Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is Piazza the next McGwire?

When considering the historical impact of the times we are living, I believe it’s important to take a step back and try to put things in perspective. We are either in the post-steroid era, or more cynically speaking we are in the “better” steroid era. The thought there is that there will always be cheaters, or simply people looking for any edge to get better and therefore provide better for their families with more lucrative contracts and longer careers. The scientists developing designer steroids will remain ahead of the curve, ahead of the testers.

What got me thinking about this was a tiny little article by Joshua Robinson of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/sports/baseball/14piazza.html?_r=1&ref=sports).

In said article, Robinson mentions that Mike Piazza left Citi Field during the home opener quickly and quietly, not speaking with reporters. From the story…

“He wasn’t looking for any attention,” Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president for media relations, said when asked why Piazza did not want to talk.

“He said, ‘I’m a private person now, I have a family, I’m raising my kids, my wife’s having a baby and I want to stay in the background.’ ”

Piazza made his exit through the back of the stadium.

That sounds to me a lot like Mark McGwire’s shameful Congressional testimony go-to line: “I’m not here to talk about the past.” For all you youngsters out there (Steve Stone reference), Big Mac was afraid to say he never used steroids or performance enhancing drugs in front of Congress. He wisely did not want to perjure himself in front of Congress, but he really looked bad. Perhaps, he didn’t look as bad as bilingual pitch man, Sammy Sosa, suddenly forgetting how to speak English, but he looked really bad.

It was a pretty shameful display of occulting the truth, when everyone can infer the truth from his silence. I feel the same way in seeing how Piazza has been acting. Are we to believe that he’s really trying to be more private because he has a family and his wife is pregnant? Really? Would a puff piece about post-retirement Piazza growing his family and being a loving, doting husband and father be so bad? Would it hurt him to reminisce a little about his time with the Mets, memories of Shea Stadium, and speak about his first impressions of Citi Field? Or, is he more likely trying to get away from the buzz generated by Jeff Pearlman’s new book which states that Piazza had confided in some reporters that he had indeed used performance enhancing drugs? Something tells me that’s more likely.

Piazza, much like a smaller scale Alex Rodriguez, has always been a lightning rod for criticism and rumours. Let’s ignore the fact that he’s a popular member of the Jeff Garcia Bearded All-Stars – or, players surrounded by rumors of homosexuality and supposed marriages of convenience with Playboy playmates. Rumors that he used performance enhancing drugs come to the forefront when hearing about his legendary “bacne” and seeing the unprecedented offensive numbers that this non-prospect put up.

Let’s not forget that he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd Round (62nd!!), as a favor to then manager Tommy Lasorda. So, how does a kid who was only drafted out of nepotism become the most prolific hitting catcher of all time? Hard work? Incredible luck? I’d say that just making it to Triple-A, or a cup of coffee in the show, could maybe be attributed to those things. But, seriously, let’s review…

1.) The most offensive production to ever come out of the catcher’s position
2.) From a nepotistic 62nd round pick
3.) With accusations of bacne
4.) And, he doesn’t want to talk to reporters due to steroid rumors

Ummm, okay??

We're not here to slander Mike Piazza. I had a good time razzing him from the 9th row of a Braves/Mets game about 11 years ago, but that’s neither here nor there. He seems like a nice enough guy, and I hope he can learn from McGwire’s mistakes. McGwire is not in the Hall of Fame today because he refused to talk about the past. Maybe it’s ultimately because he took steroids, but there is no denying that his performance in front of Congress has hurt his image and the opinions that H.O.F. voters have of him.

On pure performance, Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame. Can he take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy legacy? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look to this humble observer like he’s headed down the right path. He shouldn’t be guilty until proven innocent, but maybe he shouldn’t act so guilty. On the bright side, I don’t think it’s too late to do a lot of good for the game of baseball. He has a couple of years before he’s on his first H.O.F. ballot, and that’s a lot of time to set the record straight, do some good to rebuild the image of potentially juicing sluggers, and earn much needed support from the court of public opinion.

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