Mike Piazza’s Long Shot

Mike Piazza’s autobiography Long Shot is a fascinating, candid, at times disturbing book. It is a true autobiography, covering his entire life up through the publication of the book in detail. Here are a few thoughts on what stood out to me.

I found the first part of the book boring because I was reading it for the details about Piazza’s baseball career, not his childhood, but I was intrigued to find that as a result of his upbringing Piazza is a staunch Catholic, which helps to explain his conservative political views.

The center of the book about Piazza’s time as a major leaguer is its strength. He writes knowledgeably about the game and gives the inside story of such famous events as his beaning by Roger Clemens and his feud with Guillermo Mota. He admits that he should have charged Clemens when Clemens threw a bat fragment at him in game 2 of the 2000 World Series, but he was worried about getting suspended (238).

Piazza also discusses the steroids issue, remaining adamant that he never took them and offering a number of reasons aside from PEDs that there was a home run boom in the 1990s. I view Piazza as a sort of canary down the mineshaft in terms of how Hall of Fame voters will treat power hitters from the steroid era. He is suspect because everyone from that era is suspect, but if he gets elected it will show that voters are willing to consider each player on an individual basis rather than painting the entire era with a wide brush.

Piazza reiterates his desire to wear a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque should he be elected, saying that he would rather wear no logo than the Dodgers logo because of the acrimonious ending to his time with the team (344). One could make a case for either team, but the combination of the facts that he played more games for the Mets than Dodgers, went to his only World Series as a Met, had more home runs and RBI as a Met, and prefers to be enshrined as a Met is a compelling argument that he should go in with an NY on his cap. I was surprised at how genuinely reflective Piazza is about his place in baseball history. He makes a compelling case for himself as the best offensive catcher in history and as an underrated defender. He is at his best when talking about baseball.

But there are two places in the book where Piazza’s conservative views cause him to come off as an idiot. The first is in his treatment of questions that were raised about his sexual orientation. While he never actually says that this kerfuffle bothered him because he viewed being gay as an insult, it is clear in the way he spends so much time protesting about it that this is how he feels. He says that he was bothered by the idea that people viewed him as dishonest because he claims he would never hide a part of himself (which, judging from the honest tone throughout the book, is fair), but doesn’t ever make the necessary statement that it is okay for people to be gay, or that he wouldn’t mind having a gay teammate (262). Also, when he mentions Belle and Sebastian’s song “Piazza, New York Catcher,” which asks at one point “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?,” he does not seem to realize that the song is actually a paean to him (263). For instance, the line “the catcher bats .318 and catches every day,” an incredible statistic, and one that is made even more incredible by the fact that Piazza hit higher than .318 in seven different seasons (he hit .318 in his first full season when he won the Rookie of the Year), shows that the song is interested in examining all of Piazza, not just the controversies that surrounded him.

Piazza’s second objectionable stance is his dislike of Latino players. Aside from the culturally insensitive argument that Spanish-speaking players should all learn English (which he argues Asian players are exempt from, and in this inconsistency shows his specific bias toward Latinos), he goes so far as to claim that Latino players actively conspired against him throughout his career (307-8)! This is racist paranoia, plain and simple. Piazza makes the mistake of projecting his dislike of a few individual Latino players (e.g., Mota) onto the entire group as a whole. He complains about negative Italian stereotypes earlier in the book (94), but doesn’t see that he is guilty of perpetuating the same offense toward Latinos.

Overall, the book is worth reading for all serious baseball fans because it attempts to be thoughtful about a number of important baseball-related issues and, aside from the two major, major failures at this which I have just mentioned, generally succeeds. There is a generous section of photos in the middle of the book, and also a thorough index, which is rare for sports autobiographies. As a Mets fan, I have always been a Piazza fan. Reading this book made me even more convinced of his greatness as a player, while at the same time making me like him a lot less as a person. Before I thought that I would definitely attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but now I am not so sure.

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