I remember a time not so long ago when Mike Piazza was widely regarded as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The numbers were certainly there: the 427 home runs, the .308 career batting average, the twelve All-Star appearances (ten consecutive), the ten Silver Slugger awards, and the 1993 Rookie of the Year Award. The big moments were aplenty: the breaking of Carlton Fisk's catcher home run record, the Clemens rivalry, and of course this home run which, for a moment, made New Yorkers forget about the tragic events that occurred on September 11. The story was even great: a former 62nd round draft pick who took the league by storm and eventually became the greatest offensive catcher the game has ever seen. He never won a World Series or an MVP, but he did lead the Mets to consecutive playoff berths in 1999 and 2000, and he finished in the top ten of MVP voting on seven different occasions. No matter what metric you use, Mike Piazza deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. With that said, it seems more likely every day that when the 2014 Hall of Fame vote is announced on Wednesday, he will not be among those listed, ultimately giving Piazza at least one more undeserved year on the ballot, which requires at least 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).
Piazza's wait is of course primarily due to the era in which he played, as almost every home run hitter of the 1990s and early 2000s is under suspicion for steroid use. Unfortunately, Piazza, who received 57.8 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility, is grouped with many of these stars, and that is a shame considering the amount of evidence against him. Do you know what the best argument out there for why Piazza "must have used steroids?" Back acne. As recently as last week, former New York Times reporter Murray Chass discussed what he believes is an absolute correlation between back acne, which Piazza did indeed have, and steroid use. Seriously? Is this the best we can do? Guess what: I have back acne too. Please, go ahead and test me for steroids. More than anything else, Chass's claims are simply a weak attempt to stir up controversy and garner page views, just like a couple of years ago when he irrationally criticized President Obama for giving Stan Musial a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because of Chass and other writers on the sports blogosphere who will make up anything to attract attention, these myths are created and can often become widespread belief.
I obviously can't sit here and tell you that Piazza definitively never used steroids. That would be foolish. He has admitted to experimenting with amphetamines as well as androstenedione, a supplement that was legal in Piazza's playing days but have since been banned. But to try and smear a man's career on baseless accusations is not right, and to keep a man out of the Hall of Fame because of them is equally unjust. Granted, this is only Piazza's second year of fifteen on the ballot. He has a lot of time left, and it will be just as exciting when he is inducted whether it's in year two or year 15. What is irritating is that he has the misfortune of being on an extremely overstuffed ballot, one that will only continue to become denser as the years progress. He'll get there, as no one in the past half century has debuted on the ballot with over 50 percent and not eventually been inducted, according to Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe (Craig Biggio, who received 68 percent last year, is expected to get in this week). But until that day comes, I will continue to simply be dumbfounded at the number of writers who fail to acknowledge the incredibleness that was Mike Piazza. The reality was that for 15 years, he was one of the most iconic and feared hitters of the game. It is time that we recognize him for that greatness.