Griffey, Piazza honored by Hall election

Written by: Bill Francis

Class of 2016 to be inducted July 24 in Cooperstown

Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. and catcher Mike Piazza were contemporaries on the ballfield, a pair of stars who dominated their era of the 1990s and early 2000s like few others.

Today, as a result of their excellence, they find themselves receiving the highest honor the game offers: Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Griffey and Piazza form the Hall of Fame Class of 2016, the dynamic duo each receiving the required 75 percent of the ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The results were announced on Wednesday, January 6, live on the MLB Network.

“The results are exciting,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who delivered the election tallies to a national television audience. “One of the hallmarks of winning baseball teams is strength up the middle, and thanks to the baseball writers, the Hall of Fame just bolstered its roster in a very big way.”

While no individual has ever been elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA as a unanimous choice, Griffey, in his first year eligible of eligibility, came the closest this year and set a new record by receiving 99.32 percent of the vote (received 437 votes out of 440 ballots cast). The previous mark belonged to pitcher Tom Seaver with 98.84 percent (received 425 votes out of 430 ballots cast) in 1992.

I am thrilled that Ken broke my record. I played with his dad and when I did, Junior was always running around the clubhouse. He had Hall of famer written all over him then.

Tom Seaver on Ken Griffey Jr.'s election

“My thing is for somebody to do something for you, that says a lot about the guys who voted for me. I can’t be upset with the three writers who didn’t vote for me,” said Griffey on a conference call soon after the election results were made public. “It is truly an honor to be elected, and to have the highest percentage is definitely a shock because I don’t think that way. I was just hoping to get in the Hall of Fame. As long as you get in.”

As for Seaver’s reaction to the news, the righty stalwart said: “I am thrilled that Ken broke my record. I played with his dad and when I did, Junior was always running around the clubhouse. He had Hall of famer written all over him then."

While Griffey becomes the 51st player elected in their first year of eligibility, Piazza, in his fourth year on the BBWAA ballot, received votes on 83.0 percent of the ballots after getting 69.9 percent of the vote last year.

“When you put everything in historical perspective, myself being a student of history of the game and having respect for the process, it was nail-biting at times,” Piazza said on a conference call with reporters. “I don’t want to say it was difficult but I want to say all the emotions came into it every year.”

The last center fielder to earn election to the Hall of Fame prior to Griffey was longtime Twins star Kirby Puckett in 2001. Piazza is the first catcher elected to the Hall of Fame since another former Mets legend, Gary Carter, was inducted in 2003.

Griffey’s road to enshrinement in Cooperstown seemed a forgone conclusion, the 13-time All-Star winning 10 Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards in 22-year career with spent mostly with the Mariners and Reds. While capturing the 1997 American League Most Valuable Player Award, he also finished in the Top 5 of MVP vote four other times, led the A.L. in home runs four times and finished with 630 home runs, sixth on all-time list.

“I’m excited, nervous,” said the 46-year-old Griffey after being asked to deliver an opening statement to the media on the conference call. “It’s truly an honor. It was one of those things where I can control how I play but I can’t control what other people do for you. It was just a waiting game. But to get the call is unbelievable.”

Griffey would add that because he’s really superstitious, “I played two times at the Hall of Fame Game and I never stepped foot in the Hall of Fame. I said if I went in I’m going to go in as a member – and now I get to do it.”

When asked to name some of the top memories from his playing career, Griffey first mentioned playing with his namesake father with the Mariners in 1990 and ’91.

“I’ve pretty much done almost everything that you can do in baseball,” Griffey said. “But as far as favorite memory, playing with my dad.”
Griffey Sr., a three-time All-Star outfielder with the Reds, played 19 big league seasons.

“I’m just a proud father,” Griffey Sr. said on a conference call of his own. “I’m glad everything went the right way. He did the things he was supposed to do the right way, and that’s what’s important to me. He takes everything kind of in stride right now. He was just glad everything happened the way it happened.

“Baseball raised him. You have to understand, with me playing in Cincinnati – a family town, a real good family town – how important that was. (Reds Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson) said that if we won, the kids could come in the clubhouse. And we won a lot. It was great for those kids.”

When Piazza first spoke to the media on the conference call after getting the news of his election, he called it tremendous honor.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Piazza added. “This is just something for me that really words can’t describe. And going in with a great player such as Ken Griffey Jr. makes it special as well.

“It’s just been an amazing run for me coming through the Dodgers and then New York. What an amazing life I’ve had in baseball. It’s truly a blessing. I’m very, very grateful to the writers for honoring me.”

Piazza was a 12-time All-Star who won the most Silver Slugger Awards (10) and hit the most home runs (396) of any catcher in big league history. A unanimous 1993 National League Rookie of the Year, he went on to finish in the Top 10 of NL MVP voting seven times.

Mike Piazza of the Los Angeles Dodgers catching during a game against the San Francisco Giants in 1996. (Brad Mangin / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

The two new Hall of Famers started their professional careers with divergent expectations. Griffey was selected by the Mariners in the first round with the first overall pick in the 1987 amateur draft, the first Hall of Fame electee chosen with the No. 1 overall selection.

Piazza was selected by the Dodgers in the 62nd round, the 1,390th overall pick, of the 1988 amateur draft, the lowest-ever draft choice to earn enshrinement.

“It crystalizes how special this game is, in the sense that it’s unlike any other sport. That you can have to guys go into the Hall such as Ken Griffey Jr. and myself from completely opposite ends of the spectrum,” said the 47-year-old Piazza. “There are so many opportunities in this game that you can find a role and be an underdog. If you do one thing exceptionally well and you refine that and you improve your weaknesses you can definitely make a living at this game.”

With the addition of Griffey and Piazza, the sport’s most exclusive team now has 312 members. The 2016 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held on Sunday, July 24.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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