Mike Piazza, convicted without proof by the Hall of Fame voters

Mike Piazza. (MLB.com)
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The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York will announce its new members Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m.

Some of the greatest players in baseball history are on the ballot. There's Roger Clemens, arguably the game's greatest pitcher, and Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king. There's Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who each blew past Roger Maris in a memorable 1998 season, and Rafael Palmeiro, a fine defensive first baseman who collected more than 3,000 hits.

None of these players appear to have earned close to earning the 75 percent of votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America necessary for induction. That was expected. A large enough contingent of the writers believe that steroid use is a good enough reason to keep players out; every one of the above players has at least some real evidence linking them to steroids.

It's also looking, as more writers reveal their ballots, as if Mike Piazza isn't going to get to 75 percent, either. And the reasons why are far more difficult to discern.

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Piazza has never been implicated in any steroid investigation; not baseball's own Mitchell Report, which made extensive use of a Mets clubhouse employee, Kirk Radomski, or anywhere other than in the columns of New York Times writer Murray Chass, who came to his own conclusion.

Apparently that's enough, just as the taint of rumor kept Jeff Bagwell, another player without a shred of credible evidence against him, out of the Hall of Fame last year, and appears to be keeping him out this year as well.

Bagwell, by the numbers, deserves entry into Cooperstown. He would be one of the better first basemen in the Hall of Fame.

But Mike Piazza is so much better than nearly all the catchers already in Cooperstown that his exclusion is particularly noteworthy, even compared to Bagwell's.

Bagwell, on offensive giant, put up an O.P.S.+ of 149 in a tremendously impressive career at first base. Mike Piazza, at catcher, put up an O.P.S.+ of 143. So they were comparable offensive players. Piazza just did it at the most difficult defensive spot on the diamond, while Bagwell did it at one the easiest ones.

Compare Piazza to his peers at the position, and the difference between his hitting and the numbers put up by the greatest offensive catchers in baseball history is enormous. No one doubts that Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella are worthy Hall of Famers. Berra's career O.P.S.+ is 125, Campanella is 123. Johnny Bench was considered the finest offensive catcher until Piazza came along; he's at 126 for his career. 

You can spend forever trying to find a catcher with better offensive numbers than Piazza. No one is close.

Piazza's defense was generally solid, notwithstanding the difficulty he had throwing out runners.  But to put that in perspective, consider that he threw out 23 percent of would-be basestealers, while Berra threw out 49 percent. The difference between these two numbers, over the duration of Berra's career, is a total of 191 bases. Piazza easily bests Berra in all offensive categories, though: his edge in home runs (427 to 358) alone is worth 252 bases.

According to Nate Silver's analysis, 46 percent of those voters who didn't vote for Barry Bonds (a fine shorthand for voters making an effort not to vote for steroid users) didn't vote for Piazza.

Harder to explain is the fact that only 82 percent of those voters who did include Bonds also had Piazza.

Justifying this requires accounting by methods such as Ken Davidoff's: he put Kenny Lofton on his ballot, but not Piazza, using Lofton's totals in approximately 1,500 more plate appearances to give Lofton the edge. Never mind that Lofton played center field, while Piazza played catcher, two positions with very different impacts on a player's longevity, or that Piazza's edge in O.P.S.+ over Lofton, career, is 143 to 107, roughly the distance between the career offense of Scott Brosius and Rey Ordonez.

So much has been written, with more to come, on the question of admitting some of the game's greatest players and known steroid users. But what about Mike Piazza, arguably the greatest overall catcher ever, who hasn't been credibly accused of a thing?

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