Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday two of the greatest players of the 1990s and 2000s will honored in Cooperstown as Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza become the 311th and 312th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Some years there are borderline inductees. There is nothing borderline about either Griffey or Piazza. Not in the voting — Griffey received an all-time high 99.3% of the vote in his first time on the ballot — and certainly not on the merits. Indeed, these two were two of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field.

Griffey was, for a good time in the 1990s, considered the best player in the game by the public at large. And he had a good argument for it. He was a perennial Gold Glove winner and the MVP in 1997, though any of his seasons between, say, 1993 and 1999 wouldn’t have caused anyone to bat an eye if you told them that the man who posted them won the award. He had an even 1.000 OPS in those seven seasons and averaged 44 homers a year. That’s not just a Hall of Fame peak, that’s an inner-circle Hall of Fame peak.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season and, from that point on, his story changed. He was hurt a lot. He was bypassed by several others as the best hitter in the game. And, with the exception of one late-career cameo appearance on the 2008 Chicago White Sox, he never saw the postseason again. Still, his years in Cincinnati were good, even if they paled compared to his peak. In his eight full seasons there he put up a line of .273/.363/.524, which is nothing at all to sneeze at, even if his 1990s performance made it seem like something of a disappointment at the time.

In some ways, however, the timing of his relative decline helped burnish the narrative about his career. Most of those who eclipsed Griffey — Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez chief among them — became the poster children for PEDs. Griffey, meanwhile, was never ensnared in such controversy and many used his decline and his injuries as an example of the price a great player pays for choosing not to cheat. There are a lot of contradictions and assumed facts in that narrative, of course. Oftentimes, when convenient, a player suffering many injuries is cited as evidence that he did take PEDs. And, of course, we do not know every player who did and did not take them.  Those assumptions, however, and the particular politics of PEDs among baseball writers and Hall of Fame voters have an awful lot to do with Griffey’s 99.3% vote total.

Piazza was never credibly accused of taking PEDs yet the assumption by some that he did kept him on the ballot a few more years than he should’ve been. When you put that stuff aside, however, all you can see is one of the greatest catchers of all time.

His story is well-known by now: a 62nd round draft choice no one thought would do much who, inexplicably, burst onto the scene hitting way above .300 with prodigious power. That’s some myth-making too, of course. Many did see a lot in Piazza, including Ted Williams, who saw him when he was a teenager and said he’d be a star. The biggest reason Piazza went in the 62nd round was that, when he was scouted, he was playing first base. Poorly. And, since he is right-handed, that profiled even worse. Scouting reports at the time said, as a hitter only, he was a 7th round pick. If anyone had seen him as decent catcher then he’d probably go higher than even that. As such, that “he came out of NOWHERE” narrative was not really accurate. Early in his career that narrative helped his image as a hard-worker. Later in his career and in his first couple of times on the ballot that narrative fueled PED innuendo.

Expectations aside, his performance was his performance and it was spectacular. A line of .308/.377/.545 and 427 homers would have, in fact, carried the career of a poor-fielding first baseman, but Piazza stuck behind the plate while putting up MVP numbers in the batters box for virtually his entire career. The list of his actual peers include Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and . . . well, no one else. At least not really. There are a lot of things still left to sort out about the Hall of Fame voting for players in the 1990s and 2000s, but Piazza being on the outside looking in was one of the most perverse things going.

Beyond those two, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy will be on the stage to accept the 2016 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. Graham McNamee will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Barring a seance he will not be making any speeches given that he died 74 years ago.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.