Baseball Hall of Fame debates 2013: Mike Piazza
Part 3 of a 10-part series that looks at prominent potential Hall of Famers for the Class of 2013 and the reasons to vote them in -- or keep them out.
The third case is that of Mike Piazza, in his first year on the ballot. The longtime Dodgers and Mets catcher, who made cameos with the Marlins, Padres and Athletics, is one of the greatest offensive catchers in baseball history. It's reasonable to think the only question that remains is which hat does he wear on his plaque -- Mets or Dodgers? But there is a case to be made against Piazza, too.
THE CASE FOR THE HALL
The greatest case for Piazza comes by comparing him to the catchers already in Cooperstown:
Piazza has 427 career home runs. But, perhaps more important, 396 of his long balls came at the catcher position, making him the greatest home-run hitting catcher ever. Johnny Bench hit the second most with 389.
His .545 slugging percentage eclipses current Hall of Fame leader Roy Campanella's .500 slugging percentage at catcher.
His .308 average would be third among Hall of Fame catchers, trailing Bill Dickey (.313) and Mickey Cochrane (.320).
Piazza drove in 1,335 runs. Only two current Hall of Fame catchers posted a higher number: Yogi Berra (1,430) and Bench (1,376).
His 2,127 hits trail only Berra (2,150) and Carlton Fisk (2,356) among Hall of Fame catchers.
For those voters who like awards and honors, Piazza was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Silver Sluggers, finished in the top 14 of MVP voting nine times and won the 1993 National League Rookie of the Year after hitting .318 with 35 home runs.
THE CASE AGAINST THE HALL
Just because he played the position doesn't mean Piazza was a great catcher.
Runners had no fear when he was behind the plate, and, if elected, Piazza would have the lowest caught-stealing percentage of any Hall of Famer at 23 percent. He never posted a percentage above 35 percent during any season. Fisk is currently the worst enshrined catcher with 34 percent. Gary Carter is next at 35 percent, but he led the league three times. Every other catcher nailed at least 39 percent of runners attempting a steal against.
Piazza also led the league in passed balls twice and allowed 102 for his career. He never won a Gold Glove.
Speaking of awards, while Piazza was often in the MVP conversation, he never actually won the award.
He also never led the league in any major category, posting good numbers that always were bested by others.
He never won a World Series, never reached a "magic number" such as 3,000 hits or 500 home runs.
Piazza played during the heart of the steroids era, and while he was never linked to PEDs as Barry Bonds or Clemens were, there were always whispers. Nothing ever was proven, though, even tangientially.
Voters have shown no mercy toward those suspected of using steroids so far -- will they keep Piazza out to avoid the sheer possibility of enshrining someone who may have used performance-enhancing drugs, despite zero evidence?