Tag: Baseball Hall of Fame

Early Induction Odds for the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Class

Voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have until Dec. 31 to submit their Hall of Fame ballots, and the results will be announced Jan. 6.

It’s not too early to stack up odds for the 2017 class, though, using past trends and exit polling of BBWAA voters as a guide.

There are no first-ballot locks in this group. There are, however, several guys who should keep their schedules clear for the July 30 induction ceremony, including a perennial HOF also-ran in his final year of eligibility. 

Voters will once again wrestle with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, statistical titans stained by the steroid era, and they’ll consider a handful of borderline cases sure to spark debate.

Feel free to sound off with your picks in the comments, and proceed when ready. 

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Of Backward Caps and 9/11: Memories Stir as Griffey and Piazza Join Immortals

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Tears began flowing immediately. Like, we’re talking instantly. Hall of Fame inductions always are emotional. But this one, what a weepfest.

And it was absolutely, sniff, touching.

Careers often become sentimental journeys while we’re paying scant attention, whether you’re talking baseball, teacher or auto mechanic. The thing is, so many of us don’t even stop to realize it until you look up one day and the twilight is beginning to set in.

“We made it, dad,” Mike Piazza said near the end of his 30-minute Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday. “The race is over.

“Now it’s time to smell the roses.”

Piazza was first up to the podium, and his voice began to quiver and the waterworks gushed within the first 30 seconds after he started to talk, when he spoke of the legends sitting on the stage behind him.

Ken Griffey Jr.’s breakdown came even quicker. He started off by thanking the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who elected him with a record 99.32 percent of the vote, and he couldn’t even get through that.

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” the late American historian Jacques Barzun wrote in 1954, and while the NFL and even the NBA have conspired to muscle past baseball in popularity by some measures, even at that, nearly seven decades later, Barzun’s words still ring true.

As the hot sun blistered some 50,000 in attendance, Piazza referenced his Italian immigrant father, his Roman Catholic mother, his godfather Tommy Lasorda, Pope Benedict XVI, Jackie Robinson, President Teddy Roosevelt and 9/11.

It was Piazza’s home run in the New York Mets’ first game back following the terrorist attacks in 2001 that provided the first glimmer of normalcy and hope for a better tomorrow late that summer in New York, and it is a moment in time that still accompanies him today, wanted or not.

He often works to avoid the subject for two reasons. He does not want to seem boastful. And he recognizes that he was no hero on that emotional evening, just a guy who was fortunate enough to help pitch in and do his part.

“A day that forever changed our lives,” he said from the stage. “To witness the darkest evil of the human heart as it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul. But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, compassion, character and, eventually, healing.

“Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21, 2001, that pushed us ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters and first responders who knew that they were going to die but went forward anyway.

“Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. I consider it an honor and a privilege to have witnessed that love. Your families and those left behind are always in my prayers.”

He meets them today, still. It could be at a ballpark. Or at an airport. Most memorably one day in the recent past, it was on an airplane. He had placed headphones over his ears for a cross-country flight. Near the end, the man sitting next to him said something. Piazza removed his earphones and asked what it was.

“I just want to tell you,” the man said, “that I lost my brother on 9/11, and I was at that game.”

Piazza’s plaque reads in part: “Led Mets to 2000 Subway Series, and helped rally a nation one year later with his dramatic home run in the first Mets game in New York following the 9/11 attacks.”

Understand the hearts and minds of America? Piazza started Induction Day by attending an early morning Mass at St. Mary’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church on Elm Street in Cooperstown. Father John P. Rosson dispensed a special blessing to him afterward on the steps leading into the church, after which Piazza stood outside for about 15 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At a private party the night before, amid salmon sliders and barbecued beef brisket, the Mets presented him with a 2015 National League Championship ring for his work with them in spring training and with a special Hall of Fame watch.

Griffey, meanwhile, spoke of a television. It was at his home years ago, and his son, Trey, swung a bat. Crack—there went the television.

“Mom got mad at you,” Griffey said from the podium, speaking directly to Trey. “Then she asked why I wasn’t mad. I said, ‘Girl, you can’t teach that swing.’

“Then I went out and bought a new television.”

Families, hard work and taking care of others. The same elements upon which America was founded and still leans hard on today were repeatedly invoked Sunday. These are principles endemic to both blue collars and Hall of Famers.

“That’s probably the first time in a long time I’ve seen Junior come out from his security blanket and lose his composure,” said Jay Buhner, Griffey’s former Seattle teammate and longtime friend. “It was good to see. It shows you that this is a very special honor.”

Mostly, Griffey said, he lost it when he gazed out into the audience and looked at his wife, Melissa, and their three children. He knew he would. He also singled out a friend who had traveled 6,000 miles from Israel to be in attendance Sunday.

The actor Jim Caviezel, a Seattle-area native who once harbored hopes of playing in the NBA and is a friend of both Griffey and Piazza, was there, too.

He recalled playing basketball in the late 1980s with some of the old SuperSonics, like Gary Payton. John Stockton sometimes would show up, too, and a young baseball phenom named Griffey, who was just starting his Mariners career. And it was Griffey who helped steer him into acting.

“Next thing I knew, he had his foot on my chest as he went up to dunk,” Caviezel said, chuckling. “I couldn’t believe it.”

So much for hoop dreams.

Next, his acting career led him to the movie Frequency, the plot of which revolves around a son trying to travel back in time to save his father, a heroic firefighter, who lost his life in a raging blaze on Oct. 12, 1969.

The fictional movie, you might notice, takes place smack in the middle of the real-life Amazin’ Mets’ run to a World Series title over Baltimore. And in the movie, key plays from that World Series serve as devices to move the plot along, and one character utters the memorable line, “I will love Ron Swoboda until the day I die.”

Caviezel met Swoboda a few years later by chance, and the former Mets outfielder asked the question you would expect: Why me in the movie?

“I told him that the writer told me because you represent everyman,” said Caviezel, who met Piazza on Opening Day in 1999 and has been a friend ever since.

Yes, whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn….

“It’s weird, it really is,” Caviezel said, standing in a field in Cooperstown, waiting for his two baseball friends to be inducted. “One thing is, life is so fast.”

Yes, it is. And it only gets faster. As in a baseball game, we all do a little better when we can breathe deeply and slow things down just a bit. Smell the roses, as Piazza told his father.

“You look at the greatest center fielders who ever played, we have a shelf life of about 12 years,” Griffey said. “We run into walls. Everything is fair for us.

“I hated to give up triples. If I didn’t get a hit, you weren’t going to get a hit. People ask me, ‘Why did you play so hard?’ Because you never want to be that guy who comes out in the seventh inning for a defensive replacement.

“Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. Because that’s what made me me.”

“Easygoing nature and love of the game helped define a new era for baseball’s popularity,” reads Griffey’s plaque, and so here we are today, as ever, looking to the future while honoring the past.

Sure enough, as he ended his speech, in his signature look, he plopped a baseball cap onto his head, backward. It was another Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas, who instigated.

“He told me, ‘You’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it,’” Griffey said, and score one for the Big Hurt.

It was absolutely perfect.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Baseball Hall of Fame 2016: Induction Ceremony Start Time and TV Info

Baseball’s Hall of Fame will open its doors to two of the most impactful hitters in recent memory when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza enter the Cooperstown, New York, shrine Sunday.

Griffey and Piazza entered Major League Baseball at the opposite ends of the hype spectrum when they were drafted in 1987 and 1988, respectively.

Griffey, the son of Ken Griffey Sr.who was one of the core players of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine throughout the 1970swas selected first overall in the MLB draft.

Piazza did not appear to have much hope of reaching the big leagues, as he was selected in the 62nd round. The draft now ends after Round 40.


2016 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

When: Sunday, July 24

Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Clark Sports Center; Cooperstown, New York

TV: MLB Network

Live Stream: BaseballHall.org

Piazza was selected because Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda knew his father, Vince, and both men were convinced Piazza could be a special hitter, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

The younger Piazza made the most of his opportunity, becoming a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger. He finished his career with 427 home runs and a .308/.377/.545 slash line with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida (now Miami) Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics.

Piazza proved to be one of the greatest hitting catchers in the history of the game, and he regularly demonstrated his ability to hit with power to all fields.

Baseball-Reference.com shared some of his numbers:

His induction speech figures to be emotional, because Piazza was a long shot to make the major leagues, let alone earn a spot in Cooperstown.

“I’m definitely going to cry,” Piazza said, per Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News. “I’m trying to figure out what medication I’m going to need without being loopy. It’s going to be tough.” 

Piazza made the Hall of Fame with 83.0 percent of the vote, while Griffey made it with 99.3 percent of the vote.

Griffey had a magnificent career with the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, finishing with 630 home runs. He was a 13-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, a seven-time Silver Slugger and the 1997 American League MVP.

Junior played from 1989 through 2010, finishing his career with a .284/.370/.538 slash line.

Whistle Sports shared some of his highlights:

Fans recognized him as one of the two greatest players in the game (along with Barry Bonds) during the first part of his career with the Mariners, and most expected Griffey to continue putting up eye-catching numbers when he went to the Reds in 2000. However, while he was productive with the Reds, his sensational career was slowed by injuries after he arrived in his hometown.

Griffey topped the 40-home run mark six times during his career with the Mariners, but he hit the 40-homer mark only once with the Reds. Additionally, he had a .300-plus batting average seven times in Seattle but just once in Cincinnati.

Griffey never played in a World Series during his career, and that’s one of the reasons why the Hall of Fame ring means so much to him.

“It might be on the gate when you ring in,” Griffey joked, per Casey McGraw of the Times Union. “It might be like the Stanley Cup, I might take it around, do some things with it; brush my hair with it. I’ll figure out something, but it’ll be seen.”

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Baseball Hall of Fame 2016: Preview, Viewing Info for Induction Ceremony

Two of the top hitters of their generation will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the 2016 class.

Only the best of the best reach this level, which left only Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza standing on a ballot that also included a hitter with 762 home runs (Barry Bonds) and a pitcher with 354 wins (Roger Clemens). Additionally, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines came up short of the 75 percent of votes needed for induction.

While there will be eternal debate over those who didn’t get in, the two players who are set to earn plaques this weekend deserve it after their incredible careers. Here is what you need to know to celebrate this occasion with Griffey and Piazza.


2016 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

When: Sunday, July 24

Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Clark Sports Center, Cooperstown, New York

TV: MLB Network

Live Stream: BaseballHall.org



Mike Piazza

When Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, few predicted he’d become a Hall of Famer. After all, today’s draft stops after 40 rounds.

In reality, the only reason he was drafted was due to then-Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who knew the player’s father. Lasorda explained the situation, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

Mike works out as a first baseman in front of our scouts, and the scouting director, Ben Wade, tells me they’re not interested in signing him. I said, ‘Ben, if he could hit like that as a shortstop, would you sign him?’ He says, yes. I said, ‘How about if a catcher could hit like that?’ Ben says, ‘Then I would sign him.’

I said, ‘Then, you’ve got yourself a catcher.’

This transition shouldn’t surprise anyone who watched Piazza over the years. He was never an elite defensive catcher and struggled to throw out runners on the bases. However, he made up for it with his bat and became arguably the top hitting catcher in baseball history.

Piazza came up through the Dodgers organization and found success immediately, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1993. He only got more dominant from there, being named an All-Star in each of his first six full seasons in the majors and finishing in the top six of MVP voting in four of those years.

After a brief stint with the then-Florida Marlins, he joined the New York Mets, where he found even more success. Piazza reached six more All-Star Games while helping the team win the NL pennant in 2000.

When all was said and done, the powerful hitter finished his career with a .308 batting average and 427 home runs, plus 12 All-Star Games and 10 Silver Slugger Awards, given to the best hitter at each position. His 396 home runs as a catcher are the most all-time for the position.

With this level of success compared to expectations, it’s no wonder he expects to cry during his speech:

Piazza was one of the top hitters in the game throughout his career, tallying an above-average OPS+ in every season from 1993 to 2006, per Baseball-Reference.com. It took him four years on the ballot to reach this stage, but he deserves the honor.


Ken Griffey Jr.

While Piazza was a long shot, Ken Griffey Jr. was virtually the opposite. The son of an All-Star, the younger Griffey was a natural in the sport and went first overall in the 1987 draft.

It didn’t take him long to have an impact in the majors, either. The center fielder came up at just 19 years old and was an All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner by age 20. During his first 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, he reached 10 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Glove Awards. He was named American League MVP in 1997 when he led the league with 56 home runs and 147 RBI with the first-place Mariners.

Although injuries derailed Griffey’s career a bit after he joined the Cincinnati Reds, he still went to three more All-Star Games and earned MVP votes in 2005. He finished his career with the Mariners, totaling 630 home runs, which ranks sixth in MLB history.

As good as he was on the field, however, he made almost as big of an impact off it. C. Trent Rosecrans of the Indianapolis Star broke down what Griffey meant to fans:

Griffey, with the backwards cap, was baseball’s last pop culture icon, the last player that even non-baseball fans knew by sight. He dominated commercials, video games, baseball shoes and was the most popular player in the game and the only choice when baseball was trying to match the star power of basketball’s [Michael] Jordan. In the 1993 All-Star Game in Baltimore, it was Jordan who was seen chasing down Griffey for an autograph.

Given his impact as an elite fielder, power hitter and cultural icon, it’s no wonder he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 99.3 percent of the vote. The bigger question is how three people didn’t vote for him on the first ballot.

Regardless of the voting, Griffey is headed to Cooperstown, where he will provide one of the most anticipated induction moments ever.


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Barry Bonds Discusses Chances of Being Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame

Legendary slugger Barry Bonds has been denied a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame thus far due to connections to performance-enhancing drugs, but the all-time home run king has no doubt that he belongs in the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, New York.

When asked about his Hall of Fame prospects by TSN (h/t CSNMidAtlantic.com) Saturday, the 51-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants superstar made it clear that he believes he is deserving of the honor:

I don’t really have an opinion about it. I know that I’m a Hall of Fame player. I don’t really need to get into that. I’ll leave that to you guys to make that determination. That’s not my fraternity. But in my fraternity, in Major League Baseball, there’s not one player that can sit there and say that I’m not one. There’s not a coach that’s ever coached me that says I’m not one. Until you guys decide to make that final decision then that final decision will be made on your terms. But in my heart and soul, and God knows I’m a Hall of Famer.

The seven-time National League MVP has more career home runs (762) and home runs in a single season (73) than any player in MLB history, but he received just 44.3 percent of the 2016 Hall of Fame vote, per Baseball-Reference.com.

While the PED stigma attached to the 14-time All Star may keep him out of the Hall for many years to come—if not forever—he has found a new calling as the Miami Marlins hitting coach.

Bonds is excited about the opportunity, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, and New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez believes the man he is chasing for the all-time home run crown could be fantastic in that role:

He’s going to be great and do wonders for that team. And can you imagine him working with (Giancarlo) Stanton. If you think about that combination, that’s as good as it gets, right? 

Stanton’s talent, his work ethic, his passion for the game, and now having one of the greatest minds alive working with together with him (sic). 

This has the potential to be monumental. Credit to (Marlins owner) Jeffrey Loria to have that vision to put that combination together.

Excelling as a hitting coach is something that could potentially help Bonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy moving forward, although it hasn’t worked for Mark McGwire during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Statistically speaking, though, it can be argued that no player in the history of baseball has a more impressive resume than Bonds.

Visitors to Cooperstown may never get an opportunity to see that for themselves, but Bonds certainly seems comfortable with his status regardless of what the voters ultimately decide.  


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Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza Announce Baseball Hall of Fame Hat Selection

When you think Ken Griffey Jr., the first picture that pops into your mind is of the precocious young star who took the game by storm in Seattle. When it comes to Mike Piazza, it’s hard not to settle on him leading the New York Mets to a Subway Series showdown against the Yankees.  

Now, both players will be immortalized forever in those states. Griffey announced Thursday that he’ll go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner, while Piazza followed suit by announcing his cap will don the Mets logo.

“I think I did most of my damage as a Mariner,” Griffey said, per Lance McAlister of ESPN 1530.

Griffey and Piazza essentially split their primes between two teams. Griffey spent his first 11 MLB seasons in Seattle, earning 10 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and the 1997 MVP Award. Three times he led the American League in home runs, and he also led Seattle to its first playoff-series victory in history during the 1995 season.

Griffey subsequently signed with his hometown Cincinnati Reds, where he spent parts of the next nine seasons. While he put up 40 homers and made the All-Star team during his first year with Cincinnati, injuries derailed Griffey’s prime and rendered his overall Reds experience a disappointment.

He made three All-Star appearances and was the 2005 NL Comeback Player of the Year winner, but his contributions paled in comparison to his Mariner days.

Making it all the more obvious is the fact Griffey returned to Seattle for an aborted two-year stint to finish his career. He retired midway through the 2010 season amid ineffective play, although few in Seattle will remember those waning days. They’ll remember “The Slide,” “The Catch” and all those long bombs that went soaring over the Kingdome roof.

Unfortunately, one thing we all remember will not be immortalized: Bob Nightengale of USA Today confirmed Griffey’s hat will be worn forward rather than backward.

Piazza’s decision was a little more murky. The greatest hitting catcher of all time spent his first six-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that plucked him from obscurity when no one else would have drafted him. He became a superstar in Los Angeles, racking up five All-Star appearances and as many Silver Sluggers while emerging as a dominant offensive force.

A pair of trades midway through 1998 sent him to New York, where he’d spend part of the next eight seasons. Piazza never quite reached the individual season heights as a Met that he did as a Dodger, but he had far more postseason success. The Mets made the 1999 National League Championship Series and 2000 World Series with Piazza playing a starring role, becoming one of the best players in franchise history.

“Once I just tried to do my best, the fans responded,” Piazza said, per the Hall of Fame’s official Twitter. “I’m blessed to have played here.”

The decisions here in both cases aren’t remotely shocking. However, with Griffey becoming the first Mariner enshrined, the announcement becomes all the more historic.


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Early Induction Odds for the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Class

There’s still a year to go before MLB will announce the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea for Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero to start looking into travel arrangements in upstate New York.

After we dug through the numbers—both advanced and otherwise—and examined the recent voting trends, those are the four former big leaguers who have the best odds of making it to the Hall in 2017.

The field also includes the likes of Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez, both of whom have the numbers to cruise into Cooperstown but have been clouded by links to performance-enhancing drugs.

While the odds are still against those sluggers, the results from the 2016 vote suggest that the landscape could soon change in a big way.

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Ranking the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame Class’ Biggest Snubs

The 2016 MLB Hall of Fame class has officially been announced, and this year it will be Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza joining the hallowed halls of the game’s immortals.

According to BBWAA.com, Griffey picked up a record 99.3 percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility, while Piazza earned induction in his fourth year on the ballot with 83.0 percent of the vote.

While those two players were both deserving of enshrinement, there were once again a number of notable snubs, and that’s what we’ll focus on here.

Ahead is a look at the five biggest snubs of the 2016 Hall of Fame class, with overall case for induction and length of time on the ballot the two biggest factors in where they were ranked.

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2016 BBWAA Hall of Fame Election Results Announced

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza attained baseball immortality Wednesday, earning enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

The Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins honored the two stars:

Here are the full results from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America:

MLB.com’s Greg Johns was on hand to see Griffey get the call about his HOF enshrinement:

“I’m really superstitious,” he said regarding the Hall of Fame, per MLB Network PR. “I’ve played in the HOF Game three times and I never set foot in the building.”

“I wasn’t expecting to break that record,” said Griffey about his record-breaking ballot percentage, per Johns. “It’s been up there for a long time.”

Griffey added that he “can’t be upset” about not being on three of the 440 ballots, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.

According to MLB.com’s William Boor, the NFL and NBA have seen 14 and 13 No. 1 overall picks, respectively, enter their Halls of Fame; Griffey will be the first in MLB. He and Piazza make for an interesting combination, per C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Griffey was the lone inductee this year for whom an enshrinement was a mere formality. The 13-time All-Star was a lock for the Hall of Fame as soon as his name hit the ballot, and the bigger question was whether he’d be the first player to earn unanimous induction.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan were on 98.8 percent of the ballots submitted in their respective years, tying for the highest percentage ever before Wednesday. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams and Stan Musial are among the greatest players of all time, and none was on more than 95.1 percent of the ballots in his HOF year.

Griffey sits sixth all-time in home runs (630), 15th in runs batted in (1,836) and collected 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers in his career. ESPN Stats & Info noted how rare his combination of stellar hitting and fielding is:

Mashable’s Sam Laird reflected on how Griffey’s level of star power also set him apart from his peers:

Yet, all that still wasn’t enough to make Griffey a unanimous inclusion. In fairness, that fact is unlikely to dampen the atmosphere in the Griffey household.

While not as much of a shoo-in, Piazza was a likely bet for enshrinement in his fourth year on the ballot. He inched closer and closer with each successive year, beginning at 57.8 percent in 2013 and climbing to 69.9 percent in 2015, per Baseball-Reference.com.

Piazza wasn’t as good a defensive catcher as Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk or Gary Carter, but he was in a class by himself as a hitter. Here’s a look at where the 12-time All-Star ranked among players at his position, per FanGraphs:

Piazza was also ahead of his time in home run celebrations, as Rotoworld’s D.J. Short highlighted:

Bench saluted his fellow catcher:

While he won’t be remembered as the best player in franchise history, Piazza’s arrival in the Big Apple in 1998 helped bring the New York Mets their most successful run since their 1986 World Series title. The Mets lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games in the 1999 National League Championship Series, and a year later, they claimed the NL pennant, ultimately losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Piazza was also responsible for arguably the most memorable home run in Shea Stadium history, putting the Mets ahead in the eighth inning against the Braves in their first home game after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

“He gave so much credibility to the franchise,” said Mets manager Bobby Valentine, per Mike Puma of the New York Post. “People were proud to wear Mike Piazza jerseys with ‘Mets’ on the front.”

Just as the fact Griffey and Piazza got into the Hall of Fame is little surprise, few will be shocked those stars most often linked with performance-enhancing drugs failed to collect the requisite number of votes for enshrinement.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are the notable exclusions. Until the Baseball Hall of Fame takes a strong stance one way or the other regarding PEDs, voters will continue looking past most stars from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Of course, Piazza has been discussed as a possible steroid user, with his critics citing acne on his back as evidence of his use. In his autobiography, Piazza denied using any PEDs during his career.

Simply playing in the PED era is enough to help keep Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent out of the Hall of Fame, so Piazza getting in could be a sign of the changing times. USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale argued it could strengthen Bonds and Clemens’ candidacy.

Looking ahead, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines and Curt Schilling continue moving closer to getting in, but they’ll have to contend with newcomers Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez in 2017. Raines still has a great chance of getting the call after being overlooked for a decade. Schilling and Mussina will likely have to wait another year and potentially longer in Mussina’s case.

The 2016 induction ceremony will be on July 24, at which point Piazza and Griffey will officially enter the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, New York.

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Hall of Fame Candidate Trevor Hoffman Has Odd Injury to Thank for Unique Career

SAN DIEGO — Closing is no day at the beach…but a day at the beach sure played an accidental role in developing one of the greatest closers in history.

Ah, the sands of time.

As Trevor Hoffman sweats out voting in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballotresults will be announced Wednesdaythere is no guaranteeing he will sail into Cooperstown this year on the strength of his legendary changeup.

You might think that 601 career saves, second only to Mariano Rivera on baseball’s all-time list, would make Hoffman a no-brainer, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Eventually, surely, yes.

On the other hand, no pitcher who worked strictly as a reliever throughout his career has ever been a first-ballot electee.

The voting can work in strange ways.

Sort of like life itself.

The day after the 1994 players’ strike started, Hoffman and several friends with whom he grew up in Orange County headed to the ocean in Del Mar, a suburb of San Diego.

Playing beach volleyball, Hoffman, with just one full season in the majors at that point, lunged to return a shot that was dropping just over the net. As he landed, fully extended, he felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder.

Not long afterward that same day, Hoffman and his friends set down the volleyball and picked up a football. Playing catch in the ocean, Hoffman dove for a ball in what he thought was reasonably deep water. Instead, he landed on a sandbar. More searing pain.

“I hurt my shoulder twice, basically,” he said during a visit with B/R at Petco Park one morning last month. “Did a doozy on it.”

By that December, it wasn’t getting any better. So he saw doctors and started an injury rehabilitation program.

By 1995, when the strike finally ended and a shortened season started, a fastball that once sat at 95 mph and touched 96, 97, had shriveled to 91, 92. He would end up having surgery later to clean up some debris in his shoulder.

Yeah, for a fleeting instant, with a career hanging in the balance, you bet he beat himself up.

“The next day, when I could barely pick up my arm because it was so inflamed because of the trauma I had subjected it to, there was a lot of remorse,” Hoffman said.

“And then having to go through basically the rehabilitation without surgery just to get it up and going again, there was a lot of remorse that that wasn’t really what I should be doing. There was the realization that I should be working on improving, rather than trying to get better from a stupid incident.”

He was 26 when the players’ strike started.

And he hadn’t had time off in the summer since his school days.

How could a couple of hours of beach volleyball and throwing a football be a bad thing?

“And then when I realized my velocity was gone, that I didn’t touch the mid-90s after that, that was kind of a bummer,” Hoffman said.

Far more of a bummer, obviously, had he not perfected his devastating changeup and become the Padres’ closer even with an under-construction repertoire in 1995. San Diego traded Gene Harris to the Detroit Tigers on May 11 the previous year, clearing the way for Hoffman.

He already had developed a solid foundation for the changeup out of necessity in the Cincinnati organization in the early 1990s, when the Reds informed him that his days as a light-hitting middle infielder were over. They wanted him to come back the next spring as a pitcher.

From there, the Florida Marlins picked him in the expansion draft and then shipped him to the Padres in a blockbuster deal for Gary Sheffield in 1993.

Even with a fairly crisp fastball that had sparked his rapid ascent to the majors, a little slider, a curve and a basic changeup, Hoffman knew he was going to need more. And that was before his day at the beach.   

Now, in 1995, a previous conversation he had with a fellow reliever named Donnie Elliott came into focus. Elliott had shown Hoffman how he gripped a changeup, a lesson that clicked with the young, evolving closer as he tried to navigate his way through the sore shoulder.

Elliott pinched a particular seam on the horseshoe-shaped part of the stitching when he threw his changeup so that, instead of the pressure on the ball coming through the outside of his hand—the pinky finger and finger next to it—it came from the index finger and the thumb.

The idea made sense. He threw his fastball, slider and curve with that area of his hand already. Why would he use a different part of his hand to throw the changeup?

When he employed his index finger and thumb on the changeup, throwing with his fastball motion but using that part of his hand to choke off the velocity, things started to happen.

While the Padres were rebuilding in ’95 following a fire sale of the roster a few years before, providing cover for Hoffman (with low expectations for the team, there was more room for experimentation), another reliever named Doug Bochtler debuted and quickly moved into an eighth-inning role as Hoffman’s setup man.

As such, the two became catch partners during pregame warm-ups. The inquisitive Hoffman, his career appearing at a crossroads, asked Bochtler how he threw his changeup, an effective pitch the players had nicknamed “The Dreaded Letdown.”

“We were doing flat ground work, and he threw me a couple that weren’t very good,” said Bochtler, who this winter was named San Diego’s bullpen coach for 2016. “Then he threw a pitch that went right through my legs and I was like, ‘Holy crap!'”

“Can you do that again?” Bochtler asked.

“I think so,” Hoffman replied.

“So he throws it again, and I got leather on the next one,” Bochtler said. “I tipped it but still didn’t catch it. I said, ‘Wow, dude, that is legit.’ These are like the first Trevor Hoffman changeups he ever really threw.

“Looking back, I remember what it looked like. I asked, ‘Why are you fiddling around with that, anyway?’ He said, ‘Dude, I’m not always going to throw 95.’

“That was Trevor’s gig. He had the foresight, the preparation. It was crazy, man, to be there and, literally the first two of that Hall of Fame pitch, one of the best ever, I was on the receiving end of.

“Not that I caught them. But I was there to see them.”

Hoffman finished 1995 with 31 saves. At season’s end, he wound up having shoulder surgery to clean up his rotator cuff and labrum.

The next season, with Hoffman saving 42 games, the Padres won the NL West. He collected 37 more saves in 1997 and then led the majors with 53 in 1998 as the Padres won the NL pennant.

The legend was born, the signature pitch perfected.

Thanks in no small part to, yes, the beach, the volleyball, a football and, what the heck, for good measure, even the Wiffle ball he played in the backyard as a kid with his two brothers and their friends.

“It seems kind of silly to think about, but there were some fundamental things about throwing a Wiffle ball, trying to screw with the hitters in the backyard, whether it was my brothers or friends, that became a part of trying to learn the changeup with this new grip,” Hoffman said.

“Some of the things I was trying to do in the backyard I was trying to do with this pitch in somebody else’s backyard.”

The backyards became bigger, and more plush.

So did his changeup.

He doesn’t spend much time looking back now, of course. There’s no reason.

“You can always armchair it afterward,” he said. “What kind of career could I have had on the front end if I still had that velocity? Now does the changeup ever show up? Or do you just kind of roll throwing hard?

“I think I had to make that transition to becoming a pitcher sooner than I expected.”

In the end, despite the pain caused by that day at the beach, it certainly didn’t hurt him. Probably, in a twisted way, it helped.

“It was just stuff you did when you were a kid, man,” he said. “Here I am, I get to be in the best place in the world in August, when whether is perfect, I don’t have to worry about going to work [because of the strike]. Now I get to be a kid and a summer I haven’t had in 15 years.

“I made up for lost time pretty fast. Stupid.”

He grinned, and his eyes twinkled.

Hall of Fame careers are not produced on a cookie-cutter assembly line. This is a game for all shapes and sizes. He will be giving a speech in Cooperstown one day, and if there is any justice, it will be this July.

It is a classic story of taking what life gives you and turning it to your advantage. Make lemonade out of lemons, right?

“And I have a home now probably 100 yards from where it all happened,” Hoffman said, chuckling. “Poetic justice. I put up volleyball nets now.

“I’m laughing at fate, I guess. I don’t know. It was an unfortunate day.”

However, as things turned out, it was not such a bad career move.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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