PHOENIX -- Mike Piazza still looks trim and fit in the light blue uniform of Team Italy, which has been preparing for the Arizona pool in the upcoming World Baseball Classic for about a week now.
At 44, Piazza appears as if he can still play. He retired in 2007, and on the most recent Hall of Fame ballot filed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the slugger fell 98 votes short of the 75 percent necessary to be elected. He's now a coach for the Italians, who move their official base from Camelback Ranch to Papago Park -- the spring home of the A's -- on Monday. They are in a very tough bracket with the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
"We're definitely the underdog of the bracket," Piazza said. "Just looking at the big-picture scenario, we're realistic. We know we have to play exceptional baseball to move on. We know that if we play well, we can be competitive."
Never shy of saying what's on his mind, Piazza has been in the news recently after the release of his autobiography, "Long Shot," as told to Lonnie Wheeler. When I caught up with Piazza earlier this week, he talked about the Classic and several of the most salient points of the book.
MLB.com: So you're back with the Italian team. The growth of the sport internationally has been phenomenal since you played for Italy in 2006 in the first Classic.
Piazza: I also coached in Toronto with the Italians during the Classic four years ago. I've been with them for the last two European championships we won. We won the last one this past fall in Holland, which was the first time we defeated the Dutch on their soil since 1977. We have some native guys who have been playing very well. It was very exciting for me to see us win in Holland. There were 5,000-6,000 people there watching a baseball game in Europe. You look at the continent of Europe, you have 600 million people. There's a huge market there.
MLB.com: You sound very enthused about this.
Piazza: It's a lot of fun for me. Surprisingly, the baseball quality has gone up, because the world is getting smaller, because of the Internet and because the instruction is getting better. The more access you have to the American philosophy, you're seeing that players are getting better. There's upward growth for Major League Baseball, not only from a player perspective, but from a fan-base perspective. And I think they should continue. That's one of my endeavors -- to try to get them to keep investing money and promote the game in Europe.
MLB.com: I wanted to talk to you a little about your book. For it to generate any interest, you had to say something.
Piazza: You're absolutely right. I was very forthcoming and tried to be as honest as I could about things. There's not a lot of stuff I left out. My life is something that I wanted to share. I get a lot of questions, having played in New York, having played in L.A., having gone through the experiences I've gone through. I knew I had to be forthcoming and honest, and I feel that I've done that. People who are pretty objective enjoyed the story. You can only do your work and put it out there. Everyone's going to have a different opinion. That's fine. That's the way it goes. You can't please everybody.
MLB.com: In particular, do you think the reaction to what you said about award-winning Dodgers announcer Vin Scully drew too much attention? On Page 173, speaking about your contract issue and what was going on before the Dodgers traded you, you said: "On top of that, Scully was crushing me."
Piazza: I did. I think if you read it from the perspective of the story in its entirety, I was just telling my version. That was a very difficult time in my life and my career, probably the most difficult. It's my perspective. This wasn't a personal thing about Vin. Obviously, he's an icon. But there was a lot going on. I told it the way I experienced it at the time. Then people grabbed on to it, that I was being overly negative of him, but that wasn't the case at all. It was not coming from a place of bitterness, malice or a bone to pick. It's coming from a place of honesty.
MLB.com: You have no animosity toward Vinny, right?
Piazza: No, no. Not at all.
MLB.com: Have you talked to him?
Piazza: No, I haven't. I know he's busy and was getting inundated with some questions and realized he needed to put a stop to it. At least that's my perception. My intent was not to damage him or slight him in any way.
MLB.com: Your overview of the drug use in baseball was interesting. On Page 158 you said, "I took greenies … I used Ephedra … supplements you could easily buy at GNC. … My point is, there's a drug culture in sports."
Piazza: I was just calling attention to what was going in sports in general, not just baseball. Anytime there are powerful anti-inflammatory or pain killers that are dispersed through the training room, you understand that there are issues with abuse sometimes. It was merely trying to tell people that, at least for me, taking drugs like Vioxx was very dangerous. Since then, it's been taken off the market.
MLB.com: On Page 203, you said you used what was then over-the-counter stuff like Andro and Creatine. But you stopped short of using HGH when the trainers told you it's a controlled substance. And about steroids, on Page 251 you said that being brushed with that label is "unjust." "It shouldn't be assumed that every big hitter of the generation used steroids. I didn't." Why not?
Piazza: It was illegal. There was a difference in going into the training room or a supplement store and going through illegal channels. That's a completely different animal. As I said with the Andro pack, it was part of a pack that was readily available over the counter. When I saw that it was being scrutinized, I stopped it.
MLB.com: Obviously you want to be in the Hall of Fame. On Page 337, you led the Epilogue by saying your election "would validate everything." What did you think of this year's vote in which nobody was elected?
Piazza: I thought it was interesting. There were a lot of different opinions. I got a lot of support. I really did. There are a lot of players throughout history who had to wait their turn. You look at Joe DiMaggio. You look at Yogi Berra. I'm very proud of the body of work I've put up. I like the system. It makes it very exclusive for a reason. As a player, you have to let that process play out. Of course, I was a little disappointed. I am proud of my career. But all and all, you do have to understand that it is a process that I trust. A lot of great, great players had to wait years. We'll see what happens moving forward.
MLB.com: What kind of impact do you think your book will have on your future Hall prospects? Do you think it will be positive?
Piazza: Well, that wasn't the plan for me. The plan was just to tell my story. When you set out to write a book, there was no agenda to use it as a tool to campaign. That was not my intent. My intent was to write about my life and have people enjoy it. As I said in the last chapter, even though you aren't the person or player people want you to be, you have to be yourself. I am very blessed. I've had a great career, a great life. That's the message I wanted to get across.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter.