by Mike Piazza with Lonnie Wheeler
Simon & Schuster, 2013
Spring training is underway, and new baseball books are starting to hit the store shelves. Mike Piazza released his highly anticipated memoir Long Shot a couple of weeks ago, and in it he tells of his upbringing, relationship with Tommy Lasorda, and love for the city of New York. He deals with some of the big stories of his career, including the steroid suspicions, homosexuality rumors, the Roger Clemens incident, and breaking Carlton Fisk’s record for most home runs by a catcher. The first eight chapters, which focus on Piazza’s early life through the minor leagues, capture the catcher’s personality best as he tells of meeting Ted Williams and convincing his college coaches to let him catch instead of play first base. Once he makes the big leagues in chapter nine, however, the story becomes a bit dry. We do see the evolution of the innocent, sheltered Pennsylvania boy into a hardened, cynical Californian and later New Yorker (granted, that evolution began in the minor leagues, but became much more pronounced as he was ushered out of Los Angeles). But Piazza’s recollection of specific games, at-bats, and even pitches can be a bit tedious.
Many players make a big splash by publishing “tell-all” biographies, exposing the shortcomings of former teammates and coaches. While he does take a few jabs at Pedro Martinez and Clemens, for the most part Piazza shies away from such an approach. Unfortunately, that makes the major league portion of the book more difficult to get through. There are interesting stories here and there, but the best part of Long Shot is definitely found in the first eight chapters.
Does Mike Piazza belong in the Hall of Fame? Only 57.8% of the voters showed support in his first year on the ballot, despite his staggering offensive numbers. That number is expected to rise in the coming years, and Piazza himself believes he belongs. “Election to the Hall of Fame would, for me, validate everything.” One look at his statistics, coupled with the fact that he has never been accused of steroid usage by any reputable source, answers the question quite clearly. The man worked hard for what he achieved, accomplishing great things despite the odds. If you are not familiar with his career, Long Shot is a good recollection. For those who remember his career well, read the first eight chapters and skim the rest.