By Murray Chass

May 26, 2010

Right up front, I will tell you that an unusual e-mail prompted this column. I do appreciate ideas wherever they come from, and this idea is one I welcome the opportunity to write about.

Mike Piazza was at Citi Field in New York this past weekend, one of a contingent from the Mets team that played the Yankees in the 2000 World Series. Piazza’s presence prompted the e-mail.

Headed on the subject line by “Piazza gets another free pass this week from New York (pro-Mets) media,” the e-mail said:Mike Piazza2 225

“Mike Piazza sneaks into town again, at Citi Field for the Mets-Yanks opener and the New York media comes up short again.

“The press’s credibility is in question when it gives Piazza a free pass when he’s at a game or event. You should at least write a story about how he refuses to speak to the media again, after the Pearlman-Clemens book and steroid allegations from other sources.

“You should address how the press enables him, gives him a free ride.”

“According to an internet post, Piazza is going to be at another event this week. You (or another writer) should go and request to talk to him and address the steroid allegations.

“If you are denied access, WRITE IT and tell readers you were denied or he refused to speak.

“Let’s stop the coverup. Piazza – the most famous Met in recent history – does a Greta Garbo and nobody writes about it.?? Looks very bad if the press continues to stick its head in the sand about Piazza.”

The writer, who gives only a first name – Rita from Manhattan – is 100 percent correct. The news media gave Piazza a free pass about steroids throughout his career and have extended it to post-career.

A year ago March I wrote two columns about Piazza and steroids. I didn’t say he used them because I didn’t know and don’t know if he did. But the circumstantial evidence is pretty overwhelming. A district attorney could probably get a murder conviction on circumstantial evidence of similar strength.

But no one followed up on the columns, letting the subject return to its dormant state. Meanwhile, Piazza has appeared at Citi Field on at least two occasions – the recent one and the opening of the park last year – and deliberately avoided reporters.

“He wasn’t looking for any attention,” Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president for media relations, told The New York Times at the Citi Field opening when asked why Piazza did not want to talk. “He said, ‘I’m a private person now, I have a family, I’m raising my kids, my wife’s having a baby and I want to stay in the background.’”

Horwitz offered much the same pap when I asked him why Piazza wasn’t available during the 10th anniversary weekend. One reporter said he never even saw Piazza.

It’s obvious that Piazza’s rendered himself invisible so that none could ask him the steroids question. That lends credence and strength to the circumstantial evidence. If Piazza never used steroids, he could answer the questions simply: “No, I never used steroids.”

However, he doesn’t want to get trapped in a lie by saying he didn’t use them if he did so he feels he is safer being invisible and saying nothing.

His moment of truth will come as he works on the book he is writing with Lonnie Wheeler. Piazza received an $800,000 advance from Simon and Schuster for the book, but the writer who was originally going to write it with him, Michael Bamberger, withdrew when Piazza refused to commit in writing that he would tell the true story about him and steroids.

Wheeler, a reporter and author who has written many books, including an autobiography with Hank Aaron and a book in which Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson discuss hitting and pitching, declined to discuss the book.

Clemens - Piazza2 225Writing in an e-mail that he had spoken with the book’s editor and the agent, Wheeler said, “all agree that it’s premature to discuss any content that the book might involve. Sorry. As you might imagine, my instincts err toward media-friendliness; but in a proprietary scenario such as this, I have to keep them in check.”

I spoke with another editor at Simon and Schuster, Bob Bender, who said the project is “under way,” but it doesn’t have a publication date. Asked if the book would cover steroids, Bender said. “I haven’t seen any portion of the book, but it’s my expectation that it will be addressed.”

It doesn’t seem too smart of the publisher to have handed Piazza a check for $800,000 without having Piazza’s word in writing that he would write about steroids. A Piazza book absent a discussion of steroids might sell a few copies to his fans but not nearly enough to make back the advance.

What, on the other hand, was Piazza thinking when he accepted the money? Did he think the publisher wouldn’t demand its pound of flesh? Did he think that because he got the money, he was home free and clear?

At the core of these questions is did Piazza ever realize that for that kind of money, he would be expected to tell his steroids tale and that would very likely wreck his chances for making the Hall of Fame?

In a follow-up e-mail, Rita from Manhattan accused reporters of engaging in a coverup. “where are the columns about how he is never made available at Citi Field, the media capital of the world?” she asked. “The Mets most famous recent player? The Mets are part of the coverup.”

Considering how Piazza becomes invisible when he walks into Citi Field, I can’t disagree with Rita’s reasoning. I also found her e-mail much more reasonable and intelligent than the batch of e-mail messages I received from Piazza fans in response to last year’s first column on Piazza and steroids.

They vilified me for even raising the issue, especially for suggesting that Piazza’s acne-covered back was a tell-tale sign exhibited by steroids users. When I pointed out the amazing coincidence of how his back just so happened to clear up completely when baseball began testing for steroids, his supporters offered multiple reasons for the miraculous change. None of them had anything to do with the testing and none of them explained why he would not have availed himself of these options before testing began.

One writer wrote that he had been a teammate and roommate of Piazza at the University of Miami and that Piazza was such a great hitter he didn’t need steroids. Piazza was so great he had one hit in nine at-bats in his one year on the team.

I will be interested in getting this former teammate’s response when he reads Piazza’s book.

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