What Mike Piazza's New Book Will Mean to His Legacy, Hall of Fame Candidacy
Mike Piazza was no angel.
Based on the excerpts gathered by the New York Post, that's going to be one of the resounding messages of the former catcher's new memoir, Long Shot. Piazza is not going to be viewed the same after people read the book, for better and for worse.
On the one hand, the way in which Piazza set a few records straight in the book should alter the general perception of his personality. He paints himself as the good guy in his feud with Roger Clemens, writing that the fastball he took to the head in 2000 could have killed him and arguing convincingly that there's no way a pitcher with "near-perfect" control could have missed so badly.
One also has to appreciate how Piazza went out of his way to take karate lessons to prepare himself for future encounters with The Rocket. If nothing else, it's a bit that makes for an amusing image of Piazza as Ralph Macchio (go on, imagine it).
Piazza also set the record straight in regard to his rumored homosexuality, debunking any and all conspiracy theories in the book by recounting his adventures during his playing days as, in the words of the Post, a "world-class heterosexual." He was raised a Catholic, but he didn't exactly live the good Catholic life when it came to women.
And so on and so forth. There's plenty in the book, which was written with Lonnie Wheeler and is due for release on Tuesday, to attract those who dig the gossipy side of baseball. An appeal such as that seems to be totally necessary to sell a book these days, so the sales ought to be favorable.
As for the rest of us who care only about Piazza as a ballplayer, the key passages in the book are the ones that deal with the substances that he was putting into his body to keep him going during his playing days. It turns out—and this is by no means a surprise— that Piazza wasn't entirely clean.
Piazza wrote in the book that he was "into power, not prison" when it came to substances, but he admitted that he dabbled in this, that and the other thing. He rehashed an earlier admission to The New York Times in 2002 that he used androstenedione (or "andro," the drug made famous by Mark McGwire) early on in his career, as well as a variety of other substances.
His favorite, it seems, was something called Vioxx:
I used Vioxx because it was an intense anti-inflammatory and it made me feel good.
When I caught for 22 straight days and could hardly drag myself out of bed to get to the ballpark, Vioxx picked me up. I’d sing, ‘It’s gonna be a Vioxx morning.’
Piazza also admitted to trying "greenies," otherwise known as amphetamines. He said they made him too jittery, however, which may have had something to do with the fact that he usually mixed them with coffee. It's a wonder he didn't start seeing through time or hovering at random when on the diamond.
Instead of greenies, Piazza wrote that he preferred an asthma medication called Dymetadrine. He also used the fat-burner Ephedra, which is now on baseball's list of banned substances.
I'll speak for myself and say that Piazza's honesty is very much appreciated. Also, it sounds to me like he was no different from any other ballplayer who played through the Steroid Era. The drugs were there and they weren't being policed, so he dabbled. It can't be condoned, but that's how it was.
Others aren't going to let Piazza off so lightly. He's been assumed to be guilty by association just because he played alongside so many juiced-up ballplayers during the Steroid Era, and his tales in Long Shot of the drugs he used are only going to embolden the fans and writers who were suspicious of him in the first place to come out and say, "I told you so!"
Fans saying "I told you so!" are one thing. They can be easily ignored.
But writers saying "I told you so!" are another thing entirely. Some of them are gatekeepers for the Hall of Fame, and they have the power to keep Piazza out as long as they deem it to be necessary.
The writers have already deemed it necessary to keep Piazza out for at least another year. This was his first year on the ballot, and he was denied entry with only 57.8 percent of the vote.
Getting from there to the necessary 75 percent is quite the climb, and it's going to be very hard for Piazza to make up ground now that his critics have more specifics about what he was up to during the Steroid Era.
Up until now, all Piazza's critics really had were their own suspicions, which were based around things like the slugger's curious abundance of back acne (former New York Times writer Murray Chass will tell you all about it). Compared to notables like Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, Piazza's ties to PEDs had been very weak.
Thanks to what's in his book, Piazza's ties to PEDs—or at least his perceived ties to PEDs—are stronger now.
Piazza's reminder that he used andro early in his career is going to be particularly troublesome for his Hall of Fame case. The FDA describes it as a "anabolic steroid precursor" that "is converted to testosterone in the body." It's technically not an anabolic steroid, but it may as well be as far as the Steroid Era decriers are concerned.
And remember, this is the suspicious-est of suspicious crowds we're talking about here. The voters who didn't go to Piazza this year because of their own suspicions surely won't believe his insistence in the book that he stopped using andro in the late 1990s just because it was revealed that McGwire was using it. That's a fishy explanation, and fishy explanations don't sit well with the Steroid Era decriers.
As for the stuff that Piazza used to get himself ready to play, don't think his critics won't be quick to assume that these things helped his career just as much as andro use may have.
For example, would Piazza have been able to set the all-time record for home runs by a catcher had he not been using Vioxx to help him withstand brutal stretches? Would he have been able to stay in shape without Ephedra? Maybe not.
Do you feel more suspicious of Mike Piazza now than you did before?
And oh, by the way, these are things that Clemens, Piazza's arch-nemesis, has admitted to using during his playing days. Evidently, he and Piazza actually had quite a bit in common.
That doesn't bode well for Piazza's chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, as Clemens received even less support (37.6 percent) from the voters than Piazza did this year. Along with Bonds, Clemens is one of the figureheads of the Steroid Era, and now the voters have more grounds than they did before to put Piazza, Clemens and Bonds in the same boat.
Without context, Piazza is clearly one of the great players to ever play the game. He hit 427 home runs in a 16-year career, including 396 as a catcher. He's the all-time leader among catchers in OPS and OPS+.
But thanks to his confessions in Long Shot, Piazza's career has more context now than it did before. He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary at the time, but he wasn't doing nothing either.
And for that, both his legacy and his Hall of Fame chances shall pay the price.
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