Last month, in my school, we were tasked with connecting a real-world example to transcendentalism. My teacher recommended that I attempt to connect it to Mike Piazza, which I thought would be an interesting spin. I chose Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”, and as I soon figured out, there are various links between the text and #31. While my essay isn’t very blog-ish, and I’ve never posted something outside of the blog on MetsPlus, I thought that it might be interesting to share.
Mike Piazza was recently inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He made it in with 83% of the vote, on his fourth ballot. However, the legendary career of one of Baseball’s best hitting catchers did not come without hardship. Combine a low draft pick with a man accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) in one of the most hitter dominant era’s in the history of the game, and hall of fame level success would seem impossible. However, Piazza used fortitude and his own instincts and practices to block out the consistent negative opinions coming from former players, analysts, and other media members in order to persevere.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is arguably one of the most famous American Transcendentalists that has written a lot of esteemed works that connect vital Transcendental themes. One of them, Self-Reliance, revolves around the idea of rejecting conformity, and individual authority, or “picking your own path”. Mike Piazza is someone completely different. He was an athlete that played in the Major Leagues for fifteen years and always walked to the beat of a different drum. Throughout his career, there are various themes involving the infamous career of Mike Piazza that have links to Transcendentalism, and, more importantly, Self-Reliance. Emerson’s Self-Reliance is based on the principle of using one’s own beliefs to find success, and to avoid compliance with what the people above you believe is the correct course of action. And that is exactly what Mike Piazza has done in his career.
Some of the best baseball players were never discovered because they, unfortunately, slipped through the cracks of the MLB drafting system, which, like everything in life, is prone to errors. However, baseball almost lost one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time. Mike Piazza, famous for his time with the Dodgers and the Mets, was a twelve time All-Star, who once hit 40 home runs in 124 runs batted in during a single season. These statistics are unthinkable for a catcher. Mike Piazza was a 62nd round draft pick, who, was only drafted thanks to Tommy Lasorda (a Dodger great) taking “a flyer” on Piazza, after Piazza’s father, a family friend of Lasorda, asked him to draft him as a favor. While most players would either not accept the draft pick, as a low-draft pick is usually unlikely to crack the top levels of the minors let alone the majors, and pass on a education, Piazza had the fortitude to neglect what the general consensus of his family and friends (with the obvious exception of his dad) and accept the challenge, as that is what he thought was the best course of action. Neglecting the opinion of the majority is something that Emerson expressed in Self-Reliance: Rejecting conformity, or the general consensus, and picking your own path. This is communicated to the reader when Emerson says, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail” (Emerson 10).
Mike Piazza didn’t find an abandoned road and leave a “trail.”He left a glowing pathway full of records, successes, and prosperity. Dubbed one of the best hitting catcher of all time from various credible publications like Sporting News and USA Today, Mike Piazza hit 396 home runs in his career, batted to a .308 average, and drove in 1335 runners. These unprecedented numbers had never been accomplished for a player playing the same position (catcher). Mike Piazza’s 396 home runs were 45 more than the man with the next highest total, Red Sox great Carlton Fisk (MLB International Archives). Piazza hit more homeruns than baseball immortals like Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. Gary Carter and Roy Campanella. Yet none of this would have been possible if Piazza hadn’t accepted the opinions of what most teams believed he was. He didn’t let the lack of being drafted phase him, and against what the majority would do, he risked his career to pursue his own passion, and that is the definition of going through a pathless trail if one ever existed.
Despite these amazing statistics, great pitcher and catcher relationships, and a overall great knowledge of the game, it was very clear that the era that Piazza played in was going to prevent him, or at least attempt to prevent him receiving the recognition he deserves. Piazza happened to play in one of the darkest periods of the game, known as the “steroid era.” While not unique to Baseball, PED’s were becoming more and more common as the game evolved. The methods to evade testing moved quicker than the methods to catch and prevent illegal use of PED’s. All-Star careers of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were ruined due to PED use, and their once celebrated careers were immediately discredited. Additionally, when Mike Piazza started to put up hall of fame-esque numbers, the media tried to figure out if Piazza had used any specific illegal substances, and, throughout his career, he was accused three times (based on suspicion) of using performance enhancing drugs. However, embodying a similar theme to Emerson’s words of “nothing has authority over the self” (Emerson 8), Piazza never let the talks phase or overwhelm him, and his statistics never faltered. He continued to show that he had 100% control of himself. He finished his career with his dignity intact, and no evidence that he used PED’s (which is the only way one’s reputation should be affected) was ever revealed.
Personal opinions sometimes overrule the facts, and what should happen doesn’t always come to surface. Simply put, Mike Piazza put up hall-of-fame numbers. He was a leader in the clubhouse, a friend to the community, and very relatable to the media. However, Piazza’s career had its fair share of doubts. In his first ballot, he received only 57.8 percent (MLBNetwork.com Videos) of the vote, which means that almost half of Major League Baseball’s professional and acclaimed writers were either suspicious of his use of PED’s, or believed that the best hitting catcher of all time based on various sabermetrics wasn’t hall of fame worthy. And, as most people will tell you, the reason he didn’t get into the hall of fame wasn’t the latter of the two. Looking back at the all time catcher list for home runs, all but one of the top seven hitting catchers hasn’t been inducted into the hall of fame besides Piazza. And that’s Ivan Rodriguez, who doesn’t make it on to the ballot until 2017, so in essence he doesn’t even count yet. So, why should Piazza get the short end of the stick? He was misunderstood, but was that bad? Is a misunderstood ballplayer with tons of question marks over his head automatically a bad representative of the game? Not to Emerson. One of the most famous quotes in Self-Reliance is “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” (Emerson, 6). And after three long years on the ballot, eight years post-retirement, the misunderstood was finally understood.
Thanks again to my teacher for suggesting Piazza in the first place, and congratulations to Mike Piazza for making it into the Hall of Fame. While I can’t be a biased Mets fanatic in the formal essay, I definitely can be in italics below two dashes.