With a childhood hero of many in the Pittsburgh and San Francisco area disgraced and shamed by steroids, you have to wonder. While another musclebound mentor to those in Oakland and St. Louis doesn't want to talk about the past, you have to wonder. When a lovably large Dominican cork magnate falls off the face of the baseball earth after making the kids of Chicago pound their chests, kiss their hand and point to the sky, you have to wonder. When another Pfizer pitchman changes his drug of choice from Viagra to Winstrol, you have to wonder. Who else is there?
Everybody speculates about people. whisperwhisperAlbert Pujols, Miguel Tejada, Brady Anderson, Bo Jackson, Albert Belle, Nomar Garciaparra, Roger Clemens.
One name I wish I didn't hear in the speculation: Mike Piazza.
Piazza is a man who has been dogged by rumors and put down his whole life. Drafted in the 62nd round by the Dodgers in 1988 as a favor to the Piazza family, young Mike out of North Miami-Dade Community College, a first baseman by trade, made it to the big leagues in 1992. Despite limited success in his major league cup of coffee that year, the Pizza-man went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1993.
And his career would go nowhere but up.
1994: .319/.370/.541 24 HR, 92 RBI
1995: .346/.400/.606 32 HR, 93 RBI
1996: .336/.422/.563 36 HR, 105 RBI
1997: .362/.461/.638 40 HR, 124 RBI
1998: .328/.390/.570 32 HR, 111 RBI
1999: .303/.361/.575 40 HR, 124 RBI
2000: .324/.398/.614 38 HR, 113 RBI
2001: .300/.384/.573 36 HR, 94 RBI
2002: .280/.359/.544 33 HR, 98 RBI
This 9 year span was improbable for a kid who was not supposed to do anything in the big leagues. These numbers were utter insanity from a catcher. I myself was a big fan of Piazza. I loved his production. I loved the fact that he'd never back down and that he was mad clutch. But of course, you hear stories.
The tale of Piazza was that he was a skinny kid from Pennsylvania who went to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where steroids are legal. Piazza then came back heavier and more muscular and tore the cover off the ball. I wish that didn't scream steroids.
When Steve Phillips appears on ESPN and tells us how there were a bunch of guys he suspected as steroid users on the Mets during his reign, I wish it didn't make me think of Mike Piazza. I'd rather like to think of Cedeño, Benitez and Ordoñez as juicers.
In 2003, I was listening to a Mets-Giants game on the radio. The Mets were at bat, and Mikey P, our best hitter, stepped up to the plate. He had a check swing on a ball. And suddenly he was injured. I thought it might be a cramp or a pulled muscle. Then I heard later that he had torn his groin. A groin tear on a check swing? Our best hitter out for months? Vance Wilson starting? I wish freak groin and hip injuries weren't a sign of steroid use. But after speaking to two doctors at dinner last night, it was clear that such injuries were certainly byproducts.
I wish Piazza's OBP didn't fall forty points in the year that steroids were first tested for.
When his name gets mentioned in the same sentence as obvious steroid hounds, I get upset. And it's hard to think about, even though his name and number 31 will no longer grace the middle of the Mets' order. A childhood hero, a cheater? A needle fiend? You have to wonder.
One final note: In my mind, while excluding juicers, the single-season home run record is 60. It was set by Babe Ruth in 1927.