Happy cappers: Griffey, Piazza make plaque picks

Junior will be first inducted as Mariner; catcher chooses Mets

January 7th, 2016

NEW YORK -- The decision on which team's cap to wear into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is sometimes met with consternation. But not this year.

Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first to go in as a Mariner, and Mike Piazza chose the Mets, the electees revealed Thursday.

"I played 13 years in Seattle, which is longer than I played for the other two teams I played for -- Chicago and Cincinnati," Griffey said about the team that picked him No. 1 overall in the 1987 Draft. "I think I did most of my damage as a Mariner. You know, you want to be first in a lot of things, so I wanted to wear a Mariners hat and go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner."

Griffey: All but 3 votes; Hall calls Piazza, too

:: Griffey, Piazza make Hall of Fame ::

Piazza, drafted 1,390th by the Dodgers in 1988, said he had a lot of fondness for that franchise, and after a discussion with Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (a longtime family friend), Piazza still recognized the right thing for him to do was to go in wearing a Mets cap, becoming the second player to do so.

The other was Tom Seaver -- the player Griffey passed on Wednesday when he was elected with a record 99.3 percent of the vote. (Seaver was named on 98.84 percent of ballots in 1992.) Piazza was named on 83 percent of the ballots.

"I talked to Tommy last night and I kind of told him what I was thinking," Piazza said. "I think this game is funny. We sort of had similar paths like when [Griffey] went to the Cincinnati Reds. For me, as much as I enjoyed my time [in Los Angeles], I ended up in New York and feel like the fans here truly brought me into their family. Every time I've come back, I've been so incredibly honored.

"Unfortunately, you have to choose one, and for me, I always enjoyed reconnecting in New York."

Griffey was asked specifically whether the cap on his plaque would be facing forward or, characteristically for him, flipped with the brim back.

"Forward," he said. "Then back."

Unless the bronze plaques become holograms, it will have to be one or the other.

There was not as much certainty about caps the past two years when eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America elected seven players and the Expansion Era Committee chose three managers.

:: 2016 Hall of Fame ballot results ::

Tony La Russa and Greg Maddux each went into the Hall without an emblem on his plaque, because neither wanted to offend the multiple teams for which he'd managed or pitched.

Randy Johnson had so much angst about choosing the D-backs over the Mariners, he apologized profusely to Seattle fans. Johnson played fewer seasons for the D-backs, but still chose to go in as the first Arizona player so honored in the Hall.

Craig Biggio played his entire 20-year career for the Astros and went into the Hall as the first Houston player.

John Smoltz and Tom Glavine went in as Braves. For Smoltz, the choice was easy. He played 20 years in Atlanta, finishing by splitting a single season between the Red Sox and Cardinals. Glavine pitched five of his last six seasons with the Mets, winning his 300th game in New York.

Joe Torre managed five teams, but he said the nexus of his career was managing the Yankees for 12 seasons. He went in with the interlocking NY on his cap. Cox, like Smoltz, went in as a Brave. That was a no-brainer, since Cox managed 25 years in Atlanta and only four in Toronto.

But it's not always that cut and dried.

Griffey played his first 11 seasons with the Mariners before the trade that sent him on to nine seasons with the Reds, his hometown team and the one his father, Ken Griffey Sr., played for when the Big Red Machine won the World Series in 1975 and '76. Junior finished with the White Sox and had a curtain call for the Mariners, for whom he still works as a consultant.

Griffey is correct. He did most of his damage in Seattle, where he hit 417 of his 630 homers (sixth all-time) and batted .292. During his injury-plagued tour with the Reds, Griffey hit 210 homers and batted .270. Ten of his 13 All-Star appearances were in the American League, and he won all 10 of his Gold Gloves in consecutive years while playing center field for the Mariners.

Griffey recalled hitting back-to-back homers with his dad when the youngster was 20 years old and Senior was in the waning years of his career. It was 1990 and both were with the Mariners. These are the kind of things that have an imprint.

"I figured, like any other 20-year-old, it was no big deal," Griffey Jr. recalled. "Then my dad said, 'You know, we just went back to back. [No father and son] had ever done that.' I said, 'Yeah, OK. Let's do it again.' At 38, 39, he understood the history of the game, where I was just a rookie player happy to be playing every day. As I got older, I understood what I've accomplished and how it all paid off. That's why I'm going into the weekend with a Seattle Mariners hat on."

Piazza is from Norristown, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, and his dad, Vince, was a best friend of Lasorda's. Much has been said and written about how Lasorda did the Piazzas a favor by having the Dodgers pick him in the 62nd round of the 1988 Draft. No one figured Piazza to be a keeper, but that's the way things sometimes work out.

Piazza wound up hitting 427 homers, 397 of them as a catcher, the most ever for a player at that position. Piazza established himself in his first seven years with the Dodgers, hitting .331 with 177 of those homers. A pending free agent, he was traded to the Mets through the Marlins because of a dispute over that contract.

In eight years for the Mets, Piazza batted .296 and hit 220 homers before finishing his career with a year each in San Diego and Oakland. During the 2000 World Series, which the Mets lost to the Yankees in five games, he batted .273 (6-for-22) with two homers and four RBIs.

There was the game-winning two-run homer Piazza hit against the Braves in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001, the first home game after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. And despite his family tie and deep roots with the Dodgers, ever since then, his heart belonged to New York.

"As far as my hat, I want to be very clear: As much as I loved coming up with the Dodgers -- and I will always cherish my time there -- I'll be going in as a New York Met," Piazza said. "I had an amazing career [in L.A.] as far as getting to know Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Hall of Famers. But fortunately for me, I eventually ended up in New York. In some ways, if you perform here, you truly have a special relationship with the New York fans. So, thank you."