By: Paul DiSclafani
I admit it, I’m a Mets fan and having Mike Piazza in the Hall of Fame makes me more proud that I thought possible.
This article is not about statistics or steroids or who should be or who should not be in the Hall of Fame. It’s about one of the great players of this great game, a player truly deserving of the honor of being in the Hall of Fame.
Piazza was a player whose statistics were arguably good enough for him to be considered as one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. He was a power hitting catcher no doubt, a career .303 hitter, when all was said and done.
But this was more about the type of player he was. He respected this great game and never took anything for granted.
You are going to (or already have) read a lot of stories about Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr being elected to the Hall of Fame today. They will spout their statistics and talk about percentages and other facts. I don’t think I can add anything to that conversation.
I thought I would tell you about what it was like to actually visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
You will be reading a lot about players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose not being in the Hall of Fame and why some of baseball’s greatest All-Time performers deserve to be enshrined. Much of what you read is probably written by authors that have never actually been to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think you can understand what it means to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame unless you have actually been there.
If you have been to the Hall of Fame, you understand the importance of this shrine and its place in baseball history. All of those players’ mentioned above have their accomplishments and achievements in the Hall of Fame and are properly displayed and honored, as they should.
But should players who took steroids to enhance their performance or players who broke the one cardinal rule everyone agrees to (no gambling) be enshrined? Should players that had so little respect for themselves, the fans, their opponents or the game itself be rewarded with the ultimate honor?
The players honored with enshrinement had great careers statistically, but they were honored also for what they brought to the game and how they conducted themselves during their entire career – with their teammates, the media and the fans. Let’s save that argument for another time, shall we?
The last time I went to the Hall of Fame, about 13 years ago, I took my teenage son. The Hall was undergoing renovations at the time and some of the exhibits were closed or combined with others, but it was a great experience. We marveled at the Hall of Records and the great displays of players and their accomplishments. Seeing what players have done and recalling feats that you have been able to witness or be a part of was thrilling and humbling. To be able to share those moments and memories with your children is beyond priceless.
The exhibits are colorful and stimulating while the loud chatter all around you and the excitement of the other visitors was infectious. It is a great experience that kept me smiling the entire time.
But when you enter the Great Hall, everything changes. It’s quiet and solemn. There are muted conversations going on. You can hear foot steps echoing in the huge hall. Everything has slowed to a crawl and all the visitors are having the same experience as you, only now it is personal. It is no longer interactive. It is a place to quietly reflect on the truly great players of the game. As you saunter up to the individual plaques, you want to take the time to read every one of them.
And there are plenty of players you may not really know about, but each player’s plaque tells a different story. No two plaques are alike. You begin to understand that baseball isn’t always about home runs and strikeouts. It isn’t always about winning and losing either. It truly is about how you represented the game.
The players that have been honored (less than 1% of all baseball players get enshrined in The Great Hall) had careers that we all could be proud of. They represented the best the game could be and they respected not only the history of the game, but the future of the game.
As we walked past and read some of the plaques, I pointed out some of the players I remembered seeing and added what little vignettes I could to the engravings on their plaques. I don’t think my son at that time knew what a great ballplayer Ralph Kiner was, only that he was a goofy Mets announcer.
Then we came upon Tom Seaver’s plaque. This was my hero, my favorite baseball player, this was my youth. I had read the engraving on his plaque a number of times from afar – pictures, stories in the newspaper, someone even bought me a souvenir postcard of his plaque when they visited. But never in The Great Hall, never in that spot. Seaver’s plaque was not just surrounded by the All-Time great players of baseball, it was a part of the All-Time players.
As I stood in front of it and quietly read it aloud, I was overcome with the emotion of that moment. How silly is it for a grown man to be quietly weeping and so overcome by emotion that he can barely speak – over a baseball player?
Feeling slightly embarrassed, I took a look around to see if anyone was looking at me and noticed something quite unusual. There were other adults sniffling and looking like they were holding back their emotions. It was at that moment that I realized this game of baseball was more about life than anything else.
We are baseball fans and have spent a good portion of our young adult life following these players and living vicariously through them. Unless you are a true baseball fan, you can never understand the bond between this game and us.
But these players enshrined in The Great Hall did. They embodied this great game and very rarely took it for granted. There seemed to be pride in putting on that uniform and representing their team – our team.
Baseball players will always tell you this is a humbling game, but each and every player elected to the Hall of Fame says the same thing – they are truly humbled and honored.
Now Mike Piazza joins the ranks and will be enshrined in The Great Hall later this year. His plaque will join the others. He gave us one of the great baseball moments of all time – hitting that home run during the first baseball game played in New York City after the 9/11 attacks. That one moment brought this great City back to life and allowed not only New York, but this great country, to begin to return to normal life again. It took a baseball game to get things started back in the right direction.
I can’t wait to get back to Cooperstown again later this year. I want to go back to The Great Hall with my adult kids this time and read those great plaques again, including Tom Seaver’s. And it will be a special moment when I approach Mike Piazza’s plaque for the first time and see that great smile again, wearing a Mets cap in perpetuity.
Only this time I’ll remember to bring the Kleenex…