I am at my desk holding the official BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. It is my reward turned responsibility for covering Major League Baseball for over 20 years.
That’s close to 2,500 games, many spent watching Mike Piazza dominate his position like no other catcher with 396 homers (427 overall). That dwarfs Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all who played before steroids became part baseball’s lexicon.
I vowed not to vote for a player officially linked to steroids, whether by admission, a failed drug test, accused on the record by another player or baseball official, or mentioned in the Mitchell Report.
That meant Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro or Roger Clemens – all on this year’s ballot – won’t get in by me.
Then there is Piazza.
Piazza hasn’t been linked to performance enhancing drugs in any capacity with the exception of innuendo from writers who deemed that an acne-spotted back was as reliable as a blood test. If acne were the sole criteria, then most every teenager in this country would be suspected of being on the juice.
Like the gay rumors, it is unfair, unjust and irresponsible reporting. Yes, Piazza starred in baseball’s checkered steroid era, but I see him as a victim of circumstance, of guilt by association, of being painted with a broad brush.
Supposedly, Piazza confessed to an unnamed reporter. Unnamed reporters, like unnamed sources, raise suspicion and should be questioned with skepticism. It is why I put my name on everything I write.
If a reporter had that story, it would be a goldmine. If so, where is it written? Piazza has denied on the record any usage, and based by his name being absent on any official list, I believe him.
Despite his no-show before Congress, McGwire came clean; Palmeiro failed a test and was suspended; BALCO star Bonds admitted to using the clear and the cream but claimed he didn’t know what it was; Sosa has been blamed on the record and used corked bats twice; and Clemens’ former trainer produced physical evidence with his DNA.
I’m not buying the court decision on Clemens, as the government couldn’t get a conviction with a signed admission. Andy Pettitte’s most significant change-up of his career is what probably allowed Clemens to get off.
Then, there is Piazza who might be denied based on one newspaper account citing back acne. That reasoning is as pockmarked as Piazza’s back at the time.
Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but it can’t be based on his .308 career average, .377 on-base percentage, .545 slugging percentage, .922 OPS, 427 homers and 1,113 RBI, numbers that are off the charts in comparison to other catchers.
In case that’s not impressive enough, there are 12 All-Star appearances, 10 Silver Slugger Awards emblematic as the dominant offensive player at his position (and most ever by a catcher), and seven times finished in the top ten on the MVP ballot.
Piazza will get my vote, as will Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Don Mattingly and Tim Raines.
Piazza’s numbers are what the writers should be counting, not back pimples or whispers from those too gutless to put their names on the record.
Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but not the responsible choice. A journalist’s obligation is to be objective, fair and honest. Voting against Piazza on the strength of a rumor is none of those things.
It’s irresponsible and disgraceful.
John Delcos is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and has covered the sport for over 20 years. He has voted for the Hall of Fame for over a decade. You can read more of his insights at NewYorkMetsReport.com or reach him at JDelcos@yahoo.com.