One of the most decorated offensive catchers in Major League history came up short again Wednesday in his second year on the ballot, finishing with 62.2 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Hall of Fame vote. That left Piazza 74 votes shy of the 75 percent needed for election -- meaning that when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas take their places in Cooperstown, N.Y., this July, Piazza will not stand among them.
Piazza did improve upon the 57.8 percent of votes that he received in his initial year on the ballot, garnering additional support despite one of the most talent-laden ballots ever. He simply fell short.
"On behalf of the organization and our fans, Mike is a true Hall of Famer," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. "We proudly display his plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame, and we're hopeful that he'll soon have one hanging in Cooperstown."
On paper, Piazza's Cooperstown resume is sterling. Owner of a .308 lifetime batting average and 427 home runs, including a record 396 as a catcher, Piazza spent 16 years establishing himself as one of the foremost offensive players of his generation, and one of the greatest offensive catchers of all time. He finished sixth all time among catchers in Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic designed to gauge a player's overall worth; only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk and Yogi Berra rank ahead of him.
But Piazza also played in an era notorious for performance-enhancing drug use, making him the frequent target of suspicion. In his 2009 book, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," author Jeff Pearlman cited anonymous sources accusing the catcher of steroid use. In his memoir, "Long Shot," Piazza later wrote that he experimented with the drugs androstenedione and Ephedra in the years before Major League Baseball banned them. He denied in the book ever taking steroids.
"There are certainly voters who are factoring that into their 'no' vote on Mike Piazza," said Ken Davidoff, a baseball columnist and Hall of Fame voter from the New York Post who did select Piazza on his ballot. "I do think that's going to be difficult to overcome."
Still, Davidoff noted that while many voters place Piazza and Jeff Bagwell "in the same basket, as players suspected without specific allegations," Piazza may have suffered more from the overall strength of this year's ballot.
Given Piazza's respectable showing regardless, it is conceivable to think he will enter Cooperstown at some point; he may just need to be patient. Next year's ballot features first-time candidates Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, making for another stacked election cycle. The year after that features Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman.
But Piazza holds what he hopes are the trump cards. Over eight seasons with the Mets, seven with the Dodgers and brief stints with the Marlins, Padres and A's, Piazza made a dozen All-Star teams and finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting seven times. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 with the Dodgers, sparking a decade-long run that saw him average 35 homers, 107 RBIs and a .969 OPS per season.
When asked about his Cooperstown chances in September, Piazza spoke of players such as Berra and Joe DiMaggio, who were not first-ballot Hall of Famers despite elite careers. Eventually, Piazza said, he envisions himself in such company.
"I truly feel I got a lot of support," Piazza said of his first year on the ballot. "It's a process. I'm very proud of my career. Obviously, I put my body of work up against anybody, I've said before. But you know what? I truly feel that the process is a beautiful thing as well.
"I can only do like an artist: 'Here's my work, my canvas.' It's out of my hands."