It’s probably going to be a quiet few days in Cooperstown when Hall of Fame weekend rolls around this summer. The baseball writers did not elect anybody this year despite some heavyweight candidates. The problem was that at least three of the poster boys for the steroids era, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, were on the ballot for the first time. The writers were clearly making a statement when nobody got elected.
One player who was on the ballot, but not directly linked to performance enhancing drugs, was Mike Piazza. In the last 20 years he was one the best offensive catchers the game has ever produced. He had a lifetime batting average of more than .300 and hit more than 30 home runs nine times. He had a so-so arm that hurt him defensively, but his offensive production more than made up for it.
Piazza would probably be a first-time Hall of Famer in another reality but playing during the steroid era made everyone suspect. If the clean players had spoken up for testing at the time (assuming there were clean players) then it would be easier to believe that not everyone was doing PEDs in one form or another. It certainly didn’t help Piazza to be eligible for the Hall of Fame at the same time as Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.
Piazza has just published his autobiography, called “Long Shot.” What is captivating about his story is the rags-to-riches nature of his pursuit of a Major League career. He was a 62nd round draft choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers and was only drafted as a favor to the Dodgers’ manager, Tommy Lasorda, who was close friends with Piazza’s father.
From a physical standpoint, he didn’t make a good catching prospect. Piazza didn’t have a strong arm, so on the surface he was a defensive liability. He was slow afoot and lacked range, so he wasn’t suited for any other position, including first base. The big thing was he could hit. Catching became the fallback position because basically nobody wants to pursue a Major League career with the goal of being a designated hitter.