Year Inducted: 2016 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 365/440)
It was a moment that no one thought could happen. Following more than a week off after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, baseball resumed in New York City. Facing their arch-rival Atlanta Braves and fighting for their playoff lives, the Mets were just coasting along in the game. In the bottom of the eighth, and down 2-1, up came the Mets MVP, and with one swing of the bat he put an entire city on his back and made everything alright again, even if it was for a brief moment. That moment, along with a brilliant resume, helped carry Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame.
Piazza played 16 years in the bigs, most prominently with the Mets and Dodgers. In his career, Piazza redefined standards of offense for catchers by hitting .308/.377/.545 with a wRC+ of 140. Piazza was simply the best hitting catcher ever. Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk had the power, Mickey Cochrane had the average and Yogi Berra had the contact ability, but only Piazza could put it all together for a considerable amount of time. He used all those traits to belt 344 doubles, 8 triples and 427 homers. Piazza is the only player whose primary position was catcher to hit over 400 homers in his career. Piazza’s line drive style of hitting led to 10 seasons of 90 or more RBI, including six times of 100 or more. In total, Piazza drove in 1335 runs and scored 1048 times.
Like most catchers, Piazza was an incredibly poor baserunner. Despite many runs scored, Piazza was worth -31 runs on the bases, and stole only 17 bases (his last one coming in 2000). Piazza’s defense wasn’t spectacular either. He had a bad reputation as a poor defender, but the numbers show him to be serviceable, just not elite defensively. Overall he was worth +32 runs defensively, which is an OK total, but not near the best of all-time. Piazza was mostly the first catcher ever to be judged solely on his bat.
Piazza’s Hall of Fame balloting suffered from several things. One is the perception of his defense. While that faded over the four years he was on the ballot, many writers held the presumption of his defense against him due to him being a catcher. Another thing held against Piazza was his draft position. Piazza, rather infamously, was drafted by the Dodgers in the very late rounds (62nd) of the draft primarily as a favor to Tommy LaSorda, who was a friend of the Piazza family. A lot of writers remembered that story, but forgot the reason he slipped so low in the draft. When Piazza was being scouted, no scout denied the ferocity of his bat. What they were discouraged with was, shockingly, his defense. Most scouts felt that Piazza didn’t have the reflexes to be a good defensive catcher and due to his size and mobility wouldn’t fit anywhere else on the diamond. Basically, they viewed him as a prime DH, which wasn’t really a valuable commodity. So, Piazza kept falling down the draftboard, until the Dodgers decided to do a favor for their longtime manager.
However, the main reason that Piazza waited four years was the same reason that Craig Biggio had to wait as long as he did; he got swept up in the steroid cloud. While there were very few rumors that Biggio was using PED’s, there were fairly loud whispers about Piazza. However, as with Biggio and many others, there was no definitive proof that he used steroids (unlike there was for Rafael Palmeiro), so it is hard to justify him being held back because of steroids.
Whatever the reason, Piazza should have been an easy selection for induction. His defense may not have been great, but he still underwent the physical grind of catching for 16 years and put up better offensive numbers than any catcher in history.
The next update for today goes up at 7:00 am EDT.