Out of Work Hall of Famer

Mike Piazza, sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer, is still out of work as the 2006 season looms. Piazza, who has amassed 397 home runs along with a career batting average of .311 and a lifetime slugging average of .555 through 14 seasons, can still hit even as his career winds down.

He's sure to get a job and break the 400 homer mark. He's also sure to end his career someday with a batting average over .300. All of this at the games toughest position.

The game of baseball is watered down with too many teams. There are not enough big league pitchers to go around. There is a pronounced shortage at the catching position. But big Mike is still unemployed. The question, one might ask, is why?

There are some answers. First, Mike is no longer an everyday catcher, even though he wants to be. Never a defensive stalwart, the question is can he give you more with the bat than he takes away with the glove. His career record of throwing out baserunners is definitely not big league quality, much less Hall of Fame stuff.

As he heads into the late thirties, Mike is understandably physically brittle.

He still would command lots of dollars, so any team would face the possibility of paying full time for a part time player who detracts from his team in the field.

Hall of Fame hitter. Yup. Hall of Fame defensive catcher. Not by a long shot.

Piazza has a long swing and its amazing he has hit over .300 lifetime with such a big swing. He can still get around on a fast ball, no problem. We saw a young Mike Piazza play first in Class A ball a long time ago and he was great. As his big league career wound down, attempts to move him to that position didn't work out.

Other than accepting his defensive liabilities behind the plate, he has no other field position other than designated hitter. Think of Olmedo Saenz trying to play first or third. Piazza's a hitter period, and baseball still is a one platoon game.

Gil Hodges also came up as a catcher. If Roy Campanella hadn't arrived just behind him, Hodges easily could have spent his big league career behind the plate. He hit 370 home runs, only 27 less than Piazza. Had Hodges stayed behind the plate, he would already be in the Hall of Fame.

Racism kept Roy Campanella out of the big leagues until he was 27. Campy already had over a dozen years of wear and tear behind the plate before he finally arrived. He only played 10 years and two of them were wiped out by big time injuries. In 8 full time years (10 overall) he hit 242 home runs.

Imagine his numbers had he arrived when he should have and played, like Mike Piazza has, remarkably injury free. Piazza's home run numbers are pretty close to Andre Dawson (438) and Jim Rice (382).

But because they played the outfield, Dawson and Rice are having a dickens of a time getting into the Hall of Fame. Piazza gets in more for the position he played than his offensive numbers, impressive as they may be.

My choice for the heaviest hitting catcher of all time is still Jimmy Foxx. Sure Foxx played first most of his career. Foxx (534 homers) got moved from behind the plate early by the sage old fox, Connie Mack. Foxx, like Piazza, could hit a ton - one of the hand full best in the history of the game.

Like Mike Piazza, to call Foxx "so so" behind the plate would be frankly more than fair. Mack figured why tempt fate and injury with Foxx and the tools of ignorance when he wasn't all that hot there to begin with.

He wisely, for his pitchers, for Foxx, for the team, moved him to first early. Had Foxx stayed behind the plate, odds are injury and the normal wear and tear of catching would have taken a hundred of his eventual home run totals.

One can only wonder if Connie Mack had been managing Mike Piazza, Piazza too might have been moved to first while he was still young enough to learn to play the position.

We think that move would have added to Mike's home run totals. He might have hit a hundred more in his 14 seasons and would now be approaching 500 instead of 400, in which case he'd make the Hall of Fame period, not just because he was a "catcher."

Dodger Blue Notes-- The Dodgers have apparently abandoned attempts to sign catcher Bengie Molina without ever making him an offer. Molina told the Yuma (Ariz.) Sun that he will sit out the upcoming season if he doesn't receive the salary he is seeking, which is believed to be in the $6-million range. The club's interest cooled when it became clear that Molina was looking for more money than the Dodgers - who already have about $86.53 million committed to 19 players - were willing to pay him. Molina, 31, became a free agent last fall when the Angels declined even to make him an offer following his sixth season as their primary catcher. At the time, Molina was coming off arguably his best year offensively, having batted a career-high .295, hit a career-high 15 homers and driven in 69 runs.