Jan 06

Writers Do Right By Piazza

Finally. The Baseball Writers Association of America did right today by putting slugging catcher Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame along with Ken Griffey. As far as I’m concerned my colleagues also got it right by keeping PED cheaters Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa out. I also think the writers whiffed with Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Mussina.

Piazza, who fell 28 votes shy last year, received 365 votes for 83 percent of those cast to go in as history’s top home run hitting catcher and is arguably one of the top three of all time at the position along with Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra.

PIAZZA and SEAVER: The Mets' best. (AP)

PIAZZA and SEAVER: The Mets’ best. (AP)

“It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been speechless,” Piazza told the MLB Network. “Nothing can prepare you when you do get that call. It’s just something you can’t describe. …To be in an institution such as the Hall of Fame, is an amazing honor.”

Not surprisingly, Piazza mentioned his home run against Atlanta following 9-11 as a milestone memory.

“Obviously, a lot of people remember the home run in the first game after 9/11,” Piazza said. “When I think back now I start to get emotional. … From the first day in New York to the great teams we had in the late-90s, early 2000s was just very special.”

While the post 9-11 homer was clearly emotional, another memory came during the 2000 season when the Yankees’ Clemens beaned him, and then during the World Series – perhaps in a fit of Roid Rage – threw part of Piazza’s broken bat at him.

Piazza fell short in his previous three chances on the ballot because of the suspicion of PED use. But, other than a few busy-body writers talking about his back acne, Piazza never failed a drug test, did not appear on the Mitchell Report findings and never had another player accusing him on the record.

The same could not be said about Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa.

Because there was never any doubt he played cleanly, it was speculated Griffey would become the first unanimous selection, but inexplicably there were three writers who did not vote for Griffey. Presumably, their twisted line of thinking was there should not be a unanimous selection.

Normally I defend my colleagues, but not this time. While I don’t agree with those who vote for the PED users, there is no defending their logic. They got it right with Piazza, but these three voters hurt the BBWAA. Even so, Griffey went in with the highest percent of the vote to pass Seaver.

What remains for Piazza is the decision as to what cap he’ll go in with – the Hall says it should be where the player “made his biggest mark,” and that probably will be the Dodgers, and when the Mets will retire his number.

There should be not a matter of “if” Piazza’s No. 31 will be honored.

Jan 02

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

griffey piazza

I had intended to publicize my Official Hall of Fame ballot before Christmas, but some health issues prevented me from proceeding as planned. So here it is, without further adieu, the nine players I submitted for the Class of 2016.

1. Ken Griffey Jr. – One of the greatest players of all time and a great ambassador for the game. Staggering offensive numbers despite missing four seasons worth of games due to injuries. If healthy, he would have broken Aaron’s HR mark cleanly.

2. Trevor Hoffman – An amazing 601 saves. Put Hoffman on all those great Yankee teams and they still win all those games. When he entered a game to “Hell’s Bells” it was a spectacle.

3. Mike Piazza – It’s sad that he wasn’t a first ballot guy because some colleagues bought into unfounded rumors and accusations. One of the game’s greatest offensive catchers along with Bench and Berra who almost always delivered in the clutch.

4. Jeff Bagwell – Another no-doubt Hall of Famer who like Piazza has been victimized by suspicion. One of the most dominating first basemen in his era and for a time one of the most feared sluggers in the National League.

5. Lee Smith – He was a personal favorite of mine. I still fail to understand the criticism of people who say he’s a compiler of stats. He was a dominant closer and nearly missed winning three Cy Young awards.

6. Mike Mussina – Very underrated pitcher who won 270 games despite only winning 20 games once – in his final season in 2008. Talk about going out on top. A .638 winning percentage and a career 1.191 WHIP to go with seven Gold Gloves.

7. Edgar Martinez – Some penalize him because he was a DH, but 500+ doubles, 300+ homers, 1,200_ walks, 1,200+ RBI and a career .312/.418/.515 slash should make him a no-brainer for inclusion.

8. Fred McGriff – Just shy of 500 home runs and over 1,500 RBI back when it was still a rare feat. Nine seasons of over 140 OPS+ production and a .917 OPS in postseason play.

9. Tim Raines – One of the best leadoff hitters of all time. The Rock retired with a .385 OBP, 808 stolen bases and 1,571 runs scored.

There you go, I look forward to your comments.

Jan 06

Hall Of Fame Reaction

Better, but not good enough.

The results have been announced and John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson were voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. All four were on my ballot, but I voted for six others who didn’t make the cut.

Here’s my ballot and reaction:

Craig Biggio: He should have been voted in last year. I don’t understand people downplaying his over 3,000 hits by calling him a “compiler.’’ You have to be pretty damn good for a long time to get that many hits.

Mike Piazza: I hear the steroid rumors, but a few back pimples shouldn’t be enough to disqualify him. He’s the best hitting catcher the game ever saw. The PED accusations aren’t founded and circumstantial.

Jeff Bagwell: Like Piazza, he’s done in by innuendo and it’s a shame.

Tim Raines: Isn’t he one of the three best leadoff hitters in history along with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock? He is, and that should be his ticket.

Lee Smith: No love for him, but he’s third on the career list with over 400 saves.

Edgar Martinez: I don’t think he’ll get in and that’s too bad. Designated hitter is an official position and he did it as well as anybody.

Mike Mussina: If he hung around for another two years he would have won 300 games and this probably would have been a moot point. There were others more dominant, but Mussina was consistently good for a long time with 17 straight seasons with double-digit victories, and 11 overall with fifteen or more victories.

Randy Johnson: He was dominating and a no-brainer with over 300 victories and 4,875 strikeouts. Even so, some didn’t vote for him. Now, that’s a joke.

Pedro Martinez: I knew he’d make it with an average season of 17-8 with a 2.93 ERA and 217 innings pitched. Don’t forget three Cy Young Awards.

John Smoltz: I am really glad he got in. He was a joy to watch. He would have won over 300 games if he weren’t busy saving 154.

 

Dec 27

My Hall Of Fame Ballot And Reasoning

As I do every time this year, I mail in my Hall of Fame ballot. To grow up loving baseball and to vote for the Hall of Fame is a tremendous thrill. It is also a responsibility I take greatly, which is why I don’t understand the rationale of some of colleagues who use their vote as a political statement. If you don’t want to vote, then surrender your vote.

I can comprehend checking off two or three names if that’s all you believe are worthy and not the ten maximum. If you want to vote in a steroid user that’s your prerogative.

But, what I will never get is them believing, is because of the flux of steroid users that there are more than ten qualified candidates and therefore not submitting any ballot.

Just vote for your top ten and move on. Because candidates stay on the ballot based on the percentage of votes, there’s a chance worthy players will be left off. That’s blatantly unfair and penalizes deserving players.

How can you cover Major League Baseball for at least ten straight years – the requirement to vote – and you’re not able come up with a top ten? Just makes no sense.

I take pride in my vote, do a lot of research and talk to players, managers, coaches and general managers to gain input. And, it’s still hard. Here are my top ten and why:

Craig Biggio: He should have been voted in last year. Over three thousand hits. Aren’t you paying attention?

Mike Piazza: I hear the steroid rumors, but that’s all they are. Innuendo and some back acne aren’t reason enough to bar him.

Jeff Bagwell: Like Piazza, he’s not linked to steroids in any official capacity. Writers should be more responsible than to buy into rumors.

Tim Raines: Arguably one of the three best leadoff hitters in history along with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock.

Lee Smith: There’s a bias against him, but he’s third on the career list with over 400 saves.

Edgar Martinez: There’s a bias against him, also, because he’s a designated hitter. But, that’s an official position, and he was as good as anybody at it.

Mike Mussina: He could have pitched another two years and won 300 games, which is automatic entry. Seventeen straight seasons with double-digit victories, and 11 overall with fifteen or more, often pitching with inferior teams against the American League East.

Randy Johnson: A ten-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner with over 300 victories and 4,875 strikeouts. He’s a slam dunk. He also threw over 200 innings in 14 seasons.

Pedro Martinez: He was an eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner. His average season was 17-8 with a 2.93 ERA and 217 innings pitched.

John Smoltz: He won 213 games, but likely would have won over 300 if he didn’t miss the 2000 season with an injury and returned as a closer where in saved 154 games.

I did not vote for any of the players who were directly linked to steroids, either by direct testimony from other players or were mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Until the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball put a notation on their plaques they played in the steroid era and their records come with an asterisk, that will be my stand.

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.