NEW YORK -- The most accomplished offensive catcher in Major League history has long been content to wait, quietly referencing other baseball giants who took the winding road to Cooperstown. Wednesday, Mike Piazza's adjournment came to an end. The Baseball Writers' Association of America voted Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. into the Hall of Fame, where they will be inducted in July.
Piazza received 83 percent of the electorate's vote in his fourth year on the ballot, after steadily gaining support throughout his first three. It is the bowtie on a career that wound through Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego and Oakland, slugging a record 396 of his 427 home runs as a catcher.
"What an amazing life that I've had in baseball," Piazza said. "The memories, to me, I almost can't capture. It's truly a blessing and I'm very, very grateful."
In many ways, Piazza's eventual induction has long seemed a foregone conclusion. He finished his career with a .308 batting average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs, starting 85 percent of his games behind the plate. Piazza slugged .545 for his career, the 28th-highest mark in history, and reached base 38 percent of the time.
Among catchers, Piazza stands at or near the top of nearly every major career offensive leaderboard. His 59.4 Wins Above Replacement rank sixth at the position, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk and Yogi Berra; all but Rodriguez, who is eligible for the first time next year, are in Cooperstown. Filtering for peak seasons only strengthens Piazza's case.
"He had the ability to change a game," said former teammate Tom Glavine, a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee. "He had the ability to carry a team."
Through such abilities, a career that began in obscurity has earned baseball's ultimate measure of fame, as the lowest drafted player to ever earn enshrinement. Selected in the 62nd round of the 1988 Draft as a favor to his father, a friend of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, Piazza became the National League's Rookie of the Year after clubbing 35 home runs in 1993. Piazza proceeded to hit 346 homers over a 10-season span, which would have made him one of the greatest Dodgers ever if not for a pair of high-profile trades in the middle of his prime.
First, Piazza went from Los Angeles in a May 1998 trade to Florida, before the Marlins flipped him one week later to the Mets. It was there, in New York, that Piazza played 7 1/2 seasons and appeared in more than half his career games, reaching his only World Series in 2000. For those reasons and others, Piazza stated in his autobiography, "Long Shot," that he would like to enter the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque. The Hall will make the official announcement Thursday, potentially putting Piazza alongside Tom Seaver as the only players with Mets plaques.
"Players can let their preferences be known, and mine is pretty strong," Piazza wrote. "If I'm fortunate to go to Cooperstown, it needs to be with New York of the National League."
In explaining his devotion to the Mets, Piazza referenced perhaps the signature moment of his career, 10 days after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. During the city's first major sporting event following the attacks, Piazza clubbed an eighth-inning, two-run homer to give the Mets a 3-2 lead over the Braves. They went on to win, entrenching Piazza's popularity within the five boroughs.
Post-retirement, whispers of illegal performance-enhancing drug use dogged Piazza during his early Hall of Fame candidacy, despite a lack of documented evidence. In his autobiography, Piazza admitted to using androstenedione and amphetamines before MLB banned them, but denied taking steroids or human growth hormone.
"Today is just a day that I really want to celebrate my career and dwell on the positive parts of my career," Piazza said Wednesday when asked about such accusations. "So many things are just out of my control. I can't worry about it."
Piazza's 16-year career ended after brief stints with the Padres and A's in 2006 and '07, following 12 All-Star selections, 10 Silver Sluggers and seven top-10 MVP finishes.
"Without a doubt Mike Piazza was one of the top hitting catchers in the history of the game," Seaver said in a statement. "For Mike to compile the stats he did while catching is amazing. His election to Cooperstown is most deserving."
"We are really thrilled that Mike Piazza has taken his rightful place among the other greats in Cooperstown," added Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. "Mike's offensive prowess, ability to deliver in the clutch, and tireless work ethic helped him become one of the great catchers of all time."