Piazza might catch break in bid for Hall

ON BASEBALL

Commentary

May 25, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Observations, opinions and musings from this week in Major League Baseball.

Mike Piazza, one of the greatest underdog stories in baseball history, announced his retirement last week after 16 seasons in the major leagues.

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the 62nd round in 1988, partially as a favor to then-Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, who was a close family friend. Now, Piazza is being referred to as a "future Hall of Famer." Piazza is a 12-time All-Star who amassed 2,127 hits, 427 home runs, 1,335 RBIs and a career average of .308. No one has hit more homers as a catcher, the most physically demanding position on the diamond.

He'll end up enshrined in Cooperstown, but there are two potential chinks in his Hall of Fame armor. For one, Piazza was below average defensively. He was a liability in most catching aspects besides calling a game. If he had played the majority of his career in the American League, he likely would have been switched to designated hitter much sooner.

Secondly, though he never failed an MLB-announced drug test and wasn't mentioned in the Mitchell Report, Piazza was a burly slugger who thrived during the steroid era. And, fair or not, that is a concern for some.

I exchanged e-mails with several voters last week who were mixed as to what they'll do with Piazza. Some said they were wary of all players who put up big numbers in the steroid era, especially if there were backroom suspicions. Others argue that if a player isn't caught, and has the numbers, he should go in. And one made a point that there's no evidence against Piazza, who gets high marks for sportsmanship and character.

Personally, I believe the power numbers for all steroid-era hitters should be de-emphasized some, with more consideration given to a candidate's all-around ability and impact. And that puts Piazza somewhat on the fence for me because of his defense, but I would lean toward his induction.

Not dead yet?

We've broached this subject in three of the past four seasons. And seemingly the New York Yankees always heat up in the summer and end up in the playoffs. One AL scout said he is torn on whether the club will make its 14th consecutive postseason.

"They have a lot of accomplished guys and accomplished guys who had successful seasons as recently as last year. So it is hard to write them off after 40-some games," the scout said. "But there are a lot of [scouts] who think this club is getting old all together. I am not sure I subscribe to that, but it seems to be a prevailing thought."

One of the Yankees' biggest problems early on has been an inability to hit left-handers (they have batted .237, third worst in the AL, in their first 39 games against lefties). But, the scout said, that should improve now that Alex Rodriguez, who hits right-handed, is back from injury and switch-hitter Jorge Posada is nearing a return.

Another problem has been the starting pitching, which is in the bottom five of the league in ERA and has had implosions by the young (Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes) and the old (Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte).

"I am hesitant to say this is a season-long downturn for them, especially the lineup, but the starting pitching is a concern," the scout said. "I would be hesitant to be throwing dirt on them right now, because they certainly are resilient. But it could be time to start warming up the shovel."

Falling for the ruse

One of the big stories this spring was the Washington Nationals' intriguing new outfield, which added talented youngster Lastings Milledge and troubled potential slugger Elijah Dukes to the mix with two other former can't-miss prospects, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns.

There was talk they could form one of the best quartets in the game, especially if they matured together. Well, they haven't. Add in the numbers from reserves Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak, and heading into Friday, the six were collectively batting a dismal .200, with six homers, 46 RBIs and a .280 slugging percentage.

In comparison, entering Friday, Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton was batting .335 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .614. All by himself. Kearns (elbow) was placed on the disabled list Thursday and will miss three to four weeks. Dukes and Pena also have spent time on the shelf this season.

Goes to show that the hype doesn't matter when the games start.

Strange homecoming

Tomorrow will be the first time Hamilton has played at Tropicana Field. Remember, it was the Rays who drafted Hamilton with the first overall pick in 1999 and had to deal with his drug addiction. Hamilton is with his third organization and is realizing his vast potential with the Rangers.

I'm sure it's a bitter pill for Tampa Bay fans, but it's always good to see someone turn around his life. Especially someone as forthcoming as Hamilton.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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