On Sunday, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed its newest inductees. Two players among the best to ever play their positions. Two players forever tied to the Bay Area and Oakland Athletics.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were welcomed into the hallowed halls of the Cooperstown shrine to baseball lore. While their competitive natures will likely find them debating which is the 311th member, and which is No. 312, their historic careers leave little else to debate.
George Kenneth Griffey Jr. began his story with a double in his very first at-bat, on April 3, 1989.
“The Kid” lined a Dave Stewart 0-1 offering into the left-center-field gap at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. He finished that game, a 3-2 A’s win, going 1-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
In an exact inverse, on Sept. 30, 2007, Michael Joseph Piazza finished his fantastic career with his own opposite-field line-drive knock.
On a 1-0 pitch from Chris Bootcheck, with Oakland tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Piazza finished his career with a single at the then-named McAfee Coliseum as a member of the home team. He would be pinch-run for by Shannon Stewart (no relation to Dave) who was driven in, by Kurt Suzuki, to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Before he put on the green and gold Piazza, who becomes the lowest-drafted Hall of Fame member (62nd round, No. 1,390 in the 1988 draft), had already become the all-time leader for home runs by a catcher (396) in his 15 seasons.
With a career .308/.377/.545 slash, the Norristown, Pennsylvania native finished with 427 homers and 1,335 RBIs. He was the 1993 National League Rookie of the Year, 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger winner. He also finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP race seven times — finishing as high as second twice (1996, ’97).
Spending the first seven of his major league seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Piazza issued massive pain to the San Francisco Giants. In 116 games, the University of Miami product slugged 27 homers and 84 RBIs with a .296 average.
Griffey, the first No. 1 overall selection (1987) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, finished third in the Rookie of the year race in ’89 (Gregg Olson) but did achieve the MVP award that Piazza never did. En route to his only such recognition, “Junior” led the league with 125 runs, 56 home runs, 147 RBIs, slugging percentage (.646) and total bases (393) in 1997.
Over his 22-year-career Griffey slashed .284/.370/.538 with 630 homers (No. 6 all-time) and 1,836 RBIs (No. 15).
In 141 career games against the A’s, he launched 32 homers and drove in 81 runs, though Oakland pitching did hold him to a modest .269 average.
The Cincinnati native, who was drafted out of high school, is also one of just three players ever to win 10 or more Gold Glove Awards (10, 1990-99) and hit 500-plus home runs. One of those men being Philadelphia Phillies great Mike Schmidt (10, 548).
The other, though, may be the only who can lay claim to being his superior on the list of all-time outfielder. And the historic Giant Willie Mays (12, 660) is the man to whom many compared a young Griffey.
While there are many certainties to his career, there is one huge question — what if?
His all-out style of play on both the defensive and offensive ends resulted in injuries that took more than 700 games from Griffey’s career — many of which coming in his age-31 to -34 seasons.
At 30, he hit 40 homer with 118 RBIs in 145 games. If he had averaged those numbers in the approximate 4-1/2 seasons he missed due to injury, the all-time Seattle Mariner would have ascended even farther up the statistical leader-boards. His presumed 810 home runs would put him 48 above home-run king Barry Bonds, and 2,367 RBIs 70 ahead of career RBI leader Hank Aaron.
With 437 of 440 votes (99.32 percent), Griffey is also the closest ever to a “unanimous Hall-of-Famer.” Piazza received 365 (82.95 percent).
True treasures of the game, and its storied history, Cooperstown’s newest members join 24 who don Giants hats and 10 who represent the A’s.