As I’ve said many, many times, I have no idea if Jeff Bagwell and/or Mike Piazza ever used performance enhancing drugs. Given the era in which they played and random hearsay which has floated around for years it would not surprise me if they did, but it’s also the case that it would not surprise me if any of their contemporaries did. We don’t know for sure and those who claim to know for sure don’t have enough evidence upon which to hang an actual report.
But one thing that we do know for sure is that the popular narrative which has surrounded Piazza and Bagwell since they became Hall of Fame candidates — that they were no-power jamokes when they were young and that their Hall of Fame-caliber careers came out of a syringe — is a big fat lie.
We know this based on Alex Speier’s story in today’s Boston Globe. There Speier interviewed Ray Fagnant, a Red Sox regional scout who worked with Bagwell when he was a minor league catcher back when Bagwell was in the low minors. He likewise got up close and personal with Piazza in the Florida State League. With both guys, Fagnant says that their power potential was huge and that, even then, they looked like major leaguers in the making.
Two years ago Dan Lewis of Amazin’ Avenue presented even more data on this score, in the form of early scouting reports for a 17-year-old Mike Piazza which, again, showed his clear power potential even at a young age. The bigger takeaway from Lewis’ story, though, is the reminder that the scouting which went into Piazza famously becoming a 62nd round pick was based on him being a poor, right-handed first baseman. A player who profiled like Piazza at the plate but who was a catcher was a 7th round pick. If Piazza had been a catcher then there’s a great chance he goes way earlier in the draft and the “he came out of NOWHERE” narrative that has surrounded his career does not exist.
All of this is information that has been circulating for years, of course. I recall a good bit of this kind of chatter when Bagwell and Piazza were stars and again when their careers wound down. It was forgotten, though, as the more influential columnists of the past decade have concluded that, no, there is NO WAY that Bagwell and Piazza would’ve amounted to anything without PEDs. It’s the ultimate irony, really. The old-line ballwriters were relying on stat lines and projections while ignoring what the scouts had to say.
Again, none of which is to say that Bagwell and Piazza didn’t, at some point in their careers, use PEDs. It simply means that they were not purely chemical creations as is so often claimed. It puts them in the same category as every player of the so-called Steroid Era: the bad ones who took PEDs didn’t suddenly become amazing. The good ones who took PEDs likely would’ve been good without them. A player’s drug use was and remains an ethical consideration on which to chew, but it does not render their on-the-field accomplishments utterly fraudulent.
It may be unfortunate that such a state of affairs robs us of a classic Frankenstein story and those always tasty “good guy/bad guy” narratives, but when the facts trump the narrative, go with the facts.