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May 22, 2008

What's the talk at YOUR water cooler?


It seems like you can’t turn on one of the evening sportscasts without seeing something that sparks some sort of discussion. Can you remember a time in your life where every night you can go to bed knowing exactly what the water cooler fodder is going to be the next day?

I can’t.

From the tragedy at the Kentucky Derby to the Chicago Bulls miraculously getting the ping pong ball to drop their way in the NBA Draft Lottery…the sportsworld gives us something every day. Just the other night, Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox continued his remarkable return from cancer to hurl a no-hitter!

Plenty of people will point out the obvious...Red Sox pitchers have thrown the last two no-hitters (Clay Buchholz threw one last September), but I’ll go with the less traveled path with my water cooler talk.

By CALLING Lester’s no-no, Jason Varitek has now caught the most no-hitters in baseball history and, for the second time, they happened in back to back years. Hideo Nomo threw his in 2001…Derek Lowe matched the feat in 2002.

When it is all said and done, this will be an interesting (but forgotten) footnote on Varitek’s career. And while he is a good signal caller, the ONLY thing Varitek will have on Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra is this odd distinction.

And since we're talking catchers…allow me to add some fuel to the fire when I suggest that recent retirement of Mike Piazza will continue to go virtually unnoticed.

By why?

Piazza was arguably the BEST hitting catcher in the game when he played ans possibly of all time. Of his peers, only Ivan Rodriguez can hold a candle to Piazza’s accomplishments at the plate. Sure, “Pudge” has an MVP award (Piazza finished in the top ten seven of his first eight seasons)…but there really is no comparison between the two.

But just how good, er, great was Mike Piazza?

You’d have to have your head under a rock to NOT know that he is the all-time leader in homeruns as a catcher. Piazza hit 396 of his 427 in games where he was behind the plate. Carlton Fisk has 351. Johnny Bench…326.

But what about the other offensive numbers?

The batting averages of the last three catchers inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Bench, Fisk and Gary Carter) come in at .267, .269 and .262. Piazza…a cool .308.

Piazza arguably had one of the best hitting seasons as a catcher in 1997 when he hit .362 with 40 homeruns and 124 RBI.

I think this is also where I am suppose to point out that Bench, Fisk and Carter combined for one season where they hit over .300 and qualified for the batting title.

Piazza hit higher than .300 in nine straight seasons and finished in the top five in batting average in four of those. Add in the ten straight silver slugger awards and the fact that he is one of only six players who have 400 career homeruns, a .300 average while never striking out more than 100 times in a season and you’ve got a special hitter.

The guy was an All-Star twelve out of thirteen years and elected by the fans to start ten of them, but still, there seems to be no love for Mike Piazza.

The guy is the ultimate underdog story...people SHOULD love that.

In 1988, the then first baseman Piazza was the last player the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted…in the 62nd round! As the story goes, the mercy pick was done as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza's father. I guess after 1389 OTHER players are selected, you’re allowed to get a little punchy and make some crazy moves.

For the record, I found two other notable players that have gone 1390th or later…Juan Pierre and Mark Mulder.

Pierre was actually drafted three different times by three different teams. In 1996, he was picked 1406, but after it was all said and done, he was selected 390th two years later.

Mulder is a different story. Like Piazza, Mulder played firstbase when he was drafted 1456th out of high school. Unlike Piazza (who vowed to switch to catcher if drafted), Mulder switched to pitcher full time and was taken second overall in 1998 and after a career at Michigain State.

Piazza was superstar on both coasts by playing both with the Dodgers and the New York Mets. Ask anyone if there was a player who managed to win over both cities like Piazza did and, like me, I’m sure they’d be hard pressed to come up with a name off the top of their head. No doubt his five games with the Florida Marlins in 1998 failed to set South Beach ablaze. Haha.

So, like Frank Thomas…why no Piazza love?

I mean, typically, when one of the best players of their time retires, they get some press, Piazza got next to none. I guess we get to wait five years to see how well the sports writers remember the greatest catcher of all-time or as the recipient of that famous Roger Clemens bat toss.

Oh yeah, should he not come back...Clemens will be eligible for the Hall the same year as Piazza and there isn't a snowball's chance I'd be missing either of those speeches.

Ain't irony a bitch?

***Note: Based on the "Is Mike Piazza a first ballot Hall of Famer" poll that was on the page...93% of you said yes.***

BallHype: hype it up!


Rusty Shackleford said...

Why is Piazza forgotten? I wouldn't say he is totally forgotten, but I believe he played way too long. It's the same thing I feel about Ricky Henderson. I almost hope he is not a first ballot hall of famer. How many first ballot hall of famers played an entire decade of crap baseball?

Is it our faults when professional athletes risk their legacy in order to benefit their own egos? I say no. I say both of the athletes mentioned are shoo-ins for the HOF but hopefully will learn a lesson:

When you put your own ego first, your long term legacy will suffer. At least it should.

For those curious, Rickey Henderson's last ten years of baseball:

.300 (yay!)
.315 (in 121 games, yay!)
10 yr average: .249

And let's not forget his minor league career POST his major leage career, when he was too damn arrogant to hang it up.

Jesus said...

I KNOW you didn't just slam Rickey! We're splitting hairs here, but his average for that span was .254, not .249 and I'd argue that even as a part-time part-ime player...he was serviceable.

Did he hang on too long? Absoutely! But did he contribute?

Yes, he did.

.254 average aside, he still managed six years with more than 70 runs scored (two with 100+) and continued to add to his already incredible stolen base totals.


He got on base baby! Again, .254 average aside, his OBP was close to .400. Call me crazy, but I'll take a 39 year-old outfielder who bats .236 if he can steal me 66 bases and walk 118 times.

I know you specifically said FIRST BALLOT, but there have been a number of relatively recent Hall of Famers who hung on WAY too long. Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Tony Perez...hell, even Nolan Ryan! Without their last few years, they don't get near the numbers they achieved.

You have three less 300 game winners!

Look at Gossage who went in last year...ugh. Look at Blyleven, who people will start to pimp again this fall...oog.

And yes, I re-iterate that I KNOW you said "first ballot" guys, so let me ask this...when should Greg Maddux have retired? 2002 was the last year, he scared anyone and since then, he's only 77-66. No 300 3000 Ks.

Sorry to ramble...I'm just VERY protective of Rickey for some reason.

Stubby McGhee said...

My two cents...first ballot, second ballot, blah blah blah. If you're good enough to go in, you go in the first time. How much can someone improve between ballots? NONE! That's what the veteran's comittee is for(once they overhaul it). I know that my beloved Sandberg would've paid for this, but no more of this waiting for years BS. Five years should be plenty of time to decide whether someone is HOF material or not. There, I feel better.

Rusty Shackleford said...

Yes, and most people would take 32 SB'a and a .253 average if you told them it was Rickey you were getting. But what if I told you that it was in fact Corey Patterson (this three year average)? Before you answer: Corey Patterson is the worst leadoff hitter statistically in baseball in the same span. Ouch.

But hey, Rickey this, Rickey that.

Jesus said...

I'm not sure what you're saying, but Patterson's OBP is also traditionally .100-.150 points LESS than Rickey's CAREER .401 and he has NEVER had more than 100 runs scored in a season.

Oh well. I'd STILL take Rickey.

Nick said...

Rickey is absolutely a first ballot hall of famer. A lot of people in the 'blog generation' are too young to remember Rickey in his hay-day. He's the only guy that I've ever seen play that could win a game by himself. Your slamming him for his last ten seasons in the league, how bout his first 14? I'm not going to punch the numbers, but I guarantee that his average was right around .300 during that span. The guy is still a career .279 hitter. At 39 he had enough steals to win the league title in most of the years since he set the record in 1982, again, I'm not going to look up the numbers, but 66 is enough to win the league title most years. And like Jesus already said, his OBP and walks more than make up for it. For christ sakes, the guy stole 66 bases at the age of 39, how incredible is that? He was still servicable up until 2000, the last three years were a push, but he was still good.

Oh, and to answer your question about winning over fans on both coasts, how bout Rickey and Reggie Jackson, just off the top.