The Hall of Fame Ballots and Mike Piazza


A few days ago, I had a back and forth on Twitter with writer/talking head Tim Cowlishaw of ESPN’s “Around the Horn.”  I took issue with Cowlishaw’s Hall of Fame ballot, in which he voted for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Larry Walker, and Edgar Martinez (among others), but failed to vote for Mike Piazza (he said he’d vote for him next year).  It’s clear to me that Piazza is a first ballot Hall of Famer, so I refused to let the issue rest.

Cowlishaw didn’t leave Piazza off because of any PED concerns (since he included Bonds and Clemens).  So, the decision had to be performance based.  As he was excluding Piazza, who played the most taxing position on the diamond, Cowlishaw voted for a much less dominant player who was a Designated Hitter for a decade.  Save for Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson, Piazza was the most dominant hitting catcher to ever play the game, so why the omission?  I asked Cowlishaw to explain his reasoning.

September 11, 2011; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets former pitcher John Franco (left) throws the ceremonial first pitch to former catcher Mike Piazza before the game against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

After a few exchanges, I referred to Cowlishaw’s ballot as “absurd,” to which he responded by asking me to “give it a rest.”  I then asked Cowlishaw to walk me through his decision to vote for Edgar Martinez and not Piazza, while taking positional factors into account.  Cowlishaw’s next response was a threat to block me on Twitter. It was like having an argument with a five year old, and that’s where the conversation ended.  Continuing his childish behavior, Cowlishaw proceeded to delete the tweets he had sent me.

Like a host of writers over the past few weeks, Cowlishaw failed to vote for Piazza and published his ballot for public consumption.  Ken Davidoff and Ken Rosenthal also refused to vote for Piazza, but they at least explained themselves (even if their explanations made little to no sense).   Rosenthal’s ballot is strange, and after reading Davidoff’s, it appeared as if he was simply looking for attention.  He compared Piazza to other eligible players, but failed to take difficulty of position into account – which is both sad and laughable.

It’s shame that Davidoff and some other writers appear to be publishing their outlandish ballots in order to gain exposure for themselves, while at the same time seemingly spitting on their own integrity and responsibility to the players, the fans, and the sport.

Aside from Cowlishaw, Davidoff, and Rosenthal, there are many other writers whose reasoning has been either inconsistent, mind boggling, or both.  Marc Mataro voted for known steroid user and stats compiler Rafael Palmeiro, but not Piazza.  Mark Faller left his ballot blank in protest.  There’s way too much to analyze here, so let’s simply dissect a few things:

Is there any way Edgar Martinez is a more worthy Hall of Famer than Mike Piazza?

In a word, no.  Starting in 1995, Martinez was primarily a DH (for the next 10 years, he played the field a total of 34 times).  Over those ten years, without his body being taxed by having to play a defensive position, he put up tremendous numbers.  Before becoming a full time DH, Martinez never hit more than 18 home runs in a season, and never drove in more than 73 runs.  After becoming a DH in 1995, his numbers soared – resulting in six 100 plus RBI campaigns.  For his career, Martinez’ average year resulted in a .312 batting average, 24 home runs, 99 RBI’s, and a .418 on base percentage.  Piazza’s average 162 game numbers produced a batting average of .308 with 36 home runs, 116 RBI’s, and a .377 on base percentage.

Contrary to Martinez,  Piazza played the most physically demanding position on the field.  Even though he had to deal with the rigors of catching, he finished his career with 118 more home runs than Martinez and a tad more RBI’s (doing so with 929 less plate appearances).  Voting for Edgar Martinez is fine.  Voting for him, including known steroid users, and omitting Piazza?  That’s ludicrous.

The simple case for Mike Piazza’s candidacy:

I wrote at length about the case for Piazza back in August, but I’ll keep it more black and white this time.

Piazza’s blend of average and power made him the most dominant offensive Major League catcher in the history of the game.  He holds the all-time record for home runs as a catcher, was a 12 time All-Star, 10 time Silver Slugger recipient, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 7 times.  His defense wasn’t his calling card, but he was recognized as a good receiver and was well liked by the pitchers he worked with.  His one major issue was throwing out runners.

Historically, the 5 most comparable catchers (offensively) to Mike Piazza are Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, and Gabby Hartnett.  Those men are all Hall of Famers.  Piazza passes the test any way you want to administer it.  Whether it be analyzing his statistics, comparing him to other Catchers,  factoring in his character, or by simply remembering what you saw when you watched him play the game, Piazza is a Hall of Famer.  And if the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the Major Leagues isn’t a first ballot inductee, who is?

I always figured there was a chance Mike Piazza wouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame on his first try.  Not because he wasn’t worthy, but because of the voters either out-thinking themselves, or using poor reasoning.  What I’ve seen lately, though, has made me question the integrity of the writers.

Even though there isn’t a shred of legitimate evidence linking Piazza to performance enhancing drugs, I can understand the writers who are refusing to vote for anyone from the so called “steroid era” their first time out.  I disagree with them, but I understand.  What I refuse to accept, are writers who are voting for players like Rafael Palmeiro (a known cheater who was never as dominant as Piazza), and Edgar Martinez (who didn’t have to play the field during the last 10 years of his career), but are refusing to vote for Mike Piazza.

The new members of the Hall of Fame (if there are any) will be announced on January 9th.  Here’s to the hope that sanity prevails and Mike Piazza is rightfully inducted, sparing us another year of this absolute nonsense.