Today’s specious anti-Mike Piazza-for-the-Hall-Fame argument

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Bill Madden of the Daily News took part in a Hall of Fame roundtable with two of his fellow Daily News scribes. Here is how he dismisses Mike Piazza, the best hitting catcher of all time:

But even though he never tested positive, Piazza has not been able to escape the suspicion of steroids. Some people have suggested the presence of acne on his back − and then the absence of it after baseball started testing − as sufficient proof. I don’t know from acne. But what is evident is that, beginning in 2003 when baseball had its experimental testing, is when Piazza’s career began bottoming out and he started getting injuries.

He has a point. In his age 34 season his performance absolutely plummeted, dropping down 50 points in batting average, another 50 points in OBP and about 100 points in slugging. What’s more, he couldn’t be counted on as a regular catcher anymore, and they began what, ultimately, was a failed experiment to turn him into a corner infielder. It was just a train wreck.

Oh, wait. I’m sorry. What I just described was what happened to Johnny Bench in his age 34 season. Piazza didn’t dip nearly as badly when he turned 34 and he had at least three or four more productive seasons. Bench was busted and done and retired a year later when he was 35.

But please, Mr. Madden. Tell us more about all the Hall of Fame catchers who remained elite in their mid-to-late 30s.

Obviously what’s going on here is Madden knocking Piazza because he strongly believes he used PEDs. Except he doesn’t feel comfortable saying so, so he invents some statistical oddity that isn’t there in order to justify it. Never mind that Madden and his friends just as often look to mid-30s improvements as evidence of PED use, even after 2003. If you’re Roger Clemens and you get better in your 30s, it’s because you took drugs. If you’re Mike Piazza and you got worse in your 30s, it’s because you took drugs.

Just be honest, guys. Say you think Piazza was a ‘roider. Don’t pussyfoot around and make up garbage about their stats. Just say: “I’ve never had enough evidence to print it, but I think he juiced.” Sure, I’d still criticize you for that, but at least it would be based on our fundamental differences and not your inability to be honest about what you believe. To thine own self be true, dudes.

But mostly be true to the hundreds of players this kind of talk smears. Mike Piazza, ultimately, is not hurt by any of this. He’s rich, famous, presumably happy and will probably make the Hall of Fame one day.

But by creating bogus statistical arguments like this, a lot of players who aren’t in Piazza’s shoes end up getting smeared, simply because their career may look “odd” to someone. With “odd” being defined just as poorly as Madden’s take on Piazza’s career is defined above. Which is to say, everyone can be so smeared if one looks hard enough and thinks lazily or sinisterly enough. You want to go after a guy? I’m sure you can find SOMETHING or, more to the point, you can characterize something as PED-fueled.

I have no idea if Mike Piazza took PEDs. Indeed, simply being aware of baseball history from the 1990s and 2000s means that, by definition, one should not be shocked to learn that any player took them. Skinny guys AND muscular guys took PEDs. Home run hitters AND punch-and-judy hitters. Junkballers AND fireballers. Phenoms AND late-bloomers. Good players and bad.

If you think Mike Piazza did too, fine. Say so. But quit creating specious arguments to make the case your reporting can’t or won’t make for you.