Last August, I wrote a piece regarding Mike Piazza‘s time with the Mets and his Hall of Fame candidacy. The article was wide reaching, and a great deal of virtual ink was devoted to the fact that some continued to convict Piazza of steroid use without anything substantive to back it up. This conviction was made without evidence, without a single player putting his name behind a quote linking Piazza to illegal performance enhancers, without Piazza’s name appearing on a list of those who used, and without him ever failing a test for banned substances.
I had always felt it was a possibility that Piazza would be denied entrance to Cooperstown his first time around – due to the lingering, but seemingly unfair suspicion that continued to cloud him. Still, I thought common sense would prevail. As the announcement of who would be inducted drew closer, it became apparent that common sense wouldn’t prevail – that Piazza would be left out.
A few days before the election, Jon Heyman published his ballot and listed Piazza along with one other suspect and five known cheaters. In the headline, they were referred to as “tainted players.” The other players Heyman lumped Piazza in with? Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. Aside from Bagwell (who along with Piazza has the misfortune of being deemed guilty without proof), the other five players on Heyman’s “tainted player” list are all known users of illegal performance enhancing drugs.
Is it possible Mike Piazza used steroids? Absolutely. However, the same can be said for any player who’s ever played the game and whose name has yet to appear on a list. The only players anyone knows for certain cheated, are the ones who got caught. Minus that, there should have to be concrete evidence in order to damn a certain player and/or keep them out of the Hall of Fame.
In Piazza’s case, the writers lumped him in with other players of his era who were known cheaters. To them, he was guilty by association. Some writers left Piazza off their ballot because they felt he didn’t defend himself vigorously enough against the allegations and/or because they wanted to see what he would say in his book that comes out later this month. The notion that Piazza would’ve outed himself in his book if he had in fact been a user of illegal performance enhancers seemed a bit out there, but whatever.
To the writers who left Piazza out of the Hall because he didn’t defend himself strongly enough: What if he had vehemently denied steroid use? What if he had done a series of press conferences, pointing his finger and raising his voice about how much of an injustice it was that he was being lumped in with cheaters? What would that have proven? The answer, is nothing. As we’ve seen multiple times from multiple players who have been caught cheating, stating your innocence doesn’t mean a thing.
Today, David Waldstein of the New York Times wrote a piece on Piazza. In it, we found out that in his upcoming book, Piazza denies ever using illegal performance enhancing drugs. In “Long Shot,” Piazza says:
It shouldn’t be assumed that every big hitter of the generation used steroids. I didn’t.
We also got the first reaction from Piazza post-election. Here’s what he had to say regarding the continued steroids rumors:
Apparently, my career was a story that nobody cared to believe. Apparently, my success was the work of steroids. Had to be. Those were the rumors.
On not being elected to the Hall of Fame this year, Piazza said the following:
I won’t deny there is some disappointment, but I understand it’s a process…all things considered, I got over 50 percent, and a lot of people were very supportive. I mean, there’s what, almost 600 voters? That’s a lot. I’m on my homeowners board. I know how hard it is to get six people on the same page, let alone 600.
There’s a line of thinking that goes like this: If you have to stop and think about whether a certain player is worthy of the Hall of Fame, the player in question is clearly not a Hall of Famer. In Piazza’s case, his worthiness was never a question. The only question, which is still being perpetuated, is whether or not Piazza did it the right way.
Now that it’s known that Piazza’s book is devoid of an admission of steroid use that some writers thought was coming, and now that Piazza has again publicly denied ever using illegal performance enhancing drugs, the writers need to stop linking him with those who are known users. Anything less would be reckless journalism. Barring any evidence linking Piazza to steroids being unearthed, it’s time to stop accusing Mike Piazza of cheating.
It’s too late to right the wrong of Piazza not being elected this year on the first ballot. Come next year, though, he should be given what he unquestionably deserves: his election to the Hall of Fame.