NEW YORK -- Mike Piazza almost quit baseball as a young Minor Leaguer. Really. He struggled to convert to catching and suffered through differences with his coaches."I wasn't having any fun," Piazza said during a conference call on Friday. "It's a lesson a lot of people can learn that when
NEW YORK -- Mike Piazza almost quit baseball as a young Minor Leaguer. Really. He struggled to convert to catching and suffered through differences with his coaches.
"I wasn't having any fun," Piazza said during a conference call on Friday. "It's a lesson a lot of people can learn that when you struggle, sometimes it's meant to build character and meant to make you stronger."
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Piazza didn't quit, of course. He went on to hit 396 of 427 homers as a catcher, the most ever in the Majors of anyone at that position. And a week from Sunday, Piazza will be rewarded for his fortitude when he's inducted along with outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Coverage begins on MLB Network and MLB.com at 11 a.m. ET Sunday, with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies getting underway live at 1:30.
It's the induction of two very disparate players. Griffey was "The Natural," the son of former Reds star Ken Griffey Sr. The younger Griffey said that since his election this past Jan. 6 with a record 99.3 percent of the vote, pretty much nothing has changed. It was his first time on the ballot.
"No, I'm pretty much just Dad at the house. So that hasn't changed," said Griffey, who smacked 630 homers, the sixth most in Major League history. "I tried to get certain names called. I tried to get 'Emperor' -- that didn't work. 'Smack Daddy' -- my kids didn't want to go for that."
Piazza made it on his fourth try with 83 percent. Any electee to the Hall has to reach the 75 percent threshold to make it in.
With their inclusion, there will now be 312 people enshrined in the plaque room, 217 former players and 121 of them elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Griffey is the first to enter as a Mariner and Piazza the second to go in as a Met, joining Tom Seaver, who was inducted in 1992.
In a neat dichotomy that illustrates the different paths taken by the newest inductees, as the No. 1 pick by the Mariners in the 1987 Draft, Griffey will be the first No. 1 overall selection going into the Hall since the advent of the Draft in 1965. Piazza, chosen by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 Draft, was the 1,390th overall selection and stands to be the lowest pick ever to be inducted.
Piazza said Griffey was always a wunderkind.
"I do remember playing against him in the instructional league," Piazza said. "For me, I knew back then he was going to be special. I mean, he was the first overall pick in the Draft and obviously had a famous father, who was a World Series champion, a great ballplayer in his own right.
"He was as close to a can't-miss prospect as you can get. And I think it's very unique and very exciting that we have two guys going in -- one at the top of everyone's expectations and the other maybe at the bottom of expectations."
Piazza was hardly a can't-miss. Then Dodgers manager and Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda was a close friend of Piazza's father, Vince, and had his organization draft Piazza as a favor to the family.
"I was just very fortunate that Tommy was there to at least give me a chance to get my foot in the door," Piazza said.
Griffey was better than his father -- a cherished member of the Big Red Machine and the winner of back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a natural hitter, and like his dad, a fluid and speedy outfielder.
"When I was able to turn from a slow-footed first baseman into a slow-footed catcher who could hit, my opportunities increased," he said.
But Griffey lauded Piazza, the player.
"You know, Mike was one of the most feared hitters in baseball at the time," Griffey said. "When the game was on the line, you didn't want him up. He was going to battle you offensively and defensively. He was going to make you earn a base hit. I'm excited about going in with him. He was a guy who gave his all every day."
About that dichotomy of where they were drafted, Griffey added: "If you work hard and do the things you're supposed to do, you get rewarded. My father always told me there have been more third, fourth or [lower] round picks in the Major Leagues than first-round picks. My dad was a 29th-round Draft pick [by the Reds in 1969], and he played 19 years.
"No matter who you are, things are not going to be handed to you. Yeah, you may get another look because of the higher round. But you still have to do what everyone else does, and that's work hard and do what you're supposed to do."
It'll be Griffey's first visit to the Hall next weekend since his election. Unlike Piazza, he shunned the usual formality of an orientation tour and chose to remain home in Orlando, Fla., with his family.
"For me, I wanted to have that father-and-child moment of walking into the Hall of Fame with them as a family," Griffey said. "It was important for me to be able to do it with them and not just by myself."
Griffey said his big acceptance speech is still "a work in progress."
Piazza sounded like his is already just about finished. He said there will be plenty of people to thank, particularly Dodgers coaches like Reggie Smith, who talked him off the ledge when he wanted to quit.
"You don't do this alone. You have a lot of people helping you along the way," Piazza said, "and so I'm so glad that they were able to convince me to come back. I was able to really concentrate and develop as a catcher, and the rest is history. It was a tough time in my life, but I'm glad I got through it."
That he did, and a week from Sunday, to the victor will go the spoils.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.