Don’t get mad at me. These are “fun cards.” If I want to make a card of Mike Piazza wearing a Marlins uniform, I will. So what if he only played five games for the Fish?
Honestly, the Dodgers never should have traded this guy. He was the franchise in the 1990s, and they were foolish to let their relationship deteriorate. Yes, he is wearing a Mets cap on his Cooperstown plaque, and statistically, that’s what it should be. But it shouldn’t, because he never should have worn a Mets cap as a player. He should have been a career Dodger.
Mike Piazza, drafted as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, was never expected to make the majors. He was never even expected to sign. His dad had to badger the Dodgers to give his son a contract, and it’s a good thing he did. Piazza became one of the greatest catchers of all-time. Not only could he hit for power (427 home runs), but he hit for average too (.308 lifetime average). The 1993 NL Rookie of the Year was named to 12 All-Star teams in his 16-year career, and his 396 home runs as a catcher is the most by anyone at that position.
The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees were announced last night, and neither name was a surprise. The legendary centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and slugging catcher Mike Piazza will be enshrined as baseball immortals this summer in Cooperstown, New York.
I decided to create a couple of “fun cards” to commemorate the newest legends, but I wanted to go back to their rookie years. Griffey, a #1 overall draft pick for the Mariners in 1987, debuted in the big leagues in 1989. He was included in all the major sets, either in the base set or the year-end updates: Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps, and Upper Deck. So I had to think outside the box, and decided to borrow a design from Fleer’s basketball release in 1989.
Piazza was a bit easier when it came to the design. While he was featured in the Bowman set, Fleer was the only other company that saw fit to include him in their year-end set. After all, what type of impact could a 62nd-round catcher possibly have in baseball? Topps and Upper Deck completely ignored Piazza, while Donruss saw fit to include him in an insert set, but not the base. As I am a bigger fan of Topps than any of the others (at least when it comes to the 1992 design), I decided to make a Topps card-that-should-have-been for him. However, in 1992, Piazza wore uniform #25 rather than #31, so it was a bit tricky tracking down an era-appropriate photo.
I’m happy with the way these turned out, and I’m happy to see these players getting their just due. Griffey, three votes short of a unanimous selection, and Piazza, who had to wait until his fourth year of eligibility, are true examples of baseball done right.
Time is fast approaching for the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 to be announced. On Tuesday, January 6, the results of the BBWAA voting will be announced, with at least three players expected to be ushered into Cooperstown. The intimidating Randy Johnson, the dominant Pedro Martinez, and lifetime Astro Craig Biggio should all share the stage this summer. But who else might join them?
Early ballot tracking shows John Smoltz receiving a lot of support, and will likely be the fourth man inducted in July, joining teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and manager Bobby Cox, all who were immortalized in 2014. I’m not going to debate whether Smoltz was better than Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling; regardless of who was better, I believe all three should have plaques in the Hall of Fame. But allowing Smoltz in on his first appearance on the ballot should create more conversation about Mussina and Schilling, whose career statistics are very similar, and hopefully we will see support for them increase next year.
What about Mike Piazza? He was one of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time, but he is now in his third year of eligibility. Suspicions about steroid use create a dark cloud over his candidacy, but there has never been a shred of solid evidence or a Jose Canseco allegation against him. With 109 ballots revealed, Piazza is barely over the 75% threshold, but as Tuesday approaches that number is expected to drop. It would be nice to go ahead and get him in the door to clear room on the ballots of those who like to check off the full ten names allowed.
Same for Jeff Bagwell, who currently has just under 75% support. The steroid suspicions are in the minds of many writers, but Bagwell has vehemently denied using and his numbers merit induction. How fantastic would it be to see six men standing on the stage in Cooperstown on induction day?
The next name on the list is Tim Raines, who has seen a steady increase in votes with the exception of last year, when his percentage dropped from 52.2% to 46.1%. The early numbers show him at 63.3%, still far short of the required 75%, but giving hope to fans of the Rock that he will climb the rest of the way by the time his eligibility ends. 2015 is Raines’ eighth year on the ballot; a new rule allows a player’s name to be listed for ten years instead of fifteen (with the exceptions being those who were already past the ten-year mark when the rule was enacted this year).
After Raines comes Schilling and Mussina, then the PED posterboys Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I don’t expect (or want) those two to ever receive enough support from the writers or the Veterans Committee. Designated hitter extraordinaire Edgar Martinez is next, followed by four guys that I believe should be given more consideration than they have received so far: Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith, and Jeff Kent. Sadly, none of them have any shot of election in 2015.
The big names in danger of falling off the ballot after this round include Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, along with first-timers Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra, and Carlos Delgado. Yankee superstar Don Mattingly is on the ballot for his fifteenth and final time.
A few weeks ago, I set out on a mission to discover who was the greatest player at each position on the baseball diamond. I decided on a mixture of traditional statistics and modern metrics, threw in a few decimal points here and there, and came up with a system of ranking players. I decided not to include the “steroid” guys, so don’t expect Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, or Ivan Rodriguez to pop up on any of these lists. Over the next several days, I’ll be revealing some of those results, starting today with the backstop.
The number one guy on this list was really no surprise to me. Who in the world would doubt that Johnny Bench was the greatest to ever wear the tools of ignorance? His final score was 262.36, taking into account not only his offensive production, but his defensive contributions, awards, and midsummer appearances. Yogi Berra (255.05), Carlton Fisk (233.45), Gary Carter (229.3) and Mike Piazza (223.86) round out the top five in that order (if awards and All-Star seasons are included in the calculations…more on that later), but the big surprise is in the bottom half of the top ten.
Only three more Hall of Famers appear in the number 6-10 slots: Gabby Hartnett (#7, 204.08), Bill Dickey (#9, 202.25), and Roy Campanella (#10, 189.55). The sixth greatest catcher of all-time is the current Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations, Joe Torre. Granted, he was not a career catcher, retiring the gear after the 1970 season and moving to first and third base. Regardless, Torre’s offensive output was impressive, scoring 206.33 in this project.
The eighth greatest catcher of all-time took over catching duties for Torre when he moved to the infield. Ted Simmons hit 248 home runs and drove in 1389 runs over a 21-year career while keeping a .285 average, all pretty impressive numbers for a guy who crouches for a living. How was Simmons rewarded for his work behind the plate? One year on the Hall of Fame ballot, only 17 votes for 3.7%, the year Steve Carlton was ushered in with 95.6%. Is Simmons the most overlooked full-time catcher in history?
Back to the inclusion of awards and All-Star appearances. About halfway through the project, I decided I was being a bit unfair to old-timers who never had a chance to win an MVP or be invited to the All-Star game. So I made another column that omitted those calculations, and what happened surprised me. Bench still comes out on top, but Berra got knocked down a few notches. In fact, only one player was replaced in the top ten list. Without awards, the top ten is Bench, Fisk, Carter, Berra, Piazza, Simmons, Dickey, Torre, Hartnett, and Lance Parrish. Campanella actually dropped six spots on the list without his three MVP awards and eight All-Star seasons.
So perhaps Parrish is the most underrated backstop in history? I would never personally support Parrish as a Hall of Famer, but the numbers are there to give his supporters some room to argue. In the case of Simmons, however, I believe the Hall of Fame voters should be charged with a passed ball.
Since his retirement, future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has been involved in coach for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. I don’t know enough about the former catcher to form an opinion about his abilities on the sidelines, so I’m asking you…do you think Mike Piazza would be a good major league manager or coach?
The card above is from the 2013 TWJ series that is being posted daily on tumblr. This past week has been a mixture of cards from the WBC (including Brandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, and Miguel Cabrera) and players in spring training (including Troy Tulowitzki and Gavin Floyd). There is even a special WBC card immortalizing the Canada/Mexico feud. Feel free to follow (I almost always follow back) and let me know if you have any requests for future TWJ subjects!
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.
Back in the late 1980s, a business man and baseball fanatic got the fantastic idea to put Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Clint Hurdle, and a host of other former major league baseball players back on the field in what was called the Senior Professional Baseball Association. After two years, though, the league folded.
I can’t help but wonder if such a venture would not be more successful today? With several former ballplayers still in excellent shape, it could turn out to be an interesting and competitive league. Think of it: Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds in the outfield; Mike Piazza at first base; Barry Larkin at shortstop…these are big draws! Much bigger than Vida Blue was in the late 1980s.
Another problem that I saw with the league of nearly two decades ago was that all the games were played in Florida. They never traveled to baseball-starved cities. It could be a “barnstorming” league, traveling across the country and playing for communities that may have some minor league teams, but missed out on the big superstars in their primes.
For those who are not familiar with the SPBA, the minimum age for players was 35 (with the exception of catchers at 32). They had about eight teams I think, and while they did get a couple of future Hall of Famers to sign up, it was mostly filled with utility players and regional stars (like Clint Hurdle, Jim Morrison, and Joaquín Andújar).
However, I believe that the nostalgia of people of my generation (born in the 1970s) would propel a new league on to success if it were organized correctly with a good smattering of former stars. (What’s Wade Boggs up to nowadays? Dave Stewart? Hey, Ryne Sandberg, wanna play 2B?)
If such a league were formed, who would you like to see play? Obviously, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench are probably a little too old to go for it, but what about some of the players who started in the 1980s?