in the Mets' run to the World Series in 2000.
Meanwhile, stuck in the shadow of the accolades and gaudy offensive numbers is Piazza's defense. He's not regarded as a strong defensive catcher, but SI.com's Jay Jaffe highlighted two studies that disagree.
In 2006, Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com (via Baseball Prospectus) made a case for Piazza as one of the best catchers ever at keeping the ball in front of him. In 2013, Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus used pre-PITCHf/x data to highlight Piazza as one of the 10 best pitch framers of all time.
So though Piazza struggled to throw out runners, he was basically Jonathan Lucroy before Jonathan Lucroy was Jonathan Lucroy. If he played today, he'd be regarded as a good defensive catcher and, therefore, hardly a one-dimensional superstar.
In all, Piazza's career accomplishments say he clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame. That he's not is snubbery. Snubbery most foul.
So why isn't Piazza in the Hall of Fame yet? It's fairly obvious that it's because a good percentage of the voters are essentially the anti-Yogi Berra:
They may not know anything, but they suspect everything.
Despite the apparent invalidity of it, you sometimes hear Piazza's poor defensive reputation cited in Hall of Fame columns. But as far as reasons for denying him a vote, it pales next to suspicions regarding performance-enhancing drugs.
It's not hard to find examples. Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe lumped Piazza in with the "Roids Boys." Marty Noble of MLB.com referenced his suspicion of Piazza. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com cited the "steroid specter." And so on.
That Piazza has a PED cloud hanging over him shouldn't be news. He gets one of those by default simply by virtue of being a slugger from the 1990s and early 2000s, but that's not all there is to it.
For beginners, there's the reality that Piazza told The New York Times in 2002 that he briefly used androstenedione, which is best known as the stuff that was in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998. Even in giving Piazza his vote, Paul Daugherty of The Cincinnati Enquirer brought that up.
As the New York Post highlighted in 2013, Piazza claimed in his biography, Long Shot, that andro is the strongest substance he ever took. But some believe he was into much heavier stuff, with the most common suspicion being over what was on Piazza's back during his playing days.
To my knowledge, Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to raise suspicion over Piazza's back acne in 2009. But nobody has beat the drum like former New York Times writer Murray Chass, who wrote in '09:
Not that reporters spend their time in clubhouses looking at guys’ bare backs, but when a reporter is talking to a player at his locker before he puts on his uniform shirt or after he takes it off and he turns around to put something in or take something out of his locker his back is what is visible. And Piazza’s acne was always visible. Teen-age kids never had such a problem.
Now as naïve as I might have been about steroids, the one thing I knew was that use of steroids supposedly causes the user to have acne on his back. As I said, Piazza had plenty of acne on his back.
As far as circumstantial evidence of more heavy PED use goes, there's more than just back acne.
For example, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News is suspicious about the back end of Piazza's career, writing, "Piazza’s career went downhill fast and he began being plagued with the kind of injuries often related to steroids in 2003, the year testing began."
Some voters have also raised suspicions about the beginning of Piazza's career. Dan Lewis of SB Nation compiled some writing on that last year, with the common theme that there's just no way Piazza could go from being a 62nd-round draft pick to a Hall of Fame-caliber producer without help.
Of course, it's possible to poke holes in these suspicions.
Yes, Piazza may have used andro, but it's definitely notable that Major League Baseball didn't even ban andro until after the Food and Drug Administration banned it in 2004. Until then, it was perfectly legal.
Yes, Piazza may have started declining in 2003. But he was in his mid-30s at the time, and the injury that undid him was a bad groin strain. A catcher breaking down upon hitting his mid-30s shouldn't be suspicious, and groin strains have been around a lot longer than steroids.
Yes, it is rather unbelievable that Piazza rose from being a throwaway draft pick to an all-time great. But as Lewis took care to highlight, Piazza always projected to be a big guy with a big bat. So in a sense, he did indeed become what he was supposed to be.
As for the back acne argument, the best counter-argument for that can be summed up in one word: Seriously?
But then, it doesn't really matter whether the PED suspicions that cloud Piazza's Hall of Fame case are valid or not. All that matters is that they exist, and that there are enough writers clinging to them to keep him out of the Hall of Fame…for now.
As somebody who wants to see Piazza in Cooperstown, all I can say now is that this is regrettable. But the good news, such as it is, is that it's short of a tragedy.
Piazza's situation would be a tragedy if he was nowhere close to getting into Cooperstown. But he is close. Very close. Close enough to get in a year from now, anyway. If not, it's going to happen eventually. Sooner or later, Piazza will be in the Hall of Fame.
And when he is, the suspicions that played a part in keeping him out will be water under the bridge.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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