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Piazza has sights set on Hall entry in second year

Piazza has sights set on Hall entry in second year

Piazza has sights set on Hall entry in second year

Mike Piazza is a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The results of the voting will be revealed Wednesday. You can watch the announcement show live exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET as part of a three-hour live show beginning at noon. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 11 a.m. ET.

NEW YORK -- In the final game of their 2005 season, the Mets halted play in the seventh inning. For a quarter of an hour, the crowd serenaded one of the best offensive catchers in Major League history, as a video tribute replayed his accomplishments in his final home game at Shea Stadium.

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"To stop a game for 15 minutes in the seventh inning, you've got to be a bad man," teammate Mike Cameron said at the time. "And Michael Piazza is a bad man. He's been so good."

It may not have been enough for Hall of Fame voters in Piazza's first year of eligibility, when his 57.8 percent of the electorate left him 98 votes shy of the 75 percent required for induction, but a year after voters did not elect a new member for the first time in nearly two decades, Piazza has another chance to crack the ice.

The favorites this year include first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Infielder Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), starting pitcher Jack Morris (67.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) were the only players to receive more support than Piazza last year, when the ballot also included such polarizing figures as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

"I truly feel I got a lot of support," Piazza said after the Mets inducted him into the club Hall of Fame in September. "It's a process. I'm very proud of my career. Obviously, I put my body of work up against anybody, I've said before. But you know what? I truly feel that the process is a beautiful thing as well."

Piazza referenced the delayed inductions of Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio as reasons for optimism, and his eventual admission does seem nearly as likely. Piazza finished his career with a .308 batting average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs, all standout numbers for a player at any defensive position -- let alone for someone who played the bulk of his career at the most demanding spot on the diamond. Piazza slugged .545 for his career, the 32nd-highest mark of anyone in history, and reached base 38 percent of the time.

Piazza also hit 396 of his homers as a catcher, the most in big league history, appearing behind the plate in 85 percent of his games.

Though five teams employed Piazza during his 16-year career, including the Dodgers for 6 1/2 seasons, no place was his home longer than New York. So perhaps it comes as little surprise that in the years since his retirement, he has said on more than one occasion that he would like to enter the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque.

"I look back now, in retrospect, and realize it was just fate -- I was just meant to be here," Piazza said. "It may not have been the most beautiful journey at the time, but it was meant to be."

Coming to New York in a blockbuster trade in 1998, just one week after the Dodgers dealt him to the Marlins, Piazza quickly fashioned his new team into a legitimate contender. He fueled the World Series run in 2000, clashed with Clemens that October and was in Flushing when he set the all-time homer mark for catchers.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Piazza's career came in 2001, during the first game in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With his team trailing the Braves by a run in the eighth inning, he hit a go-ahead two-run homer.

In the words of then-manager Bobby Valentine, "At the crack of the bat, spontaneously people stopped mourning and started cheering."

But Piazza's Hall of Fame credentials are not limited to his time in Queens. Famously selected by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 First-Year Player Draft only because then-manager Tommy Lasorda was a family friend, Piazza reached the Majors four years later and won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1993.

Piazza hit at least 32 homers in four of his five full seasons with Los Angeles, twice leading the league in OPS+, a ballpark-adjusted measure of overall offensive worth. And he did it almost exclusively as a catcher, long considered the game's most important -- and physically demanding -- defensive position, even if the one knock on him was his questionable skill set behind the plate.

"He was one of those hitters who could change the game with one swing," Tom Glavine, Piazza's teammate on the Mets, said upon his retirement in 2008. "He was certainly the greatest-hitting catcher of our time, and arguably of all time."

Piazza also played in an era that has prompted questions. Though he never tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, he was implicated in Jeff Pearlman's 2009 book, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," which cited anonymous sources accusing him of steroid use.

In the wake of last year's Hall of Fame voting, multiple members of the BBWAA told The New York Times that steroid suspicions prompted them to leave Piazza off their ballot. Months later, Piazza revealed in his memoir, "Long Shot," that he experimented with androstenedione and Ephedra before Major League Baseball banned them. He denied ever taking steroids.

How much those revelations will affect Piazza in his second year on the ballot remains to be seen, particularly in the context of his statistical accomplishments. He managed to separate himself from his peers in an era dominated by offense, and not only because of the position he played.

For the second time, Piazza is about to put those credentials to the test.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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