Mike Piazza gestures to the crowd after hitting a two-run...

Mike Piazza gestures to the crowd after hitting a two-run eighth inning home run against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. This was the first baseball game in New York since the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11. The Mets won 3-2. Credit: Newsday file photo

Mike Piazza has the numbers. Of this there can be no debate.

But will the former Mets catcher get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility on Wednesday? That's not as clear.

Piazza's rise from 62nd-round draft pick to one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball history is the stuff of Hollywood. A story of hard work and perseverance that would, in a normal era, catapult one of the most likable stars ever to play the game into Cooperstown without a second thought.

But Piazza played in the steroids era.

He never has been directly linked to performance-enhancing drugs, was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report and is not known to have failed a drug test. But players of Piazza's era are going to be linked to steroids forever, fairly or not.

Piazza might end up being a test case of sorts: a player with a clear Hall of Fame body of work who might not get in because enough voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America believe he used steroids, even though there has never been a specific allegation against him.

Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who is in his third year of eligibility, has not garnered the necessary 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement. Like Piazza, Bagwell was a bulked-up slugger who has never been personally linked to steroids. Suspicion has followed Bagwell into his retirement and might have influenced voters.

On the Hall of Fame ballot, writers are told to base their votes on "the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team[s] on which the player played."

After starting his career with the Dodgers, Piazza spent seven full seasons plus part of an eighth with the Mets, batting .296 with 220 home runs and 655 RBIs. Overall, he hit .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs in 16 seasons. His 396 home runs when in the lineup as a catcher are the most in big-league history.

Piazza was a 12-time All-Star and was the MVP of the 1996 All-Star Game. He finished in the top five in MVP voting four times, including second-place finishes in 1996 and '97.

Will it be enough to overcome the whispers? On Wednesday, we'll find out.