1:21 pm Jun. 15, 20122
For nearly 50 years, Murray Chass wrote for the New York Times about baseball. Since leaving the paper in May, he has written a "site for baseball columns" on which a running theme is that Mike Piazza took steroids when he was a player.
This is based in part on the fact that Chass saw Piazza's back acne while covering the Mets.
The connection between back acne and steroids is tenuous, and athletes who wear sweaty equipment are more susceptible that most people to getting it. Piazza has denied taking steroids, for what that's worth.
But the context, to Chass, is damning: Piazza was muscular and hit for power in an era in which steroid use was widespread, and his skin condition cleared up, Chass says, right around the time players started getting tested.
When it was announced this week that Piazza's memoir will be published by Simon and Schuster in February 2013, or a month after the voting results are announced for the baseball Hall of Fame, Chass saw a conspiracy:
"It seemed unlikely that the former catcher would admit to steroid use and jeopardize, even for an $800,000 advance, his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame. The publisher, however, will not issue the book until after the Hall of Fame results are known... Maybe Simon & Schuster has innocently planned the Piazza publication for soon after the announcement for marketing purposes, but it might just as easily have agreed to a post-election publication to insure that the book would not keep Piazza out of the Hall."
Based on his playing, Piazza should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He's the greatest-hitting catcher in baseball history, by far.
But he might not get in. Despite his denials, and the fact that no hard evidence exists that he cheated, other players have been kept out of the Hall of Fame under similar circumstances.
Jeff Bagwell, a truly elite first baseman who was muscular during the steroid era, fell short of the 75 percent needed for entry. Bagwell, like Piazza, has denied it, but has never been able to shake the suspicion that his achievements were attained by artificial means.
Is it possible that Bagwell and Piazza used steroids? Of course. But in the end, writers like Chass are still only guessing.
Will 75 percent of the Hall of Fame voters use a higher standard of proof than Chass has when they're voting on Piazza? It would be a scandal if they didn't.