A week from Induction, Griffey & Piazza savor the moment
One had to justify his place in the big leagues, the other had to live up to the highest of expectations. Although their roads to Cooperstown couldn’t be more different, 2016 Hall of Fame inductees Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. shared a drive that brought them to the Hall of Fame – because they both had something to prove.
“During the eight years I was in New York, there wasn’t one day when we lost a game that I wasn’t unhappy,” said Mike Piazza while on a conference call with reporters. “I wanted to prove to people that I was seriously trying to do the best that I could, and that I was worth it.”
On Sunday, July 24, the days of proving themselves will officially be over, as their legacies are preserved forever at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. History will be made, as Griffey – a first round draft-pick in 1987 – will become the highest pick to ever be inducted. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Piazza – a 62nd-round draft pick – will be the lowest pick to ever enter the Hall of Fame.
“When I first signed with the Dodgers, I knew it was going to be a very difficult path,” said Piazza after he was asked about his time in the minor leagues during a conference call with reporters on July 15. “At the time I wasn’t having any fun, and decided to quit the game. I was just fortunate that I had great coaches and people looking out for me to encourage me to go back. You don’t make it to the Hall of Fame alone, you have a lot of people looking out for you along the way.”
With the induction of Griffey and Piazza, the total number of National Baseball Hall of Fame members increases to 312, with the former receiving 99.32 percent of the BBWAA vote, and the latter receiving 83.0 percent. A 13-time All-Star, Griffey won 10 Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards, finishing his career with 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI. Piazza was a 12-time All-Star who made history during his tenure as catcher, winning a record 10 Silver Slugger Awards and hitting 396 home runs – the most ever at his position. He would finish his career at fourth on the all-time RBI list for catchers with 1,335 and a batting average of .308.
Although Griffey began his baseball career at a higher draft pick then his fellow 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, he says that he has a deep respect for – and understanding of – Piazza’s work ethic on the field.
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“My father has always told me there are more second, third, fourth and fifth-round draft choices in the big leagues than first round picks,” Griffey said. “If you work hard you’ll get rewarded. You might get another look because of the higher round pick, but things aren’t going to be handed to you. You’ve got to get out, work hard and do what you’re supposed to do. Mike took an opportunity and made the most of it, and showed everybody that it wasn’t just a favor; he showed them that he can play this game and play at this level.”
When asked specifically about his feelings on being inducted with Piazza, Griffey said: “[Piazza] was one of those guys that, when the game was on the line, you didn’t want him up. He was going to battle you offensively and defensively. He studied baseball, he studied people’s tendencies, and he was a guy who gave it his all every day. I’m very excited to be inducted with him.”
Conversely, Piazza spoke reverently of Griffey, who he played against numerous times throughout his 16-year career.
“I had my first memory of Ken Griffey Jr. when I first signed with the Dodgers,” said Piazza. “For me, I knew back then that he was going to be special. He was the first overall pick in the draft, had a famous father who was a great ballplayer – he was as close to a can’t-miss prospect as you can get. It’s a tribute to him because even though he was drafted No. 1 and the expectations were high, he never mailed it in. I don’t see how any player who played with or against him could not marvel at his talent, and his ability to have fun playing his game.”
Griffey and Piazza will be joined by more than 50 Hall of Famers returning for the weekend to celebrate their induction. The ceremony will be held on Sunday, July 24, at 1:30 p.m. ET, at the Clark Sports Center, located one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It will be shown live on MLB Network, and will via webcast at www.baseballhall.org.
While their stories may be radically different, Piazza noted that variety is what makes the National Pastime so great.
“The most wonderful thing about baseball is the interesting multiple personalities,” said Piazza. “I always marveled that [Griffey Jr.] had a lot of fun, he never played with any anger, and he always played winning baseball. If everyone was the same, it would be a very boring, colorless game. It’s something to enjoy that every ballplayer is different.”
Alex Coffey is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
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