Tag Archives: Mike Piazza

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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Books Acquired Recently: Strand Edition

I spent a few days this week in New York City, which of course involved my usual trip to the Strand. I have been shopping at the Strand since 2002, and it always brings me joy even though their renovations over the past decade have taken away some of the store’s character. But I was able to recognize a few of the workers who have been there since I first began going, and I love that feeling of continuity.

There are only a few weeks left before the beginning of the new semester, so I probably won’t read many of these books for a while (I hope some of them aren’t still sitting on my to-read shelf when next summer rolls around!), but they were all irresistible.

Acker, Kathy. Blood and Guts in High School. New York: Grove, 1978.

—. In Memoriam to Identity. New York: Grove, 1990.

—. Literal Madness: Three Novels: Kathy Goes to Haiti, My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Florida. New York: Grove, 1987.

I love Acker’s work, and her books are hard to find in stores so it was a no-brainer to buy these three, which were all in almost perfect condition.

Ballard, J.G. The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard. 1978. New York: Picador, 1995.

Ballard is a writer who, like Acker, always makes me see so-called taboo subjects in a new light. I’ve been wanting to read more of his work for a while.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 2006. Boston: Mariner, 2007.

I really enjoy Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip, and have read excellent reviews of Fun Home.

Houellebecq, Michel. The Map and the Territory. Trans. Gavin Bowd. 2011. New York: Vintage, 2012.

I first bought one of Houellebecq’s books the last time I was at the Strand and really enjoyed it. I almost bought The Map and the Territory when it first came out in hardcover, and found the paperback for a good price.

Munro, Alice. Dear Life. 2012. New York: Vintage, 2013.

This is another recent book that I nearly bought in hardcover when it first was released. I’ve read several of its stories in the New Yorker and really enjoyed them.

Piazza, Mike, with Lonnie Wheeler. Long Shot. New York: Simon, 2013.

As a serious Met fan it was only a matter of time before I bought this book. I got a used copy in excellent condition for half the cover price.

Wallace, David Foster. Both Flesh and Not: Essays. New York: Little, 2012.

—. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. 2005. New York: Back Bay, 2007.

—. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. 1997. New York: Back Bay, 1998.

I adore Wallace’s fiction and have been wanting to read more of his nonfiction. I’ve read a lot about Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Both Flesh and Not is a recent collection of Wallace’s nonfiction that did not make it into either of his collections while he was still alive.

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Visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame

Today I visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for the first time since my eighth birthday. I don’t remember much about the museum itself from that visit, only that I had a milkshake for the first time ever. I loved them immediately and actually had three that day–two chocolate and one chocolate chocolate-chip. I also remember being surprised and disappointed that there were no fast food chains in town because I was wanting to have lunch at McDonald’s and supper at Wendy’s (how said that I had already been trained to assume that these chains were ubiquitous!). There are still no chain restaurants along Cooperstown’s main strip, which now makes me happy.

The "Jumbo Burger" and  chocolate milkshake from the Cooperstown Diner. I got a chocolate shake for old times' sake even though now I prefer vanilla when drinking one with a meal.

The “Jumbo Burger” and chocolate milkshake from the Cooperstown Diner. I got a chocolate shake for old times’ sake even though now I prefer vanilla when drinking one with a meal.

Anyway, it was good to get back to see the artifacts. Both Cooperstown and the Hall itself were packed because it is prime tourist season, and I saw many families with children who looked about the age I was on my first visit. It pleases me that the ritual of visiting is one that continues through the generations. Many people were wearing gear from their favorite teams, which was also neat. It gave the town a central meeting-place kind of vibe; we all had our individual allegiances, but ultimately we have our love of the game to unify us. I was planning to buy a new Mets cap, and was happy to find one for only $9.95 at one of the numerous shops selling sports memorabilia.

There are a number of players that I think deserve to be in the Hall of Fame that are not (Mike Piazza, Pete Rose [even if he did bet on baseball], Craig Biggio, Keith Hernandez…), and visiting did not make me change my mind about any of the players that I just mentioned, but reading through the amazing statistical achievements on the plaques of those who are members did make me feel that the Hall should be more exclusive than I’ve wanted it to be in the past.

Me in front of the Hall. I'm wearing my Keith Hernandez shirt because he should be a member.

Me in front of the Hall. I’m wearing my Keith Hernandez shirt because he should be a member.

Here are some of the photographs I took during my visit, most of them Mets-related:

An old Wrigley's gum ad. Who knew that chewing Wrigley's "gives an added firmness--a vigor, to the whole body"?

An old Wrigley’s gum ad. Who knew that chewing Wrigley’s “gives an added firmness–a vigor, to the whole body”?

Tom Seaver's plaque.

Tom Seaver’s plaque.

The Tom Seaver display.

The Tom Seaver display.

Nolan Ryan's plaque. Seven no-hitters! Unbelievable.

Nolan Ryan’s plaque. Seven no-hitters! Unbelievable.

Gary Carter's plaque. R.I.P.

Gary Carter’s plaque. R.I.P.

A close-up of Gary Carter's plaque detailing his importance to the 1986 Mets.

A close-up of Gary Carter’s plaque detailing his importance to the 1986 Mets.

Long-time Met broadcaster Bob Murphy's plaque in the broadcaster's wing.

Long-time Met broadcaster Bob Murphy’s plaque in the broadcaster’s wing.

Casey Stengel's retired number from Shea Stadium.

Casey Stengel’s retired number from Shea Stadium.

A portrait of Tom Seaver (as a Red, alas) by Andy Warhol.

A portrait of Tom Seaver (as a Red, alas) by Andy Warhol.

The Mets 1969 World Series ring.

The Mets 1969 World Series ring.

The Mets 1986 World Series ring.

The Mets 1986 World Series ring.

A sign celebrating Jesse Orosco's record for games pitched.

A sign celebrating Jesse Orosco’s record for games pitched.

Two members of the Mets current broadcasting team in the baseball card section.

Two members of the Mets current broadcasting team in the baseball card section.

A display celebrating Pete Rose's all-time hits record. At least the Hall acknowledges his existence.

A display celebrating Pete Rose’s all-time hits record. At least the Hall acknowledges his existence.

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Brief Thoughts on the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced today that no new members were elected from the players’ ballot. Jonah Keri has an excellent column here about why this result is ridiculous, but not catastrophic. As a Mets fan, I was all ready to write an outraged post if Mike Piazza didn’t get elected, but since no one else got elected, either, I can’t really complain.

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