BIGGIO, PIAZZA FANATICS SAY IT AIN’T SO

By Murray Chass

January 2, 2014

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, third edition, of which I have four copies and don’t know why, offers three derivations of the words “fans.” I’ll take the first one, fanatics.

I can attest to the fanaticism of fans of individual players, in particular Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio. I have learned of their fans’ passion by having the audacity to mention them in connection with the use of performance-enhancing substances.Craig Biggio 225

Piazza fans did not react as indignantly this time as they have in the past. Perhaps they have come to expect it. Only 17 percent of readers who responded defended Piazza. Forty-eight percent, on the other hand, expressed outrage, or at least questioned the inclusion of Biggio on the list of former players on the Hall of Fame ballot for whom I would not vote because of their known or suspected use of steroids.

Many of the Biggio backers said he had never been cited as a steroids suspect, but they were wrong.

Three years ago, this headline appeared on the web site of NBCSports Hardball Talk:

Jeff Pearlman believes Craig Biggio was a ‘roider

Instead of quoting Pearlman directly, the web writer Craig Calcaterra quoted him from a podcast he was on. That’s one of the problems I have with bloggers. They don’t seem to want to do their own work. All the better and easier if they can get it elsewhere.

Pearlman wrote books about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and their alleged steroids use. He addressed Piazza in the Clemens book:

“He’s a guy who did it, and everybody knows it,” says Reggie Jefferson, the longtime major league first baseman. “It’s amazing how all these names, like Roger Clemens, are brought up, yet Mike Piazza goes untouched.”

“There was nothing more obvious than Mike on steroids,” says another major league veteran who played against Piazza for years. “Everyone talked about it, everyone knew it. Guys on my team, guys on the Mets. A lot of us came up playing against Mike, so we knew what he looked like back in the day. Frankly, he sucked on the field. Just sucked. After his body changed, he was entirely different. ‘Power from nowhere,’ we called it.”

When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to grade the odds that Piazza had used performance enhancers, the player doesn’t pause.

“A 12,” he says. “Maybe a 13.”

Piazza fanatics went bonkers when I cited his terrible long-time case of back acne as a possible telltale sign of steroids use. “Bacne,” they referred to it with ridicule.

However, in an affidavit for George Mitchell’s 2007 report on steroids in baseball, Jason Grimsley said that Glenallen Hill, who was named in the report, “had the worst back acne he’d ever seen.”

Yet Piazza’s fans still scoff at the acne evidence.

Wrote one supporter: “I had back acne for many years and, this might be tough to believe, I’ve never used steroids. Eventually, it cleared up.”

I’ll bet it didn‘t clear up when baseball began testing for steroids. That’s when Piazza’s back cleared up. Through 2003 acne covered his back. Once testing began, no more acne. The Piazza fanatics don’t want to recognize the timing of the change in his back.

mike-piazza4Piazza, however, denies in his book, published last year, that he used steroids. What else do you expect him to do? Ryan Braun denied that he used illegal substances, too, until the evidence overwhelmed his lies. Then he quietly accepted his suspension and missed the last 65 games of last season.

Biggio’s fanatics have demanded to know what evidence I have that proves Biggio used steroids. I never saw him use, but more than half a dozen players, teammates and opponents, say he used.

I was ready to vote for him last year until I heard of his use. Do I expect him to admit his use? Not if he has eluded detection this long and faces no more tests. All players who have used have denied having used until they are caught. Denials are meaningless.

The arguments supporters make for players are often  humorous. Here’s one.

Craig Calcaterra, the NBCSports.com guy, wrote last week about my view of Biggio and asked, “Who, besides Chass, ‘strongly suspects’ Craig Biggio of steroid use? I can’t for the life of me think of anyone who has made such an accusation in public.”

I feel sorry for Calcaterra. I am sure he is much younger than I am, but he is already having memory problems. Remember this headline on your column, Craig:

Jeff Pearlman believes Craig Biggio was a ‘roider

Rob Neyer is another blogger who has a problem with me. As if he had nothing better to write about – and if he didn’t his employer should dock him a day’s pay (I receive no pay for this column so don’t suggest the same for me), he wrote his entire column about my Hall of Fame ballot.

That actually is a popular exercise among bloggers because they are jealous of the baseball writers who get to vote. They think they can do better, but they can’t vote and it pains them.

Anyway, Neyer doesn’t think I voted for enough candidates. Even though I said I wasn’t voting for steroids-related candidates, Neyer wrote, he “can’t seem to find room on his ballot, or in his heart, or deep within the recesses of that powerful intellect, for Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, or Larry Walker.”

Well, Rob old buddy, sorry to have to say this, but my standards apparently are higher than yours. I considered those players and concluded they weren’t Hall of Famers. When you get to vote, vote for them and anyone else you want. When you get to vote.

Meanwhile, I want you to know that there are readers who appreciate what I write. Here’s an e-mail from one of them:

“Truly outstanding.  No one from the PED era should be voted into the HOF, no players, managers, executives and, certainly not this commissioner.

“Innocent-until-proven-guilty does not apply to the HOF.  I’ve lived in Houston for 30 years, and I have little doubt that Craig Biggio was a PED user.  He quacked a bit too much like a duck. If he didn’t use, he had the platform to condemn their use, or at least offer a mild rebuke.  Neither he nor any other player from that era has a right to complain.  Perhaps I have a right to complain. I spent 5 days in St. Louis watching McGwire hit 60, 61 and 62 — flew to Houston Tuesday morning for a meeting and back to St. Louis that afternoon to catch the game.  Dupe!  A hundred years of stats — stats that meant something to me — were brushed away.  I suspect Biggio will get in this year, but it’s wrong.”

“Tony La Russa. Let’s see. He managed in Oakland, home of Canseco and McGwire, arguably the birthplace of PED use in baseball. He managed McGwire in St. Louis.  I suppose it’s just coincidence that the Cardinals consistently outperformed their apparent talent.  I suspect that La Russa was not only aware of PED use but was knee deep in it.

“I might be more willing to believe Joe Torre was what we lawyers call consciously indifferent, but he got the benefit, didn’t he.  I heard this story from one of my sons’ college teammates. He was in pitcher in the Xxx’s organization. After his rookie minor league season, the pitching coach suggested to him that he needed to gain 35 pounds in the offseason. When he protested the impossibility of such a gain, the coach told him, “You know what you need to do.” He didn’t and was cut a week into the following spring training.  Torre’s players knew what they needed to do.”

Finally, an announcement that will disappoint Neyer, Calcaterra and the reader who, like those two bloggers, said they were delighted that this was the last time I would be voting for the Hall of Fame. Sorry, guys I never made it definite.

I said “barring a change in my thinking,” this could be my last vote. My thinking has changed, and all of you critics can blame yourselves. How could I relinquish my vote knowing how much it annoys you? I plan to vote a year from now even if I just send in a blank ballot. You would love that.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.