This past weekend, I witnessed two of the game’s greatest get inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. This is the ninth year I trekked to Cooperstown, NY for the annual induction ceremony. I have only missed one since 2007 when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn got in and I must say that this was the most crowded it’s been since then. This year I particularly enjoyed getting the chance to meet MLB Network’s Brian Kenny and hearing his take on the state of baseball and sabermetrics as they stand today. For anyone who missed, the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 was:
Michael Joseph Piazza, C- New York Mets (4th Ballot)
Career: 1992-2007 (1998-2005 with New York)
Final Line: .308 AVG, 427 HRs, 1,335 RBI
Highlights: 10x Silver Slugger Award, 12x All-Star, 1992 NL Rookie of the Year, MLB record 396 HRs as a catcher.
George Kenneth Griffey Jr, CF- Seattle Mariners (1st Ballot)
Career: 1989-2010 (1989-1999, 2009-10 with Seattle)
Final Line: .284 AVG, 630 HRs, 1,836 RBI
Highlights: 7x Silver Slugger Award, 10x Gold Glove Award, 13x All-Star, 1997 American League MVP, 2005 National League Comeback Player of the Year, Seattle Mariners #24 retired, MLB All-Century Team
It’s during this iconic weekend in Cooperstown when baseball nerds, aficionados, and fans from across the country converge to relive and debate personal experiences and polarizing opinions of our national pastime all the while coming together to immortalize heroes as legends of baseball lore. This year’s induction class brought thousands of fans from across the U.S., especially from the Pacific Northwest and right here in the state of New York. Two of the most popular players of my generation, Griffey Jr. and Piazza, took two very different paths to the MLB, but both had very successful careers.
Junior became the first number one overall draft pick to be inducted into the Hall and certainly had the pedigree of a professional ballplayer. His dad, Ken Griffey Sr., had a solid playing career with the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners. He had the honor of playing with his dad in Seattle after they drafted him, making them the first father and son to play together on the same team. The father-son duo even hit back-to-back homeruns once during their month or so of playing together in the Majors. Once his father retired, the Kid began a stellar playing career of his own. After bursting onto the MLB scene in 1989 at the age of 19, he played 22 seasons, mostly with the Mariners (13) and Reds (8), and one with the White Sox. Junior was a 13-time all-star, won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards as a center fielder, and won the 1997 AL MVP award. Along with hitting 630 homeruns, Griffey became the third player in Major League history with at least 500 homeruns and 10 Gold Gloves (Willie Mays & Mike Schmidt). He reflected on his playing career and childhood with teary eyes during his induction speech. Specifically, he reflected on the impact his father had on his life and the early connections he made with many baseball greats because of him. I enjoyed hearing him talk about how he used to play (what seemed to be pretty competitive) games of “HORSE” with Rickey Henderson as a teenager as well as his countless memories of meeting Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, and many other ballplayers. He even told of his memories as a player in the MLB and how now-fellow Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson, was always the most intimidating pitcher he ever faced.
Mike Piazza wasn’t a #1 overall draft pick, like Griffey, by any means. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the 62nd round after having many early-childhood connections to then-Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda. Piazza spent a total of 16 years in the Majors: 7 with the Dodgers, 8 with the Mets, as well as short stints with the Padres and Athletics, and one very short stint with the Florida Marlins in 1998 before being traded to New York. The power-hitting catcher, who was not known for having the defensive prowess of Fisk or Bench, clubbed 427 dingers and a Major-League record 396 as a backstop. He was also a 12-time all-star, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, and the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year. Mike’s induction speech was filled with stories of his childhood in a proud Italian-American home. He grew up admiring two of the greatest to ever play the game, Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench. Piazza also reflected on the time he received private hitting lessons from the purest hitter of all time, Ted Williams, at the age of 15. He came a long way since then as a hitter and catcher and was eventually given the chance to start for the Dodgers by Tommy Lasorda, who had played a very important role early on in his playing career. I was particularly touched hearing an emotional Piazza tell of how honored he felt to be playing for the Mets when the City mourned the lives lost on 9/11.
The Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Class of 2016 featured two of the most popular players of the 1990’s and 2000’s. My early predictions for the Class of 2017 include Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, who only has one more year remaining on the ballot. That being said, Cooperstown in 2017 may not be as packed as it was this year, but Induction Weekend is my favorite weekend on the baseball calendar and always one of the highlights of my summer. I highly recommend any of you who have never been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame to make the trip for next year’s Induction from July 28-31.