The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) voters got it right this time, and made sure to keep such a classic and classy group exclusively to just two nominees: Seattle Mariners superstar and player of the 90s, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mets All Star catcher, Mike Piazza.
Griffey set a record in earning 99.3 percent of the vote, surpassing that of Tom Seaver (98.84%), Nolan Ryan (98.79%) and Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53%). Known as the Kid, Griffey Jr. easily became every 90's kid favorite player. On a team that didn't get much national attention, he put the Mariners on the map. I remember kids used to run around with Griffey jerseys, Mariners binders, and hang Griffey posters in their rooms. And this was in New Jersey, some 3,000 plus miles from Seattle.
Yes, Griffey, who finished with 630 career home runs, will always be remembered as the guy who could have been the all time home run champion were it not for the numerous injuries he suffered late in his career with both the Cincinnati Reds and Mariners. Yet, it won't take away from the memories of his great career.
As for Piazza, it is an induction long awaiting and much deserved. Held off the ballot the past couple of off-seasons because of a suspicion of steroid use that was never proven, Piazza goes into the Hall of Fame with 83% of the vote. Many expected Piazza to get to this point last year, but fell just a few votes short.
There is not much to say about Piazza that hasn't been said already, he was one of the greatest Mets catchers in history, if not their greatest. In eight years in New York he blasted 220 home runs, drove in 655 and hit .296. This from a catcher who hit 419 home runs in his career, making him the most prolific home run hitting catcher in baseball history.
But it wasn't just the fact that Piazza hit home runs that made him such as special player, it was the way he carried himself, plus his uncanny ability to get the big hit in the most important point of a ballgame.
Many say that Piazza's most recognizable moment of his career was his post 9/11 home run against the Braves on September 21, 2001 that helped push the Mets to a 3-2 victory. The significance of the moment was New York's way of telling the terrorists, "You will never win, ever." I remember watching that game at home, and the chills went down my spine watching that ball carom off the television stands in center field as Piazza dashed around the bases with the homer.
While that homerun was extremely important, to me it wasn't his greatest moment. There were many more. The 8th inning, three-run home run against the Braves on June 30, 2000 that capped off a 10-run rally was one of the most electrifying homeruns I ever saw. He also owned the Yankees, especially their ace Roger Clemens. Piazza homered off Clemens at Shea Stadium in 1999, then cracked a grand slam off of him on June 2, 2000 that sparked a 12-2 Mets win. And who can forget the home run and bat flip off Ramiro Mendoza on that insane Saturday afternoon at Shea against the Bombers in 1999.
Yep. Piazza had a lot of great moments. He was my favorite Mets player, and I will never forget all the good things that came out of the Piazza era, even if his career ended in a rash of injuries.
Another Piazza moment? His final curtain call at Shea Stadium. That September afternoon was the close on a chapter in our baseball lives, as tears were shed when Piazza came out of the dugout to greet the fans one last time before exiting and giving way to the David Wright era that we are still in to this day.
Of course, the Dodgers also have a lot of memories of Piazza. He was an even better hitter in LA than in New York, and some could even argue he should wear Dodgers blue into the Hall. Of course, Tommy Lasorda drafted him when nobody believed in him.
So today we celebrate the conclusion of a fine career in blue in orange, or even blue in white with Mike Piazza. His number 31 should be retired by the Mets without any questions asked. He meant so much to a franchise that was struggling for any form of relevance back in the late 1990s. The Yankees and Braves were kings of both the NL and AL, and Piazza changed the balance a tad into the Mets favor, and put the Amazin's right in the thick of that battle for baseball supremacy with those two franchises.
Forever Mets fans will be indebted to his services. Thank you Mike.