As a baseball underdog, it doesn’t get much more challenging than being a 62nd round draft choice.
But in just 25 years, Mike Piazza has gone from the 1,390th player chosen in the 1988 MLB Draft to the doorstep of Cooperstown.
Along the way, Piazza firmly established himself as one of the greatest hitting catchers in the history of the game.
“You can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Piazza said. “The minute you think you have this game licked, it’s gonna come up and bite you.”
Rafael Palmeiro’s numbers place him among the greatest hitters ever to play the game.
Palmeiro, who played 20 big league seasons with the Rangers, Orioles and Cubs, is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Palmeiro received 12.6 percent of the vote in 2012 in his second year on the BBWAA ballot.
When most teams can’t get a draft pick to sign his contract, it’s because the player wants more money.
Not Dale Murphy.
The Atlanta Braves drafted Murphy with the fifth pick in the first round in 1974 and offered him a number.
“He told me it was too much money, to take it back and reconsider,” said longtime Braves scouting supervisor Paul Snyder.
The Braves cut the offer by $5,000, and Murphy then accepted. By the end of his career, Murphy had proven to be one of the biggest bargains the Braves ever had.
He was a four-time World Series winner, a five-time All-Star and the author of what is possibly the greatest Game 7 World Series pitching performance of all-time.
But not even 254 big league victories and 14 straight Opening Day starts due justice to the legacy of Jack Morris, whose career can be summed up in one word: Competitor.
“He never wanted to come out (of a game),” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who skippered Morris and the Tigers to a win in the 1984 World Series. “So any time you went near the mound, you’d have problems.”
Perfection is an almost unattainable goal in baseball. But for one season, Jose Mesa came as close as it gets.
And for 19 big league seasons – including that memorable 1995 campaign – Mesa proved to be one of the game’s best relief pitchers. Today, he’s made it to the doorstep of the Hall of Fame.
“All I can say is that God has been pretty good to me,” said Mesa, who went from working on the family farm in the Dominican Republic to starring in the majors in less than a decade.
Statistically, he’s the most consistent power hitter the game has ever known.
Mark McGwire’s story contains so much more than that. But on the field, McGwire was undeniably a star.
“I still tell him that it was an honor and pleasure to play with him,” said Albert Pujols, the man who took over for McGwire at first base for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fred McGriff was cut from his high school baseball team as a sophomore – and became so determined to improve he road his bike 20 miles to the gym to train.
All that hard work paid off.
His career is unlike almost every other Yankees star, because it included no World Series glory.
But even without a championship on his resumé, Don Mattingly remains an all-time favorite among Yankees fans – and deeply etched into the team’s record book.
In Kenny Lofton’s first home game with the Cleveland Indians in 1992, the scoreboard at Cleveland Stadium listed his minor league stats as a Houston Astros farmhand in 1991.
Stolen base total: a mind-boggling 168.
It was a typo, as the “168” number was Lofton’s career stolen base total in four years as an Astros minor leaguer. But the fans in Cleveland applauded wildly anyway and speculated about what Lofton’s incredible speed would mean for their team.
From a sore-armed high school pitcher to one of the big league’s most powerful batters, Ryan Klesko’s baseball career took him to places he never dreamed.
Now, he’s one step short of immortality at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Klesko is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Klesko is making his debut on the ballot.