Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fork In The Road To Immortality.

       Last night, it was announced that two men had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza.  I am going to get my favorite quirky statistic about this out of the way first:  Junior is the first number one draft pick to be chosen, and as a 62nd round pick, 1390th overall, Piazza is (by far) the lowest draft pick ever granted membership to Cooperstown.
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Ken Griffey Jr.
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Ken Griffey Jr. set a record with 99.3% of the vote, getting named on 437 out of 440 of the ballots. Whoever the three dudes are who decided not to vote for him should be publicly shamed, stripped of their vote, and kept in the stocks on Main Street in Cooperstown during induction weekend.

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I have shown my pages of Griffey before so I dove into the boxes for his inserts for this occasion.  Above you see two of my favorite food issue oddballs of all time.  Not that getting cards out of Oreos or Ritz Crackers is all that bizarre and they certainly are as plain looking as possible.  No, I am tickled every time I look at the back of the cards and see the height and weight measurements.  Every. Damn. Time. I am a simple man.

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Griffey is one of the saddest "What Might Have Been" baseball stories of all time.  Yet, he is also one of the most complete and beloved figures the game has ever known.  The only people who didn't like Junior are really old curmudgeonly writers back in 1991 that hated that he smiled and wore his hat backward.  How dare a man have fun playing a child's game!  Luckily, all those men are either retired or dead now. 

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It is hard to imagine that had Griffey stayed healthy in the second part of his career, we wouldn't be celebrating him as the all-time home run king.  With the Reds over 8-plus years, he missed 480+ games with various injuries and given the conservative average of a homer every 4 games, that adds about 120 homers to his total.  As it is, he hit 630 dingers which is good for 6th on the all-time list.

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I have collected and cherished Griffey's cards since he hit the scene in 1989.  I am not saying I was ever a supercollector or anything, but I do seem to have a lot of his cards laying around and I seem to find more every time I look.  Given his status and statistics, Ken Griffey Jr.'s election to the hall of fame is the very definition of a no-brainer.

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Mike Piazza.
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Mike Piazza was also a no-brainer choice for the Hall of Fame, alas it took the BBWAA four freaking years to find their brains.  He was elected with 83.0% of the vote, named on 365 of 440 ballots. 

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I wish I could claim some kind of nonpartisan point of view when it comes to Mike Piazza, but alas I cannot. He has been my favorite player since May 22, 1998 when he was traded to the Mets.  He had been someone I admired before then but the moment I found out he was a Met, it was head-over-heels, love-at-first-sight, you-and-me-forever.  There had never really ever been a player like this in team history and unfortunately, there hasn't been one since.   

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Unlike Junior, I have been a crazed Piazza Supercollector since that day.  What you are seeing right now is just the game-used and fancy encapsulated cards I own of him.  I have done huge player collection posts before, but doing ALL of my Piazza cards at once will require 102 pages and another 1800+ inserts in top loaders to be sorted and scanned - not to mention random assorted memorabilia like lunch boxes, figures, 8x10s, bobbleheads, etc.  Yeah, I should have anticipated this day and had it ready but that just didn't happen after a few years of crushing January disappointment.  You will have to wait until July and his actual enshrinement for me to tackle this massive project.  For now, you'll have to make do with the 15 scans here of some high end goodies. Like that Leather Bound card above, which is one of my whales; not only is it a rare type of relic, but it has a lace hole right in the middle of it.  Just a wonderfully neat card.

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I never got into the eTopps craze much but I did snag in hand versions of Piazza's cards, some of the very few encapsulated cards I own that have stayed in capsule.

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Here you see some later bat cards of him as not-a-Met.  Everyone seems to be arguing if he should go into the Hall as a Dodger or a Met - and joking that he should go in as a Marlin - yet no one has referenced his last couple years on the west coast as a Padre and Athletic.  My view is simple: he made his legend as a Dodger and cemented that legacy as a Met so it is an absolute toss up as to which is appropriate as either one could be (see Jimmie Foxx).  In a case like this, it should then come down to the player's preference and Mike has made it clear he is far more fond of his time as a Mets player and of the Mets fans and organization.  That should end the discussion right there. (Note: as I was writing this post, it was announced that he would, in fact, go in as a Met)

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Mike Piazza's offensive statistics are overwhelming.  396 home runs as a catcher - most all time (427 overall).  Highest single season batting average for a catcher - .362 in 1997.  Five 100 RBI seasons in a row - 1996 to 2000 - and an average of over 100 RBIs over 10 years - 1993 to 2002.  Highest lifetime batting average in Los Angeles Dodgers history - .331.  Ten Silver Slugger awards.  Twelve time All Star. 

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Conversely, he is known as a horrible defensive player.  This reputation is way way waaaay out of line.  Yes, it is undeniable that he did not have the best arm in the world; his career caught stealing percentage was 23% when the league average was 31%.  But remember that he played in the most drastic offensive slugging era ever so the stolen base was not the weapon it was in, say, Johnny Bench's day and therefore Piazza's arm was not a grand liability.  If his defense was truly as terrible as it is reputed, he would have been moved to 1st base in 1995 and not 2005.  Early in his career, he did lead the league in passed ball twice.  But he took great pride in and worked very hard to improve his defense.  By the year 2000, he led the league in fielding percentage for catchers - bet you didn't know that.  People somehow forget that throwing is not the only thing a catcher does.  Other than his bad arm, all he did was frame pitches well, go back on pop ups quickly and vigilantly, call a game brilliantly, and get down and block pitches in the dirt like a fiend.  And that's not me talking, that is Bobby Valentine his manager.

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Enough about the player, let's focus on some of these nifty cards.  Mike's trade to the Mets coincided with the explosion of game used cards, so just about all the stuff he has is in Mets gear.  This makes me very happy (and broke).  I usually only pick up the very best or most interesting relic cards of a player to have one or two to represent him, but I have been a little more loose with that rule when it comes to Piazza.

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This scan shows a rare hat patch card and a jersey card that is just filthy and I mean filthy in the true real 'dirty' meaning of the word, it is the filthiest jersey card I have ever seen.  It also shows four manufactured patch cards, including one that I gave quite a famous write up.

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There are hundreds of Jersey relic cards of Mike Piazza, of that I am certain and I somehow have had the restraint to only own a couple dozen.  I try to keep it, like the above, to interesting subjects, photos, or even cut outs to showcase the swatch.  There is also a piece in this scan with a teal stripe on the piece, meaning it came from his week long side-trip as a Marlin.  One marvelous little statistical blip in his line is that he hit a triple for all five teams he suited up for, including one of the five total hits he got as a Florida Marlin.

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Here are five of the most interesting die cut jersey cards and one of the most staid and plain looking one's in my collection.  The piece is even gray.  That is more than made up for by the round, square, crownish, cartoonish nature of the other cards. 

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I have not one, not two, but three of his swatches from the Topps 206 sets of the early aughts.  I think there are bat cards from this set too but I like that these cards showcase the front and back of the pieces, something very few cards actually do, and that is more interesting with the jerseys.  They are color coded to each series of that vast set.  I often wonder if they would fall apart if I took them out of their plastic holders...alas, I am too chicken to test this out.

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Jeez, I just realized, seeing them all laid out like this, that I might have enough jersey cards to sew together an actual patchwork Mike Piazza jersey.  But then I would have to pick up some of the rare button cards from ten years ago that were all the rage and I refuse to spend that much money on anything less than a used car. 

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Now we've reached some multiple swatch cards.  Here you see him paired twice with battery mate Al Leiter, who was very excited on MLB Network about Mike's election.  There's also one with Mo Vaughn from that one year the Mets thought Mo Vaughn was going to be good for them.  There is also three cards with my all-time all time favorite player, Gary Carter.  Chances are if you play for the Mets and play catcher, you are going to get my attention/affection.  I also love the one there with Piazza, Carter, and Rickey Henderson - that is three Hall of Famers on one card.  I think that is a first for my collection.

Last but not least are a few other multiple player swatch cards below.  One of them is a Mets themed one, the others with various guys like Carlton Fisk (makes sense), Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Kendall (sure, okay), and Sammy Sosa (um, what?).  By my count, that is 73 game used cards, 4 fake manu-patch cards, and 3 magic encapsulated cards.  I am insane - and remember I sold off a lot more than I have bought in recent years.

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Each year Mike did not get elected to Cooperstown, I promised to write a scathing diatribe denouncing this folly.  And every year, I got so mad trying to put together this post that I abandoned it in self-righteous frustration.  I am now so pleased with the result that I am going to forgive and forget and let it all go.  Mike Piazza has been given his rightful place in Baseball's Hall of Fame, what is there to be upset about?

3 comments:

JayP said...

Your Piazza collection is ridiculous....

night owl said...

Hmmmm ... so I guess Piazza WAS a Met.

You could stitch together uniforms for an entire team with all of those relics. Also, they remind me of how much I hated the black caps and uniforms the Mets wore then.

Piazza's defensive issues were sort of annoying when he was with the Dodgers. He couldn't throw ANYONE out. But, like you say, it wasn't anything that should be held against him in Hall voting.

defgav said...

Great stuff. I need to get me those Padres relics. It sure was a trip having him on our team for that one year.