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?
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.
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 him...as 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.