Piazza's Hall of Fame call may come today
Catcher was close in 2015, may be enshrined in '16
Mike Piazza arrived at the doorstep of the shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y., one year ago. Soon he will learn if he's welcomed as a member of the Hall of Fame in the latest election by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
With his surge to 69.9 percent of the vote, Piazza fell just short of joining Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in the memorable 2015 Hall of Fame class.
On a current ballot featuring prominent newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman, Piazza appears to have a puncher's chance of walking through those hallowed doors.
Drawing 384 votes, 28 shy of election, Piazza watched his support grow by 7.7 percent last year. A similar gain next year -- a minimum of 5.1 percent -- would produce induction.
Piazza drew 57.8 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2013. Biggio came in at 68.2, improving to 74.8 in 2014 and 82.7 last year to gain entrance.
Results of the BBWAA vote will be revealed on MLB Network on Jan. 6, with a news conference involving any electees to be held the following day.
The Piazza numbers that jump out over a 16-year career spent largely with the Dodgers and Mets are his 427 homers and 1,335 RBIs -- remarkable for any player, otherworldly for a catcher. His 142 OPS-plus reflects having spent his career -- seven seasons with the Dodgers, eight with the Mets -- in home parks not too friendly to hitters.
Piazza's .308/.377/.545 slash line is equally extraordinary, especially given the wear and tear of his demanding job behind the plate. He didn't reach .300 in his six final seasons.
Piazza burst on the scene as the 1993 National League Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers and became a 12-time All-Star after the most humble of beginnings. A 62nd-round selection in the Draft in 1988, he made a prophet of the team's celebrated manager, Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda was en route to a World Series triumph that summer when Piazza, son of Tommy's lifelong friend Vince Piazza of Norristown, Pa., was taken with pick No. 1,390.
A Hall of Fame selection by the Veterans Committee in 1997, Lasorda bristled with the suggestion that drafting Piazza was as a personal favor. He claimed this big kid had the power and the will to make it. So began the journey.
"I don't deserve credit for anything Michael did on a baseball field," Lasorda recently said. "He did it the old-fashioned way, with hard work and perseverance. He made himself into a great player with his desire and commitment."
It is hard to dispute the argument that Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in the game's history. His 396 homers as a catcher are the most ever.
Before going to the Mets in 1998, Piazza had 19 plate appearances with the Marlins, following arguably the most controversial trade in Dodgers history. He finished his career with stops in San Diego (2006) and Oakland ('07).
In his final full season at 37, his 22 homers and .843 OPS, playing in cavernous Petco Park, combined with solid defense helped drive the Padres to the 2006 postseason.
His manager that year, Bruce Bochy, lauded Piazza's work with the pitching staff.
A first baseman when he was drafted, he took Lasorda's advice and transformed himself into a catcher. Often criticized for his struggles in throwing out potential basestealers, Piazza was remarkably durable. While he was no Yadier Molina with the glove, he finished his career with a better-than-average 1.0 defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Piazza's career closely parallels that of the late Gary Carter, who was elected to the Hall of Fame on his sixth ballot in 2003. Like Piazza, Carter was a force with the Mets after coming to New York in a mid-career deal with Montreal. Seven times Piazza finished among the top seven in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting. He was runner-up twice, including 1997 when the Rockies' Larry Walker prevailed. Piazza put together a career year: .362, 40 homers, 124 RBIs, NL-best 185 OPS-plus.
In 2000, driving the Mets to the Subway World Series, he torched the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series and the Yankees in the Fall Classic, producing four homers and eight RBIs in 10 games while batting .333.
The following season, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedies, Piazza produced one of the most magical moments in the game's history.
In the eighth inning of the first game back, with the Mets trailing the Braves, Piazza launched a towering go-ahead homer to center, powering a dramatic victory. The reactions of the fans that night at Shea Stadium have remained with him to this day.
"If I had any role in helping people feel good after that terrible tragedy," Piazza said, "it has to be one of the biggest highlights of my career. I'll never forget it."
The biggest of all might be coming soon.