The enigmatic Hall of Famer in waiting, Mike Piazza, popped into Manhattan this past weekend to accept an award, and in the course of an interview with a New York Times reporter explained that if/when he goes into the Hall, he would like to do it as a member of the New York Mets.
It’s worth noting but not the thrust of what I am blogging about that the Times said it would be the decision of Major League Baseball concerning which cap is pictured on Piazza’s HOF plaque. Unless I missed a memo, that’s not accurate: the Hall of Fame makes the decision about the plaques, including which cap a player would wear and verbiage and biographical information, etc.
But as I noted, that’s not what I found interesting. And I don’t quibble with the idea that Piazza should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, despite the fact that he was no Johnny Bench defensively. Hell, insisting that every catcher with Hall of Fame pretensions be the defensive equal of Johnny Bench would make Cooperstown a lonely visit for Bench, at least in terms of kibitzing with fellow backstops.
Piazza was in Bench’s league and then some with the stick in his hand, and assuming he winds up with a plaque, it will be the Louisville Slugger that got him there,
And that’s where the cap question gets interesting. Although he played one more season in New York than he did with Los Angeles, and socked 43 more home runs there, even that number and the other important statistics just generally reflect that he played 246 more games on the East Coast than he did on the Left Coast. (For purposes of this discussion, we’ll ignore those two odd years in really funny-looking uniforms: one each in San Diego and Florida.)
Here’s the point: he batted 35 points higher with the Dodgers than he did with the Mets. I’ll concede that pointing to batting average like that reflects my infantile preoccupation with a wildly faulty statistic, but there it is.
It’s really just a fun point of Hot Stove League debate: had Piazza’s numbers in his first seven seasons with Los Angeles been identical to what he posted in his later eight seasons with the Mets, he would likely still be a Hall of Famer, but it wouldn’t be the slam dunk that it appears to be now.
For Pete’s sake, Piazza had batting averages of .362, .346 and .336 – as a catcher, no less – and I submit that it’s the .335 lifetime batting average with the Dodgers that makes us think of him automatically as an immortal.
I’m just sayin’.