On Wednesday, another member of the Oakland A's family was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame when Mike Piazza received 83 percent of the vote. Piazza played for the A's in 2007, appearing in 83 games as a DH and pinch-hitter.
Of course, Piazza isn't exactly famous for his time in Oakland. Even I sometimes forget it happened. The A's had just ridden a resurgent 38-year-old Frank Thomas to the 2006 ALCS, and they tried to repeat that strategy the next year using Piazza as the bounce-back slugger. He had just knocked 22 homers with a 122 OPS+ for the Padres at age 37, so he seemed like a solid gamble even though his price ($8.5M) wasn't the same bargain Thomas' had been ($500K plus incentives). Unfortunately, rather than repeating Thomas' success, Piazza missed two months with a separated shoulder and graded out as a below-average hitter for the green and gold (95 OPS+).
But so what? He still played for the A's. There are pictures and box scores and everything to prove it. He started as the DH 71 times, and he came off the bench to pinch-hit in another dozen contests. He had highlights like that time he homered against the Angels, or that other time he homered against the Angels -- four of his eight dingers for Oakland came against our SoCal rival.
Sure, he played for four other teams, for whom he added 419 homers and became the greatest-hitting catcher in history. He made his name as a Rookie of the Year and perennial MVP candidate for the Dodgers; played five games for the post-firesale Marlins before being flipped in another trade; led the Mets to a World Series appearance; and hit his 400th homer in a Padres uniform. But at the end of it all, he retired as an Oakland Athletic, and Oakland will be listed on his plaque.
Coincidentally, the last Athletics player to be elected to the HOF was Thomas, who sealed his case with that MVP-level performance in 2006 and then retired with Oakland after his return in 2008. Long-time manager Tony La Russa went in at the same time as Thomas two years ago. Each of them played much bigger roles in A's lore, but Piazza isn't alone as an all-time great who ended his career with a relatively meaningless stint in Oakland -- Joe Morgan and Billy Williams each did the same, while Orlando Cepeda, Goose Gossage, Willie McCovey, and Don Sutton each breezed through town in their later years. (Perhaps Tim Raines can join that list next year.) Dick Williams only spent three seasons managing the A's (of 21 total), but he did earn both of his World Series titles here. The rest of Oakland's HOF legacy is listed on the tarps in the upper deck: Rickey, Eck, Rollie, Catfish, and Reggie.
There's one other aspect of Piazza's election that interests me. As near as I can tell, he is the first player to beat PED accusations on his way to making the Hall. There have been a few other inductees who starred in the Steroid Era (Thomas, Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr, and the three big Braves pitchers, to name a few), but none of them had any kind of stink around them at all. But someone saw acne on Piazza's back, and that was enough for many witch hunters to suspect him as a user despite not a shred of other evidence other than his muscles and the fact that he had started as an unheralded 62nd-round draft pick. It's a far cry from an undisputed juicer like Barry Bonds gaining enshrinement (or our own Mark McGwire), but at least it's a step in what I believe is the right direction (that is, a step toward preserving baseball history in the baseball history museum). That could be good news for Jeff Bagwell, who has been similarly accused without any evidence; Bags was only 15 votes shy this time (71.6%) and now seems like a shoo-in for next year.
To wrap up, we simply must mention Ken Griffey Jr. He starred for Oakland's division rival for over a decade, and growing up in the 90s I remember being in awe of him. Yes, I wore my cap backward because he did. Junior stole the show on Wednesday by breaking two voting records: His 99.3 percent of the vote exceeded Tom Seaver's record (98.8), and his omission from only three of the 440 ballots beat Ty Cobb's record of being left off of only four (back when there were only half as many voters). Granted, this may have been partly a matter of circumstance, as this was the first election after the Hall cut out around 100 of its least-relevant voters. Perhaps the newly streamlined electorate included fewer folks who won't vote for any first-time candidates, or who send in blank ballots as protests, and Griffey was simply the first consensus guy on the ballot since that change. But we'll have to wait and see how the next few elections go to test that theory, so let's save that discussion for another day and just congratulate Griffey on an amazing achievement.
Congrats to Piazza and Griffey on their well-earned honors!