Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza set for Hall induction

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  July 23, 2016 at 6:36 PM
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- To glance around this small upstate town is to understand that Hall of Fame weekend is about a couple franchises unaccustomed to being represented on baseball's ultimate stage.

For the last three days, thousands of fans adorned in the hats and shirts of the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets have descended upon Cooperstown to celebrate the induction of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame. The two men will be officially enshrined Sunday afternoon at the Clark Sports Center.

Griffey will be the first inductee to wear a Mariners hat into the Hall of Fame, though the Hall considers Randy Johnson -- who went in last year wearing the cap of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- to represent the Mariners because he pitched more games for Seattle.

"The history that the Mariners had when I got drafted (in 1987) -- the team was 10 years old, so not a whole lot of history," Griffey said during a press conference Saturday afternoon. "To be able to be the first to go in -- it's something that I talked about and dreamed about, going into the Hall of Fame, once you get past a certain point in your career when you finally realize that you have a chance to be a Hall of Fame member."

Griffey, who earned a record 99.3 percent of the vote and fell three votes shy of being a unanimous selection, hit 417 of his 630 career homers and won all 10 of his Gold Gloves with the Mariners. He played the first 11 seasons of his career, during which the Mariners made the playoffs for the first two times in franchise history, in Seattle. He then requested a trade to the Cincinnati Reds, who held spring training near his off-season residence in Florida and whose midwestern locale made for an easier commute home on off-days.

Griffey was plagued by injuries with the Reds for whom he averaged just 105 games per season before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008. He returned to the Mariners for the final two seasons of his career.

"To be able to choose what team I wanted to go in (with) was something special," Griffey said. "And obviously it was going to be the Mariners, because of the history that I have with the team."

Some of the Mariners fans in Cooperstown this week have piled out of cars sporting Washington and Montana license plates. It's a far easier trek for Mets fans to get to the Hall of Fame, which is located about four hours from New York City. With the weather forecast calling for a warm and rain-free Sunday, Hall officials expect a sizable contingent of Piazza supporters to make the day trip north.

Piazza will be the second Mets representative as well as the second inductee to sport a Mets hat on his plaque. He follows in the footsteps of Tom Seaver, who was enshrined in 1992.

"As a ballplayer, to go to New York and be somewhat successful is truly an amazing part of my career that I'll always remember," Piazza said.

For one afternoon, Mets fans will get to enjoy a perk experienced on a regular basis by their rival New York fans. The Yankees have 28 representatives in the Hall of Fame, 21 of whom are pictured wearing a Yankees hat on their plaque.

In addition, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are expected to cruise into the Hall of Fame when they first appear on the ballot in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

"Look, the one thing I love about Mets fans is that it's tough being in the same town as the Yankees, with all their World Series and their accomplishments," Piazza said. "There's no better fans. It's obviously a natural for me. They've been so amazing to me and my family."

Piazza goes in with the team he joined in 1998 following a pair of blockbuster trades. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who drafted Piazza in 1988, traded him to the Florida Marlins on May 14, 1998. Eight days later, the rebuilding Marlins sent Piazza to the Mets, whom he led to a pair of playoff appearances and the 2000 World Series. He batted .296 with 220 homers through 2005 before finishing his career by playing a season apiece with the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics.

Piazza hit his most famous homer on Sept. 21, 2001, when his cathartic two-run homer lifted the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event played in New York following the 9/11 terror attacks.

"I don't want to sort of telegraph my speech, but obviously that's a huge part of my history with the city," Piazza said.

NOTES: The Hall of Fame announced Saturday a reconstruction of the timelines for the era committees, which considers players who have fallen off the ballot as well as managers, umpires and executives. The "Golden Era," which used to encapsulate 1947-1972, and the "Expansion Era," which formerly encapsulated candidates from 1973 to the present, have been broken up into "Golden Days" (1950-1969), "Modern Baseball" (1970-1987) and "Today's Game" (1988-present). ... The Hall also announced Ozzie Smith, the former Cardinals and Padres shortstop who was inducted in 2002, has been added to its Board of Directors.

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