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2015 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mike Piazza

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Looking back on an extraordinary career and how it intersected with the New York Yankees.

Clemens: "I should be inducted before you, MIke..... "      PHOTO CREDIT
Clemens: "I should be inducted before you, MIke..... " PHOTO CREDIT
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Career Statistics: 7745 PA, .308/.377/.545, 427 HR, .237 ISO, .390 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 63.5 fWAR (95th among position players all-time, 6th among catchers)

Years Active: 1992 - 2007

Position: Catcher

Time on the Ballot: Third (62.2% of the vote in 2014)

Mike Piazza may be a member of the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, but back when he was coming out of Miami Dade Community College he fell all the way to the 62nd round before being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even that was a favour to his father Vince, a childhood friend of the Hall of Fame-bound Dodger coach Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda moved Mike Piazza from first base to catcher, in the hope that donning the tools of ignorance would provide an easier path to the major leagues. By 1992, the long-shot prospect was a big leaguer, and by 1993 he was the National League Rookie of the Year. Piazza played in 149 games in 1993, hitting .318 with 35 home runs towards a 150 wRC+; he was 50% better than the average hitter at any position. This for a rookie backstop. His 7.4 wins above replacement placed him fourth among all position players in 1993, and was at that point the ninth best season ever for a catcher.

Piazza was no one year wonder. Over the strike shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons he established himself as the best hitting catcher in baseball and by 1996 he was runner up in the race for the National League Most Valuable Player award. He would repeat this feat in 1997, in what was statistically his career year. 40 home runs, an incredible .362/.431/.628 slash line and 183 wRC+. Piazza's 9.1 fWAR in 1997 is the second best tally in history for a catcher, behind only Johnny Bench's 9.2 fWAR in 1972.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, with manager Lasorda now retired, were unable to strike a long-term agreement with their star catcher, and with Piazza on the verge of becoming a free agent, he was traded to the Florida Marlins in May 1998, along with Todd Ziele for five players including Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla. The Marlins, in full fire-sale mode following their 1997 World Series win, held on to Piazza for all of one week before flipping him to the New York Mets where Piazza received the contract he wanted (7 years, $91 million) and the respect he felt he had earned but not received from the Dodgers.

Piazza didn't miss a beat with the move to New York, as he led the Mets back to the postseason in 1999 and again in 2000.

"Tell him to go **** himself"

Mike Piazza, on Roger Clemens - July 8th 2000

With Mike Piazza spending all but his final season in the National League, his regular season exposure to the New York Yankees was limited to interleague play. In his time as a Met, this meant six games annually as part of Major League Baseball's attempt to cater to natural geographical rivalries. Every year Piazza's Mets faced the Yankees, and seemingly every year he would hit a memorable home run.

This one from 1999 was a 482-footer July 10th, that ended up in the parking lot outside Shea Stadium. The Yankees hit six home runs of their own on this day, but the Mets came from behind against Mariano Rivera to claim a 9-8 win. The bat flip at the end of the video might just be more impressive than the actual home run.

Though for memorable Piazza moments against the New York Yankees, nothing really quite matches the rivalry of sorts between him and Roger Clemens from 2000. It seemed to start with a grand slam Piazza hit of Clemens in Yankee Stadium on July 8th. The Rocket would hit Piazza in the head with a 98-mph, concussion inducing fastball later that game, Clemens insisted it was an accident but Piazza was having none of it, angrily refusing to accept an apology.

That might have been it, for that year anyway, except that Piazza and the Mets won the National League pennant and made it to the World Series where they found the two-time defending champions Yankees waiting for them. The Yankees won game 1, and Roger Clemens was the starting pitcher for game 2. Below follows Piazza's first plate appearance of the game, which, well, it's worth a watch.

Piazza would hit a home run later that game, but the Yankees would hold on to win game 2 and eventually their third straight World Series.

This was the only World Series appearance of Piazza's career, and over the early 2000's he was starting to show the signs of wear that was always inevitable for a career catcher. After having Piazza limited to 68 games in 2003 with a groin injury, the Mets entered 2004 with a desire to transition their best hitter towards playing more first base. By all accounts this experiment was a failed one defensively, and Piazza turned in his weakest career year to that point, with a 108 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR. He returned to catching full-time for 2005, and at the conclusion of that season - and the seven year contract he signed in 1998 - the Mets decided to not bring back their declining former franchise player.

Piazza received his hero sendoff from the Shea crowd, and latched on with the San Diego Padres for $2 million. 2006 was a rebound season for Piazza, has he slugged 22 home runs on his way to 121 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR, his best season since 2002. Piazza moved to the American League for the first time in 2007, signing on with the Oakland Athletics to serve primarily as the designated hitter. His injury hit 2007 was the only full year (ignoring his 1992 cup of coffee) where he was a below average hitter, posting a 82 wRC+ on his way to a below replacement season. With this, Mike Piazza called time on his career.

Mike Piazza has the baseball resume of an inner-circle Hall of Famer, a near-certain first ballot inductee. However, he's now coming up for his third vote, due largely to suspicions of using performance enhancing drugs. As connections to PED's go, the ones linking Piazza are relatively weak, built on the back(-acne) of suspicion and hearsay more than any hard evidence. Jay Jaffe has an excellent look at how much of a stretch these allegations are, based on available evidence.

Really, the only debate with regards to Piazza's induction should be which cap he goes in wearing. There are strong arguments either way; his best seasons were as a Dodger, he played more games and won his only pennant with the Mets. The decision belongs to the Hall of Fame, but seeing as Piazza has made his thoughts on the matter clear, the close call should go to the player. Expect to see him go in a Met, when he does inevitably get the call.

Congratulations on an incredible career Mike Piazza.

Likely Cap if Elected: New York Mets