|(From left to right): Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
The Baseball Writers Association of America announced Wednesday that for the first time since 1996, no players will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer. This was considered to be one of the most highly anticipated Hall of Fame classes in sports history. Everyone has had an opinion on the fates of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds since they left the game after the 2007 season. Despite the hype, names like Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Clemens, Bonds and Schilling were missing from at least 25% of the ballots, and in some cases a much higher percentage than that.
Before we go any further, I need to be honest with you. I grew up a Mets fan, and Mike Piazza is my all-time favorite athlete. In the mid 90’s the Mets were a rudderless franchise holding onto the hope that three pitching prospects, dubbed Generation K, would return them to October baseball. Ten years earlier, a franchise with limitless potential pulled off one of the greatest World Series comebacks of all-time. Numerous poor off-the-field decisions later, and this same franchise was now home to “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.”
And that’s when the Florida Marlins decided to do Florida Marlin things. They unloaded a couple of contracts in the form of Gary Sheffield and Charles Johnson for Mike Piazza, then decided to rebuild by trading Piazza to the Mets just a week later. A couple of playoff runs, a world series appearance, and a city-lifting post 9/11 homerun later, and Mike Piazza was more than just the Mets cleanup hitter. He was a superhero.
This isn’t about Mike Piazza. This is about the Baseball Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio has 3,000 hits. Barry Bonds has 700 homeruns. Roger Clemens has 300 wins. Jeff Bagwell has 1500 RBI, one spot below DiMaggio and a few above Mantle on the all-time list. Curt Schilling made sure everyone watching ESPN Wednesday was aware of his three World Series trophies, as he used the interview from his home to display every one of his accolades in the background short of his bloody sock. Mike Piazza is the only baseball player to hit .300 with 400 homeruns and not be in the Hall of Fame, and thats before we even compare him offensively to other catchers. None of these guys were deemed worthy by the writers to make it into the Hall of Fame.
We can try to get into the never ending steroid debate if you’d like. Nobody can deny what Bonds and Clemens did on the field. It’s off the field where the line gets blurry. The so-called morality clause that has caused much debate seems to be interpreted six hundred different ways by six hundred different writers. Bonds and Clemens can’t get in because what they did was wrong. However Ty Cobb is a known racist who once pulled a Ron Artest a full century before the aforementioned basketball player was an advocate of World Peace, yet Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame. Bonds and Clemens can’t get in because what they did was cheating. However, Gaylord Perry was widely known for scuffing the ball. He threw a spitball numerous times over the span of his 22 year career, and he’s got a plaque in Cooperstown. Yet somehow what Bonds and Clemens did crosses some arbitrary line in the sand. However if you want to tell me you would not have voted for Cobb, and you would not have voted for Perry, and you would not have voted for anyone with hard evidence of steroid usage or cheating, at least we can agree to disagree. That is a consistent viewpoint, and although I am of the opinion that alltime leading hitter in Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame with a plaque that explains to everyone exactly why it took so long for him to be a part of the Cooperstown Museum, I understand that you may disagree with me. And as long as your criteria solely includes convicted cheaters, I am fine with that too. But that does not explain Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza and Schilling.
People like to use numbers, but I think the numbers should only be a supplement to whether or not a player passes the eye test. If you closely followed a players career, you don’t need to flip over his baseball card to make a decision as to whether he is Hall of Fame worthy. You just know. Were you afraid when this opposing player stepped into the batters box in the 9th inning of a close game? Was this a pitcher who you hoped pitched the day before the series against your team started so the rotation would miss him? Was this a player you never changed the channel on when they were at-bat because you believed your team still had a chance? The numbers should back up what you already know, they shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all for a Hall of Fame discussion. The problem is, it’s very hard to argue using fear and hope as your criteria.
Craig Biggio broke the 3,000 hit barrier, played in 7 allstar games, is 15th all time in Runs Scored, and held a level of respect reserved only for the Chipper Jones and Derek Jeters in the Major Leagues for his twenty years as the face of the Astros franchise. Jeff Bagwell was also part of the Houston Astros Killer B’s. While a Rookie of the Year and MVP award sit in his trophy case, he also hit 39+ homers six times and was a 30/30 guy twice. He has led the league at one point or another in runs, doubles, rbi, walks, slugging, ops and total bases. Eight years of 100+ rbi put him above greats like Mickey Mantle, Jim Rice, Joe Carter and Johnny Bench on the all-time list. Curt Schilling’s three world series trophies highlight his impressive post-season performances, including a World Series Co-MVP trophy he shares with Randy Johnson when they formed one of the best 1-2 punches in a rotation in MLB history. He is 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in October. He has struckout 300 batters 3 different times, and put up 3 different 20 win seasons after the age of 34. Mike Piazza is a 12 time allstar who is undisputedly known as the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game. His 427 homeruns are the most by anyone who has ever shared his position. None of these guys were elected into the Hall of Fame.
All of these guys pass the eye test. All of these guys pass the numbers test. Even if you want to make the argument that Piazza couldn’t throw out Mo Vaughn stealing 2nd base, I’d like to remind you that Babe Ruth was roughly a 50% career base stealer. Not everyone in the Hall of Fame was a five tool player, and those that were are incredibly special. No one that follows baseball can give a legitimate on-the-field argument against any of the players above. One argument against them is that Babe Ruth didn’t get 100% of the vote, so why should they? Using the decision of some idiot in the 1930s who didn’t vote for Babe Ruth as justification for your actions goes against everything your mother taught you when she said two wrongs don’t make a right. The more likely reason for leaving those names off your ballot is the suspicion of PEDs. However, none of those players have any hard evidence of any sort to say they did steroids. If you’re just going to start throwing suspicion around in an innocent till proven guilty country, you’re going to take down a lot of players that were clean. And even if they all did steroids, remember that a lot of people did steroids but only Barry Bonds hit 700 homeruns. Many people say Piazza did because he was a homerun hitter but Biggio didn’t because he was not. Don’t forget Fernando Vina and his 40 career homeruns were listed in the Mitchell Report, not to mention countless minor leaguers that never even made it to the show. If Piazza is guilty because he allegedly had backne, then the federal government needs to start drug testing actors before they appear on Proactiv commercials.
The bottom line is Mike Piazza is a player that we will never get to see again. All you need to do is take one look at his return to Shea Stadium as a Padre on youtube for you to be convinced he was a special player. He received a curtain call for hitting a homerun as an opposing player. This was a player that raised up a city after a terrible tragedy, and carried a team into the world series with an outfield consisting of Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Jason Tyner and Benny Agbayani. The only thing more ludicrous than not voting for him is deciding next year to finally vote for him, when he hasn’t picked up a bat in six years. We have a system in place that denies him entrance to the Hall of Fame, and that same system gave the above-average at best Aaron Sele a Hall of Fame vote. And who knows, maybe all four players make it in next year. Maybe the Baseball Writers Association of America just wanted to use this ballot to send a message, but the ballot is only going to get more crowded with next years class and it may cause a logjam in the voting process for years to come. The worst case scenario for this make them sweat it out mentality is what happened to Ron Santo. He finished playing baseball in 1974. In 2011, he was elected into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, he passed away in 2010 never knowing that he finally made it in. What if something were to happen to Biggio, Piazza, Bagwell or Schilling over this next year and they left this earth never getting the chance to celebrate their truly remarkable careers? Their play earned them an induction speech, yet a group of writers wanting to prove a point may only be proving just how flawed the Hall of Fame process truly is.
These writers decided to keep out the 2013 class to protect the baseball heroes from their childhood. Instead, they’re ruining mine.