COMMENTARY | Mike Piazza, taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft, wasn't supposed to turn into the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Once he became that, he was thought to be a sure lock for the Hall of Fame.
Only then, the steroid era was exposed. Now, we cast doubt on the same accomplishments that were once celebrated.
Piazza spent his first six-plus seasons with the Dodgers, hitting 177 home runs and driving in 563 runs with a batting average of .331. When he was traded from the Florida Marlins to the New York Mets on May 22, 1998, he had already established himself as one of the game's best hitters. Over the next eight years, he would slug 220 home runs and drive in 655 runs with the Mets. From 1999 to 2002, his four best seasons in New York, he hit 147 home runs.
Piazza was one of the most feared hitters in the game. When he came to bat, you paid attention. He finished his career with 427 home runs, 1,335 runs batted in, and a .308 batting average.
In the history of the franchise, the Mets have never had a right-handed hitter as good as Piazza. He single-handedly saved the organization back in 1998. The Mets just missed the playoffs that year, advanced to the National League Championship Series in 1999, then made it to the World Series in 2000. With one swing of the bat, he would help rebuild New York City after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
If it weren't for Piazza, the Mets would never have been relevant at a time when the New York Yankees were the best team in baseball year in, year out. When the Yankees were winning their championships, Piazza did everything he could to make Shea Stadium the place to be. He gave the Mets power. He gave them credibility. He gave them eight years of one of the best careers in Major League Baseball history.
Earlier today, the Baseball Writers' Association of America denied Piazza, along with some of the biggest names to ever play the game -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa -- entry into the Hall of Fame. It's clear that voters decided that Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and others were not worthy of entry because they've been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
As a result, when the induction ceremony takes place this July in Cooperstown, only Veterans Committee selections Hank O'Day, Jacob Ruppert, and Deacon White will be welcomed in. All are deceased.
Piazza, meanwhile, hasn't been linked to PEDs, though he's obviously viewed with great suspicion. Why else would the greatest hitting catcher of all time be turned away at the gates of baseball's most famous house?
Piazza received 57.8 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed to get in), far more than Bonds (36.2 percent), Clemens (37.6 percent), and Sosa (12.5 percent). Craig Biggio, who has never been linked to steroids, came the closest, receiving 68.2 percent of the votes. Clearly, the voters made it known that ballplayers linked to PEDs, whether there's been evidence or merely suspicion, are going to have a tough time getting in.
It appears there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Piazza, but this is what we know for sure: Piazza is one of the best players to ever put on a Mets uniform.
For Mets fans, Piazza is the guy that you want to believe was clean. Fairly or unfairly, the voters seem to be saying that he might not have been.
Charles Costello was a beat reporter covering the New York Mets when they traded for Mike Piazza. He was at the press conference on May 22, 1998 when the Mets announced that they had acquired Piazza, and he hosted a radio show live from Shea Stadium the next day when Piazza made his Mets debut.