Much like Michael Jordan’s bitter, angry Hall of Fame induction speech in which the second greatest basketball player of all time (Wilt Chamberlain is still number one in my view) felt the need to lash out at those who said he’d never make it, Mike Piazza’s new book “Long Shot” is further proof that overwhelming success does not erase the early trauma of doubt. Piazza’s thoroughly enjoyable book is nothing like Jordan’s ugly speech, but Piazza does admit “I played with a chip on my shoulder, and admittedly — unapologetically — I’m writing with one, too.”
The book is almost shocking in its brutal honesty; Piazza does not try to sugarcoat his career. He admits to sometimes being a selfish ballplayer, not such a great teammate and aloof with the media. He deserves much credit for not writing a self-serving autobiography as many people do.
The chip on his shoulder emerged, of course, from Piazza being drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round, hence the title of the book. It was done as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, who was pals with Piazza’s father, and who was not, as is often claimed, Mike Piazza’s godfather. The Dodgers had little faith in Piazza’s talents, but he managed to power his way through the minors and eventually win over his skeptics.
But Mike Piazza writes that despite his prowess as a hitter, he never felt accepted by the Dodgers; he always felt they looked at him as that 62nd round draft pick and not the All-Star that he became. The theme of acceptance runs throughout the entire book.
There are two other themes throughout — Piazza defending his catching abilities, and steroids.
Ask anyone about Mike Piazza and they will likely say “Great hitter, lousy catcher.” Piazza goes to great lengths to disprove that. Piazza admits his ability to throw out runners was not great, especially late in his career. But he insists that he called a good game and was excellent at blocking the ball on errant pitches, thus helping his team and being a good defensive catcher. He says his catching ERA (whatever that is) was above the league average. I don’t disagree with that assessment. Yes, his throwing was awful during his time with the Mets, but otherwise I always thought he was perfectly serviceable.
Mike Piazza begins addressing the steroid issue early, and in my opinion, quite cleverly. He says he started developing back acne after he made the golf team in high school, caused by the strap of his golf bag. He writes that the straps from his catching gear did the same thing. Back acne is one of the side effects of steroid use, and this revelation helps offset one writer’s “proof” that Piazza used PEDs because he had back acne.
Piazza denies any and all steroid use. He does admit to using androstenedione, the so called steroids precursor made famous when a jar of it was found in Mark McGwire’s locker during his home run chase of 1998. Piazza says andro was part of the “Monster Pak” of supplements he picked up at his local GNC store. Piazza writes that even though andro was not banned by baseball at that time, he decided to stop using it because the media made such a big deal about the McGwire affair.
Piazza also says he was intrigued when he learned about HGH. He thought it was just another drug like Vioxx and cortisone that teams would regularly give to players. He writes that he asked the Mets trainer about it, and when he was he told it was considered a controlled substance, Piazza dropped the idea of using it.
He admits to trying amphetamines, pretty much like every other player in baseball. They were not banned until a couple of seasons ago.
I believe Piazza’s denials of PED use. He is so honest in the rest of the book, going so far as telling us that he never dated in high school and lost his virginity at age 21, for example. Why would he lie about steroids? Taking it further, why would he write this book at all if he was going to lie? It’s not like Piazza needs the money or craves the attention; he makes it clear he never particularly liked talking to the media. I fully believe Piazza did not write this book with the intention of lying about anything.
Mike Piazza seems to be a man of integrity. He talks often about his Catholic upbringing and how it has become a major part of his current life. Maybe I’m being naive, but I just really don’t think he is lying.
Piazza does, however, provide ammunition for those who still think he used steroids. He went to college in Miami, which we now know is basically ground zero for PEDs. He played one winter in the Dominican Republic, where steroids are readily available. Piazza hung around body building gyms, an easy place to score PEDs. He used supplements; it’s not a stretch to make the jump from supplements to steroids. But this is all circumstantial stuff. There has never been a definitive link between Mike Piazza and PEDs.
And, of course, there is the fact that a 62nd round draft choice became the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Piazza says he is not a creation of steroids; rather, he is the product of hard work — hitting baseballs in a homemade batting cage until his hands were raw, hitting the gym to get strong, and then hitting more baseballs.
Mike Piazza closes his book by calling his life “an old-fashioned, American-style success story.” I tend to believe him.