COMMENTARY | Mike Piazza didn't get what he deserved.
The best catcher in New York Mets history and the best offensive catcher of all time was denied a spot in baseball's Hall of Fame last week, his first time on the ballot. Piazza received 329 votes, good for 57.8 of the 75 percent of votes needed for election.
Piazza should be in the Hall. He has the numbers to prove it.
Piazza has dominated the catcher position offensively like no other player in major league history. His 427 career home runs (396 as a catcher) are more than any MLB catcher in the Hall of Fame has hit. He has a higher slugging percentage of all but one of those catchers at .545. And his 1,335 runs batted in, 2,127 hits and .308 career batting average would all rank third on the list.
He also has more than enough accolades. Piazza was an All Star 12 times in his career. He won the National League Silver Slugger 10 times. He finished in the top three in NL Most Valuable Player voting four times. And he was the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year.
Even Ivan Rodriguez, who was dominating American League catchers at the same time that Piazza was slugging away in the NL, doesn't measure up to Piazza statistically.
Rodriguez's career batting average is more than 10 points lower than Piazza's. And even disregarding the four years Rodriguez played after Piazza retired, when he was past his prime, he batted .303 to Piazza's .308. Rodriguez also drove in three fewer runs than Piazza despite playing five more years in the majors. And his 311 homers are more than 100 fewer than Piazza hit.
Piazza has a better offensive résumé than every catcher currently in the Hall of Fame, and he outclassed his greatest rival in every relevant offensive criterion. But there are still two main cases for keeping him out of the Hall.
The first is his defense. Piazza was a poor defensive catcher, and especially struggled throwing out base stealers. His career 23 percent success rate of throwing out runners would rank dead last among Hall of Fame catchers and would trail his next competitor by more than 10 points. And Rodriguez, by comparison, threw out 46 percent of base stealers.
Because catchers don't put up the same overall offensive statistics as position players like outfielders and first basemen, their defense is weighted more heavily. But Piazza's dominance among catchers in every offensive category dwarfs his defensive failings.
But the second case against Piazza (and the likely reason he was kept out of Cooperstown) is stronger -- Piazza's power-hitting came in the middle of the Steroid Era.
Piazza was the best catcher of his generation. But that generation is exactly the problem.
If you are against players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro being in the Hall of Fame, you might well be against Piazza making it to Cooperstown. And the baseball writers have consistently kept those other guys out of the Hall.
Piazza was putting up his numbers in the same years that steroids were inflating everyone's, and it's easy to group him in by association.
There are rumors that Piazza used performance-enhancing drugs. Some sportswriters have noted his back acne, a sign of steroid use.
But conspiratorial whispers and "bacne" should not be enough to keep a man out of the Hall of Fame.
Piazza has never been conclusively linked to steroid use. He wasn't named by Jose Canseco, and he wasn't listed in the Mitchell Report. He has always denied taking PEDs illegally. And in his upcoming book, in which he will address the steroid rumors, he will reportedly continue to deny doing so.
It is dangerous ground to deny Piazza a spot in Cooperstown when there is no real proof against him. And it is especially dangerous ground (as at least one sportswriter, Tony Massarotti, has done) to assume both that Piazza took steroids and that his career statistics would be significantly worse without that presumed steroid use. That is building maybes on top of maybes, which makes for a very unstable logic. It should not be a voter's job to arbitrarily recreate a player's career based on assumptions that could be completely false.
Hall of Fame voters might well vote Piazza in if he continues to deny steroid use and is never proven guilty. Eventually. But Piazza deserves to be in now, even if the baseball writers need more time to accept it. Hall of Fame numbers should get a player who has never been tied to steroids into the Hall of Fame.
Mike Piazza has Hall of Fame statistics. It has not been proved that he used banned substances. He should be in the Hall of Fame.
Hopefully, the writers whose votes count will recognize that one day.
David Adler is a staff writer for The Daily Tar Heel, where he covers UNC sports. He is a New Yorker who has followed the Mets since he was in Little League.
- Sports & Recreation