The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s swing got a whole lot more powerful and a whole lot sweeter over this past weekend. Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. graciously accepted the opportunity to forever be immortalized as baseball greats, which they both rightfully deserve.
After watching their induction speeches (which I highly recommend and can be done here and here), it’s clear to see that pairing these two together in one Hall of Fame class couldn’t have been more perfect.
Not because they were two of the most well known players in the 1990s and early 2000s, but because their stories were so different, yet so similar at the same time. This was evident before they took the podium in Cooperstown to give one of the most difficult speeches of their respective lives. But by the time they were finished, seeing the parallels between them was undeniable.
Exposure to some of the game’s best players
It doesn’t really matter what your thoughts were on the whole Chicago White Sox-Adam LaRoche saga back in Spring Training. Any baseball fan could look at that situation and be jealous of Drake LaRoche because he got to see and talk to some of the game’s best players on a daily basis. That’s a privilege only a very few kids get, and they learn valuable lessons from it.
Griffey and Piazza both received this kind of opportunity, but in very different ways. For “The Kid”, his father played 19 years in the big leagues for four different clubs. So, he spent time in the clubhouse on a regular basis and formed some long-lasting relationships.
Piazza’s father just so happened to be childhood friends with Tommy Lasorda, who took Mike under his wing from the very beginning and was the main reason why he even got drafted. Plus, how many 15-year-old kids have the opportunity get a hitting lesson in their backyard from Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever in the game?
I’m not sure of the actual number, but let’s go with not many.
Their MLB Draft position
Where these guys were drafted is what makes this Hall of Fame class so special. Junior was the type of player who oozed talent – he could do it all and made it look damn easy. The Seattle Mariners took him with the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, and almost immediately started paying dividends. He debuted two years later and is the first top overall pick to ever get enshrined in Cooperstown.
On the other hand, it was an uphill battle for Piazza from the get-go. He was taken 1,390th overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and only because Lasorda kept bothering people to do it. As a 62nd-round draft pick, Piazza is the lowest draft pick to ever get enshrined in Cooperstown. Since they don’t go past 50 rounds anymore, this a distinction he’ll hold on to for a while.
Griffey proved to active no. 1 picks that they can rise above the pressure and high expectations to deliver incredible results. Piazza proved that it doesn’t always matter what people think – as long as there’s an opportunity to prove yourself, anything is possible.
How about that for some symmetry?
They were completely different players
These two combined to hit 1,057 homers and drive in 3,171 runs during their Hall of Fame careers. They were definitely elite power threats in the middle of their respective lineups, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended.
As mentioned before, Griffey had a unique kind of natural athleticism that was a blessing and a curse because some people would think he wasn’t trying. He had to work his tail off to get to where he is today, but he could do pretty much everything at an elite level – which doesn’t happen very often.
Piazza also had natural talent that many aren’t graced with, but he displayed it in a much different way. Everything he did – whether it was throwing, swinging or running the bases – was done hard. Unlike Griffey, nobody could question Piazza’s effort because you could tell he was straining himself to go as hard as humanly possible on every play.
The father-son connection
One doesn’t become a Hall of Famer without any help.
They must have the drive and determination to get it done, but it takes an army behind them to complete the journey. Piazza and Griffey thanked a laundry list of people in their speeches, and while they couldn’t hold back the tears multiple times, it seemed as though it was hardest when the time came to thank their fathers.
I can’t explain it any better than they did on Sunday. Check out what Junior said about his dad:
And here’s Piazza talking about his dad’s influence on him (and Lasorda):
Honestly, how can you not be romantic about baseball?
And now, they’re both Hall of Famers
This is one of the many beautiful things about the sport. Griffey and Piazza were so different in their style of play and the path they took to get enshrined in Cooperstown. Despite all that, they’ll now forever be connected as the Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
They each redefined their respective positions with how they approached the game, and they were, without a doubt, two of the most recognizable superstars of the 1990s and 2000s. If you paired these two together and said all this stuff back in 1985, just about everyone would’ve said, “You’re nuts.”
But that’s why they play the game.