If not for a favor to Los Angeles Dodger manager (and family friend) Tommy Lasorda, Mike Piazza would never have been selected in the 1988 baseball draft. As it was, Piazza was the 1,390th overall pick, chosen in the 62nd round. The odds are long even for a 10th round pick. But the 12-time All-Star tells the story of how hard work and determination paid off in spectacular fashion.
Piazza went on to enjoy a 16-year career, most famously with the Dodgers and New York Mets, with brief stops in Florida, San Diego and Oakland before calling it quits in 2007, with the record for most home runs by a catcher, a .300-plus batting average, and, one would have thought, an express ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the first round.
Unfortunately, Piazza had the misfortune to be on the ballot with Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and other players whose statistics have been tainted by accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs. There are those who have raised eyebrows over Piazza’s accomplishments as well, although there has never been any proof and he emphatically has denied taking banned substances. His career, he claims, is based on an unending desire to succeed, hard work and good nutrition.
"[Piazza] comes across as honest, unless one is already predisposed to doubt. Particularly touching are the final chapters, in which Piazza realizes that his career is coming to an end and makes the decision to be all right with that."
That desire was imparted in no small measure from his father Vince, who comes across --- depending on one’s point of view --- as the nightmare Little League parent who demands his child get the best treatment, the star status, and who is not above making a good deal of noise when that doesn’t happen. It brings to mind another overbearing father who drove his son to the big leagues: John Piersall, whose constant demands for perfection drove Jimmy into madness, which was chronicled in the latter’s 1955 autobiography, FEAR STRIKES OUT. Fortunately, Piazza was able to handle the paternal pressure and did “grow up” at a certain point to finally assert his independence at a relatively advanced point of his life.
There are three watershed moments that come to my mind when reviewing Piazza’s career. As a New York Mets fan, they all occurred while he was a member of that team. The first was in July 2000 when he was hit in the head by a Clemens pitch, perhaps in “retaliation” for doing so well against the then-Yankees hurler. That caused a lot of hand-wringing among fans and on the sports pages.
The second event came a few months later in the World Series against the Yankees when Clemens picked up a large piece of Piazza’s bat that had shattered on a swing and threw it at the feet of the baserunner. The final, and most dramatic, was the game-winning home run that Piazza hit against the Atlanta Braves in the first game the Mets played at home following the September 11th attacks.
Piazza relates his emotions for these and other events, aided by the able assistance of Lonnie Wheeler. He comes across as honest, unless one is already predisposed to doubt. Particularly touching are the final chapters, in which Piazza realizes that his career is coming to an end and makes the decision to be all right with that.
There have been comments from various sports pundits and book reviewers that Piazza’s book is self-serving. Well, it is a memoir; what else should it really be? But there are indeed several instances in which Piazza is less than gracious as he parcels out the blame to a few teammates in a way that almost seems like an alibi for some of his own shortcomings. And considering a career in which he averaged 36 home runs, 113 runs, and a .308 batting average, those lapses were relatively few and far between, which makes such remarks all the less charitable.
The book was timed to hit the bookstores after the results of the Hall of Fame voting were announced in early January (none of the ballplayers on the ballot were elected). Despite speculation, there seems to have been nothing in LONG SHOT that would have swayed anyone’s decision. It did, however, give Piazza’s offering a hint of mystery that may translate into increased sales.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on March 8, 2013