Hall bound

Grif­fey Jr., Pi­azza elected to Hall of Fame

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY MIKE FITZ­PATRICK

Ken Grif­fey Jr. and Mike Pi­azza earn re­quired num­ber of votes to make Hall of Fame.

Next place to catch Mike Pi­azza: Coop­er­stown.

Base­ball’s great­est hit­ting catcher was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wed­nes­day, pow­er­ing his way past steroids sus­pi­cions in his fourth year on the ballot.

Pi­azza was picked by 365 out of 440 vot­ers (83 per cent) from the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, com­fort­ably eclips­ing the 75 per cent needed for in­duc­tion. The lone holdover se­lected, he’ll join Ken Grif­fey Jr. when the class of 2016 is en­shrined on July 24.

“In­cred­i­bly spe­cial. Wow,” Pi­azza said on a call with MLB Net­work. “I sat here with my mouth on the floor.”

A prodi­gious slug­ger on both coasts, Pi­azza belted most of his 427 home runs for the Los An­ge­les Dodgers and New York Mets dur­ing a pro­lific, 16-year ca­reer that nearly never took flight.

Fa­mously drafted in the 62nd round as a favour to his fa­ther’s close friend, Hall of Fame Dodgers man­ager Tommy La­sorda, Pi­azza took a mighty rip at those dras­ti­cally long odds and knocked them over the fence.

He con­verted from first base to catcher as a pro and blos­somed into one of the game’s most fear­some hit­ters, break­ing the big league record for home runs by a catcher and com­pil­ing a .545 slug­ging per­cent­age that ranks 28th all-time.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to Mike, an out­stand­ing ballplayer and a great man,” La­sorda said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

In an era when of­fence ruled, few bat­ters (if any) hit the ball as hard as Pi­azza, the in­cred­i­ble hulk of the Na­tional League who clubbed op­pos­ing pitches with brute force to all fields.

And on a day when Grif­fey be­came the first No. 1 over­all pick to make the Hall of Fame since the ama­teur draft be­gan in 1965, Pi­azza es­tab­lished a polar-op­po­site mark that may never be ap­proached.

Un­til now, the low­est draft pick in the Hall was pitcher John Smoltz, se­lected on the 22nd round in 1985 and en­shrined last year.

“We are really thrilled that Mike Pi­azza has taken his right­ful place among the other greats in Coop­er­stown,” Mets chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Jeff Wilpon said. “Mike’s of­fen­sive prow­ess, abil­ity to de­liver in the clutch, and tire­less work ethic helped him be­come one of the great catch­ers of all-time.”

Pi­azza was the 1,390th player cho­sen in 1988, long be­fore the draft was short­ened to its cur­rent length of 40 rounds.

Yet his un­ex­pected rise to star­dom proved at first a bless­ing, later a curse.

Dur­ing a time when some of base­ball’s big­gest stars were linked to per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs – power hit­ters in par­tic­u­lar – doubters looked at Pi­azza’s brawny frame and ques­tioned how a guy who ini­tially lan­guished so far off the radar for scouts could as­cend to such heights against elite com­pe­ti­tion.

There were no direct al­le­ga­tions or fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, un­like Barry Bonds and Roger Cle­mens. Just whis­pers about pim­ples on Pi­azza’s broad back.

Years af­ter he re­tired fol­low­ing the 2007 sea­son, Pi­azza wrote a mem­oir en­ti­tled “Long Shot” and in it said he never took il­le­gal steroids. He did ac­knowl­edge us­ing an­drostene­dione, am­phet­a­mines, Creatine, ephedra and a type of asthma medicine that made him more alert and fo­cused.

Some of those sub­stances were al­lowed at the time but later banned by Ma­jor League Base­ball.

In his first ap­pear­ance on a crowded Hall of Fame ballot, Pi­azza re­ceived 57.8 per cent of the vote in 2013. With his ca­reer num­bers at the plate – sim­ply as­tound­ing for a catcher, re­gard­less of his weak arm – seem­ingly more than good enough for in­duc­tion, many ob­servers nat­u­rally fig­ured those PED sus­pi­cions were keep­ing Pi­azza out of Coop­er­stown.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to kind of just let the process play out. It’s frus­trat­ing at times be­cause you can’t hit any more home runs when you’re sit­ting at home,” he said.

AP PHOTO

Seat­tle Mariners’ Ken Grif­fey Jr. was elected to the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame on the first try Wed­nes­day with a record vote of close to 100 per cent.

Pi­azza

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