The baseball world will congregate in quaint Cooperstown, New York tomorrow for the latest round of inductions to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Hall of Fame Class of 2016 is only a class of two, but it includes two legendary individuals that changed the game forever.
Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and catcher Mike Piazza will be inducted to the Hall of Fame tomorrow. Griffey, 46, was inducted in his first year on the ballot with the highest percentage of votes in history, with 99.3% of voters in favor of electing “The Kid” to the hall.
Piazza, 47, was in his fourth year on the Hall of Fame ballot and finally got in this year, earning 83% of the votes.
Let’s take this time before their induction to look back on the historic careers of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, two worthy Hall of Famers.
The Kid Who Had It All: Ken Griffey Jr.
The year was 1987, and the Seattle Mariners, baseball’s worst team the year prior, had the first overall selection in 1987 Amateur Draft. The can’t-miss prospect du jour of the time was the son of current Atlanta Braves outfielder Ken Griffey, Ken Griffey Jr.
Junior had it all: power, speed, defense, swagger, and big league genes. He could hit a baseball further than perhaps anyone the game had ever seen. Griffey Jr. was a lock to be the first overall pick, and the Mariners changed the course of history when they selected him with the very first pick in the draft.
Junior was in the big leagues just two years later as a 19-year-old. That year, he posted 16 homers, 16 steals, and an OPS+ of 108, meaning he was 8% better offensively than the average player.
All of this at the ripe old age of 19.
Griffey Jr. finished third in the 1989 Rookie of the Year voting. While he narrowly missed out on the coveted award, his trophy case would soon be packed to the gills. Over the course of his career, Griffey Jr. would win 1 MVP, 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and earn 13 All-Star Game nominations.
Griffey Jr. took over the game in a way that few had seen before. He had true “light tower power” and was remarkably consistent year in and year out.
From his prime in the years 1994-2000, Griffey only once hit less than 40 homers or collected less than 90 RBI, and only twice hit below .284, and those totals are counting his injury-plagued 1995 season in which he only played in 72 games.
Griffey Jr. is perhaps best remembered for his heroics in one of the game’s brightest moments, the Home Run Derby. Griffey won 3 Home Run Derbies, and always made memories even in the contests that he lost.
For instance, in 1993 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Griffey Jr. showcased his power by ripping a home run that struck the Eutaw Street B&O Warehouse on the fly, still the only ball to ever hit the landmark.
And standing in the midst of these Herculean feats was Griffey Jr., his Mariners cap worn backwards, smiling and laughing while slugging balls over 450 feet.
Griffeys Sr. and Jr. got to play together on the Mariners from 1990-1991, where the dynamic duo combined to be a force in the middle of the lineup. In fact, one night in 1990, both father and son hit back-to-back dingers, still the only time in big league history that that has happened.
But while Griffey Jr. was a dominant player with the Mariners, he was able to do something that few players can do: keep succeeding in a new city while in his thirties. Griffey Jr. remained a dominant player with the Cincinnati Reds from 2000-2008, had a quick pit stop in Chicago in the summer of 2008, and ultimately finished his career where it all began: in Seattle for the Mariners from 2009-2010.
Ken Griffey Jr. is one of only 8 players in MLB history to hit 600 homers (he finished with 630, good for sixth on the All-Time list. As Junior enters the Hall of Fame tomorrow, he should be remembered as a generational talent that spans history. His numbers speak for himself, and anyone that got to see Griffey Jr. play knows just how special he was.
The 62nd Round Draft Pick: Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza, plain and simple, is an underdog story. A longshot. A player who was cast aside for years and years until his greatness could no longer be ignored.
Piazza was a 12-time All-Star, a 10-time Silver Slugger, and the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year. And Piazza did all of this while playing a position not known for offensive prowess: catcher.
Detractors of Piazza pointed out his average-at-best defense, his lack of postseason success, lack of a World Series Championship, and PED accusations as reasons to undermine Piazza even more, and to possibly keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
But Piazza was so dominant offensively that his shortcomings can be overlooked. Much like Griffey Jr., Piazza was a rarity in that his best offensive success came in two different cities.
Piazza spent 7 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he played for manager and close friend Tommy LaSorda. While in Los Angeles, Piazza batted a collective .331 with 177 home runs and an OPS+ of 160. After an ill-fated trade to the Florida Marlins, for whom Piazza would play only 5 games, the New York Mets swooped in and nabbed Piazza.
Piazza was the Mets’ catcher for 8 years, and collectively hit .296 with 220 home runs and an OPS+ of 136. But despite those tremendous numbers, Piazza is best-remembered for one huge home run hit in September of 2001.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, baseball was cancelled for a week. When play resumed, the Mets opened up a series at Shea Stadium to face the Braves.
With the entire country shaken with fear, Piazza healed the city of New York for at least one night. The Mets were down 2-1 in the 8th inning when Piazza came up to bat and smashed a long home run that gave the Mets the lead.
The moment was so perfect in every imaginable way, and stands as Piazza’s crowning achievement. What stands out about Mike Piazza’s career is his ability to rise to the occasion in spite of adversity.
It seemed as if someone was always out to get the easygoing Piazza. Accusations of PED use almost marred his career, but no distinctive proof was ever found that Piazza was a steroid user. He had to deal with embarrassing questions about his sexuality (Piazza is married and has two children, for the record). He even had to deal with a long-standing feud with Roger Clemens, in which the Yankee ace both beaned Piazza and even threw a bat at him during play.
But through all of this, Piazza remained his same old, unflappable self.
Piazza would leave the Mets after 2005, and would go on to play for the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics in 2006 and 2007, respectively, before retiring from baseball.
Mike Piazza never had it easy in Major League Baseball either on or off the field, but he always got the job done. Piazza was the best offensive catcher of his generation and possibly of all time, and should be remembered as such.