The pitch: The timing would have been nice to coincide with Piazza’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But that got derailed, and the one-time Dodgers’ NL Rookie of the Year award winner spent most of his February book tour discussing that frustration. Then there was the damage control surrounding how he thought he may have been misunderstood in taking shots at Vin Scully for “crushing” him during his final days in L.A. (Video evidence proved otherwise).
In all that noise, it leaves unanswered the basic question: Is the book worth reading?
The answer: F–k, yeah.
Sorry, but the more pages you flip through, the more you wonder if that’s the only adjective Piazza learned growing up near Philly, and the only one he’d understand if you used right back at him. Or the only one he learned from hanging out with his dad and Tommy Lasorda.
That, and his thought that the word “ironic” seems to explain everything else.
Get past the Scully stuff — please — and you really do learn why he was such an immature long shot to be a big-league big shot. Not simply because he was taken by the Dodgers with the 1,390th pick of the 1988 draft as a favor to Lasorda, but all the growing pains he endured in the minor leagues but still was “audacious enough” (his words) to have a goal to get his game together.
He explains in the intro that his path to Los Angeles was “potholed with confusion, politics and petty conflict.” But along that path is this crazy picture of Piazza as a 9-year-old being hoisted by the Dodgers’ Dusty Baker after their 1977 NLCS victory over Piazza’s hometown Phillies, where the kid was “startled at the sight of Steve Yeager naked.”
Get used to it.
“When it came to baseball, I was a hopeless romantic,” he starts Chapter 6. “I played it, practiced it, watched it, read about it, revered it, genuinely loved it, and always assumed it would love me back. or at least call me back.”
Rock ‘n’ roller Piazza really opens up about how he used to roll — good, bad and silly, from things like how he liked to get drunk and dance to the Romantics song “What I Like About You” at a Phoenix bar (“which was not a proud moment in my life”) to getting “to second base” with a “pretty girl from Canada” (page 60) to dating the stunning “Tool Time” girl Debbe Dunning.
His tales of tearing through Manhattan Beach at Harry O’s with teammate and best friend Eric Karros as a couple of “jackoff baseball players who had life by the balls” (Karros’ words), losing his Catholic-ingrained virginity — finally realizing that “if I was going to make it (in baseball), I had to be a motherf–cker. That sounds crude and selfish, I know, but the other way hadn’t worked.” He had to play angry.
The Scully stuff is only slightly relevant to the storyline and it’s taken somewhat out of context, later explained by Piazza was that’s how the world seemed to be to him. Which is all you can do when you’re writing a story from your own perspective.
Fact is, Piazza credits Scully with being the first one to actually pronounce his name correctly. There’s gotta be some reward in that.
His exit from L.A. will be what many want to focus on. There’s a lot of bad blood in the water to cover there. But all of that may gloss over the real hidden story: How his “goomba” Lasorda was almost as much as a curse as he was a blessing in trying to get Piazza through the system, depending on what bridges Lasorda had already torched with scouts and managers in the minors.
Piazza goes get into the steroid stuff, but he’s clever enough to explain very early how his back acne was a long-time condition, and his drive to lift weights was long before the PED-induced culture came in MLB locker rooms.
Again, take it for what it’s worth, but it’s interesting to get it all there since his name will be discussed in Hall voting for the next decade. For now, we’ll see how Piazza The Promoter — when he was pimping the book, he even made an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show listed as “author Mike Piazza” — can continue to make his case for Cooperstown.
Interesting tidbit: On the title page, it’s noted that the book is copyright by “Catch31, Inc.” and includes the disclaimer: “In the story concerning ‘my first big-league crush,’ the name and details have been altered in deference to the party involved.” So, when you get to page 96 and start to read about “a beautiful green-eyed brunette named Christina,” we’re supposed to assume this Annie Savoy from the Arizona Fall League is all fiction? Maybe the reason we didn’t hear about this in the pre-book hype is because it didn’t involve another male player.
For the record: There are some quirky mistakes that sometimes jump out, including this one about Tom Glavine. One that jumped out at us was his reference to former “Los Angeles Times” beat writer Ken Daley, who actually never wrote for that paper but was at the L.A. Daily News then.
More to know:
== Piazza talks about his book on NPR.
== A review from Rob Neyer includes: “Memoirs are the place for airing old grievances, maybe even settling some old scores. Piazza could have been a lot more polite, especially to Vin Scully. But his book wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. Because in a literary sense, most of what Piazza has to offer is childish egotism (or insecurity; I usually have a hard time telling the difference). As is, the book is actually pretty entertaining. I might have one last entry, on how Piazza somehow became, against all odds, the greatest-hitting catcher in major-league history…”
== The Philadelphia Daily News’ Stan Hochman has more Piazza insights, from his native Philly perspective, saying it “twists the Cinderella story like a soft pretzel. Turns it hard, salty as tears, tough to sink your teeth into.”