Baseball: Piazza book a bizarre page-turner
There’s always a danger when a former athlete sets himself down, pen in hand, and bares his soul.
Some get it right in tomes that can be revealing, even therapeutic. My personal favorite is Andre Agassi’s admission in his autobiography that he dabbled in methamphetamine, hated the sport that made him a star, and was depressed during his short-lived marriage to Brooke Shields.
And the iconic hair that cascaded out from his sweat band in a mullet that wouldn’t quit? A wig, sorry to say.
Other books aren’t quite as forthcoming. Marion Jones told us all about winning five golds in Sydney, but neglected to add the part about being juiced while she ran past everyone.
Lance Armstrong had similar issues. He wrote two books, both inspiring tales of how he defied all odds to overcome cancer and become the best bicycle rider ever.
They were best sellers, even though they were filled with lies. Unfortunately for Armstrong, the same readers who bought his story are now suing him in federal court for fraud and false advertising.
And then there’s Mike Piazza. He, too, denies he was a cheat and until there is hard evidence to indicate otherwise, I guess we have to accept at face value that his 427 career home runs were legitimate.
Some Hall of Fame voters apparently don’t, which is a big reason why Piazza didn’t make it on his first turn on the ballot. The rejection surely stung since Piazza makes it clear in his book “Long Shot” that getting in the Hall would be the ultimate vindication of his life and career.
Piazza says he never used steroids. But he does admit to using just about everything else, including androstenedione, amphetamines, Creatine, ephedra and a type of asthma medicine that made him more alert and focused.
It’s all there in a bizarre book that does nothing to make Piazza even remotely interesting or likable. If anything, he looks like a fool in spots — training with a karate instructor in case of a fight with Roger Clemens.
Mostly, though, Piazza comes off as petty, vindictive and unbelievably thin-skinned. The overriding theme is that even though he was a child of privilege and Tommy Lasorda (a friend of his dad’s) looked out for his career, it was pure hard work and determination that got him to the top.
And it all somehow happened despite everyone from his first minor league manager to Vin Scully being against him.
Fair enough, a guy’s entitled to his own opinion. But when he tries to blame Scully for turning the fans of Los Angeles against him, the book went from simply self-serving into a paranoid kind of fantasyland inhabited only by ex-stars.
At issue was a 1998 spring training interview where the venerable Dodgers broadcaster asked Piazza about giving the team a deadline for signing him to a long-term contract. It was all quite innocuous, with Scully actually offering Piazza a chance to look good and the catcher responding with typical jock generalities.
It ended with Scully complimenting Piazza, saying his response was “well said.” Somehow, though, Piazza sees it differently.
“The fans of Los Angeles were beating me up on a daily basis,” he wrote. “On top of that, Vin Scully was crushing me.”
Apparently Piazza also believes Scully tipped the 1996 MVP award to Ken Caminiti by praising him too much on his broadcasts.
This is where I have my own confession to make: I grew up listening to Scully, and I’ve been in the booth with him at Dodger Stadium before games listening to him talk baseball and tell stories. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him knock a player or a coach.
He’s not just an 85-year-old gem who means more to baseball than 10 Mike Piazzas ever will, he’s aghast anyone would think he goes around bad-mouthing players.
“I can’t imagine saying something about a player and his contract,” Scully told the Los Angeles Times. “I just don’t do that, ever. I’m really flabbergasted by that reference.”
If there’s another theme in the book, it’s that Piazza doesn’t believe he was ever appreciated enough for what he did on the baseball field. Yes, he became incredibly wealthy and women chased him and teammate Eric Karros down freeways after games, but LA fans, in particular, never seemed to embrace him.
He believes he was snubbed for many awards because he didn’t show up at a dinner after being voted Rookie of the Year in 1993. And then, of course, his New York Mets teammates badmouthed him for staying in the game past his prime just to get more home runs.
It’s truly strange stuff. Then again we’re dealing with someone whose father wouldn’t let him eat candy or play the trombone as a kid because it might have interfered with his batting-cage sessions.
It’s not until the last few pages that Piazza is most candid.
“I fully realize that I’ve alienated plenty of people over the years,” he writes.
On that we can agree. The difference is that it makes no sense to keep alienating them today.