It isn’t often you childhood sports hero runs the gamut and is recognized for his accomplishments, but that’s about to happen for Mike Piazza. It is four years overdue, but the former Dodger and Met (who really cares about the other teams he played for?) will finally be a Hall of Famer.
He’s tracking at 86.1 percent of the vote, with 75 percent of the vote needed for election. He needs to be on just 66.8 percent of the remaining ballots to be elected. It’s going to happen.
You know the story by now: 62nd-round draft pick, selected almost as a favor to Tommy Lasorda (Piazza’s godfather), impressive run through the minors that was a precursor to an improbable run through the majors. No one would have predicted this.
If you look at the pure numbers, there is no reason Piazza shouldn’t have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer (rank among catchers from 1947 until now in parenthesis).
- 62.5 fWAR (5th)
- .237 ISO (1st)
- .390 wOBA (1st)
- 140 wRC+ (2nd)
- 370.1 Off (1st)
- 396 HR (1st)
Say what you will about his defense — his arm was poor, but his overall defense wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe — his offense was off the charts.
Growing up, I played mostly catcher in Little League Baseball. Early in my “career,” I played a lot of second base. Steve Sax was my favorite player until Piazza burst onto the scene in 1993. After that, he was my guy.
I tried to emulate his batting stance, but quickly found that wouldn’t work. Even as a kid swinging a relatively light aluminum bat, my wrists and forearms weren’t strong enough to have a hitch in my swing and a violent finish. I never really hit for much power, but I still tried to model myself after Piazza. Somewhat surprisingly, I never wore No. 31, despite having chances to do so. When asked, I always said I wanted to he 6’3, 215 pounds, just like Mike. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen)
Some Piazza moments stand out for me:
- 2-HR game against SF on the final day of the 1993 season to knock the 103-win Giants out of the playoff race
- His MVP performance in the 1996 All-Star Game in Philadelphia
- An impossible home run off Curt Schilling at Dodger Stadium on a Saturday night in 1997
- His home run that left Dodger Stadium in 1997
- Approximately a 1,000-foot home run in Colorado in 1997
He was amazing. To this day, he’s still one of the best hitter the Dodgers have ever had. Let’s see how he stacks up against some of the greatest hitters in Dodger history:
First thing that stands out: Holy crap, Reggie Smith was really good. Every player on this list was an amazing offensive force, but Piazza gets bonus points because of his defensive position. There is no more grueling position to play in the sport, and to put up those numbers while taking a beating every year is remarkable.
He fit right in, as he and Eric Karros were the face of the team in the early 1990s. Despite not being a California kid like Karros, Piazza assimilated to the West Coast culture rather easily. The long(ish) hair, the Fu Manchu-like mustache, the laid-back attitude — he was a natural. It looked like he was a lifer. But it wouldn’t last.
On May 14, 1998, the news came down that the Dodgers had traded Piazza. I was heartbroken. As a 15-year-old, I didn’t weep, but it was particularly dusty in my room that day. In hindsight, the Dodgers did pretty well in the deal, acquiring Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, a still-productive Bobby Bonilla and a Dodger killer in Jim Eisenreich. Sheffield and Johnson were great and good (defensively for CJ, as least), but Bonilla fell off a cliff after being acquired. He posted a -0.9 WAR in 72 games with the Dodgers and left for the Mets the following offseason. But that was all secondary to me. The Dodgers had just traded my favorite player.
It was a gut punch. The Dodgers’ failed playoff appearances in 1995 and 1996 hurt. Piazza losing the MVP to Larry Walker in 1997 also hurt. But disagreement over his next contract led the Dodgers to send him packing. It’s insane to trade a 28-year-old catcher who had hit .362/.431/.638 the season before, despite his “struggles” early in 1998 (.282/.329/.497). If that happened today, no matter the return, it would draw massive criticism.
While Piazza will go into the Hall of Fame with a Met cap on his bust, let’s not forget all he did while wearing Dodger blue. He finished his Dodger career as a .331/.394/.572 hitter in 726 games for LA. He started an astounding 89.8 percent games at catcher from 1993 (first full season) until he was traded. He was the best hitter I have ever seen wear a Dodger uniform, and I was devastated by his trade to Florida. That’s not to say he wasn’t good with the Mets — he was great. He hit .296/.373/.542 in 972 games with the Mets. He led them to the World Series in 2000, famously had a shattered bat thrown in his vicinity by Roger Clemens after owning him for most of his career and hit one of the most memorable home runs in regular season baseball history.
Mike Piazza is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s too bad bogus steroid allegations by smarmy baseball writers have kept him out of the Hall for so long. He isn’t the only player affected by it. Jeff Bagwell should also already be in, but he’s going through the same circumstance. These baseless allegations are a huge problem. Baseball writers are not a moral authority. The Hall of Fame is a museum.
Congratulations, Mr. Piazza. You had a profound impact on my (baseball) life and I’m thrilled that you’re (about) to become part of baseball’s very best. Thank you for helping me become — in large part — the baseball fan that I am today. Cheers.