Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza elected to baseball's Hall of Fame

NEW YORK — Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Wednesday with the highest voting percentage ever, and Mike Piazza will join him in Cooperstown this summer.

A star slugger of an era often defined by the use of performance-enhancing drugs who was never accused of drug use, Griffey was on 437 of 440 votes in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. His 99.3 percentage topped the mark of 98.84 set when Tom Seaver appeared on 425 of 430 ballots in 1992.

There had been speculation Griffey would become the first unanimous selection.

"I can't be upset. It's just an honor to be elected and to have the highest percentage is definitely a shock," Griffey said on a conference call.

Griffey was known simply as "Junior" by many as a contrast to his father, three-time All-Star outfielder Ken Griffey, who played alongside him in Seattle during 1990 and '91. The younger Griffey became a 13-time All-Star outfielder and finished with 630 homers, which is sixth on the career list. After reaching the major leagues in 1989, he was selected for 11 consecutive All-Star Games in 1990.

Now, he's headed to Cooperstown.

"In case you don't know, I'm really superstitious. I've played in the Hall of Fame game three times and I've never set foot in the building. I've never even seen the front of it," Griffey said. "The one time I wanted to go in there, I wanted to be a member."

Griffey played the game with an unbridled joy and playfulness, embodied in the trademark backward cap he wore before games.

"Juniors ball cap has to be backwards on his plaque right?" Nationals slugger Bryce Harper tweeted.

His father remembered when his son was a kid, before he became the Kid, running around the Reds clubhouse with the sons of other players like Tony Perez and Pete Rose.

And, of course, wearing his dad's hat backward in order to see.

"You're talking about a kid 7, 8, 9 years old and his thinking was, 'I can't see to catch the ball, I got to do something to make this hat fit.' So he just turned it around backward and he got used to doing that," Griffey Sr. recalled.

"He would come in all the time and turn it around backward just to play catch. And that's what was the funny part. A lot of people didn't understand it. … He never disrespected the game. This was a game he knew and he loved and he enjoyed playing."

After falling 28 shy last year, Piazza received 365 votes in his fourth time on the ballot and will be inducted along with Griffey on July 24.

"Incredibly special. Wow," Piazza said on a call with MLB Network. "I sat here with my mouth on the floor."

Piazza powered past steroids suspicions — none of them supported by direct evidence — to complete an improbable journey that propelled him from amateur afterthought to the greatest hitting catcher the game has ever seen.

"It's just been an amazing run for me," Piazza said. "What an amazing life that I've had in baseball and the memories to me, I just almost can't capture."

Griffey became the first No. 1 overall pick to make the Hall of Fame since the amateur draft began in 1965. Piazza established a polar-opposite mark that may never be approached.

Until now, the lowest draft pick in the Hall was pitcher John Smoltz, selected on the 22nd round in 1985 and enshrined just last year.

Piazza was the 1,390th player chosen in 1988, long before the draft was shortened to its current length of 40 rounds. Now, he's one of 17 catchers in Cooperstown.

"It crystallizes how special this game is, in a sense," Piazza said. "That you can have two guys go into the Hall such as Ken Griffey Jr. and myself, from opposite ends of the spectrum. You know, there's so many opportunities in this game that you can sort of find a role and be an underdog."

A player needs 75 percent to gain election, and first baseman Jeff Bagwell missed by 15 votes and leftfielder Tim Raines by 23. Closer Trevor Hoffman, on the ballot for the first time, was 34 short.

The vote total dropped by 109 from last year because writers who have not been active for 10 years lost their votes under new rules.

There were significant increases for a pair of stars accused of steroid use. Roger Clemens rose to 45 percent and Barry Bonds to 44 percent, both up from about 37 percent last year.

Mark McGwire, who admitted using steroids, received 12 percent in his 10th and final ballot appearance.

"They were Hall of Famers before all this stuff started," Griffey said on MLB Network.

Curt Schilling rose from 39 percent to 52, Edgar Martinez from 27 percent to 43 and Mike Mussina from 25 percent to 43.

Piazza and Bagwell were drawn into the steroids controversy by some who pointed to their powerful physiques, but both have denied using them, and no substantive accusations have been made.

Bagwell and Raines — who took a big jump from 55 percent to 69.8 percent in his ninth, and next-to-last, time on the ballot — should have an easier time getting in next year. Leading the first-timers are Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, who was twice suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.

Alan Trammell received 41 percent in his final appearance.

   
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