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Long Shot

In 'Long Shot,' 12-time all-star Mike Piazza recounts his unlikely path from suburban Philadelphia to the big leagues and even how it led to a trip to the Vatican.

By Ross AtkinStaff writer / April 1, 2013

Long Shot By Mike Piazza and Lonnie Wheeler Simon & Schuster 384 pp.

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Surely Mike Piazza is the only baseball player who has done all of the following: met the pope, had Ted Williams visit his backyard batting cage, assisted the Italian baseball federation, and hit a memorable post-9/11 home run in New York City. Piazza also is probably the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. Yes, better than Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. He makes his case with a .308 lifetime batting average and 427 home runs, the most ever by a big-league catcher.

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On the surface, then, he would seem a lock for the Hall of Fame. But there aren’t any surefire inductees among modern sluggers, all of whom confront suspicions, founded and unfounded, about possible drug use.

In Long Shot, Piazza vehemently denies having ever taken performance-enhancing drugs while acknowledging his use of all sorts of dietary supplements. The Hall of Fame balloting for this year’s class, the first for which he was eligible, suggests that most voters take him at his word and recognize his playing credentials. Although he didn’t receive 75 percent of the votes required for election, he did get 57.8 percent compared with only 36.2 percent for Barry Bonds and 16.9 percent for holdover candidate Mark McGwire. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see him do better in future elections as some voters, reluctant to usher in a first-year candidate, may be more inclined to reconsider Pizza’s track record.

Piazza certainly believes he belongs among the all-time greats, even if his fielding wasn’t the equal of his hitting and he struggled at times to throw out base stealers. Making the hall, he grants, would be much-desired validation of his achievements in baseball, which in retrospect seem such a long shot, thus the title of his autobiography written with Lonnie Wheeler.

Growing up in the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville, Piazza was a good player in high school but not destined for stardom. He did, however, have three things going for him: a tremendous desire and work ethic to play and improve; a dad who was over-the-top in pushing and promoting his son’s career; and a very valuable major-league connection in the form of his father’s close friend and fellow Norristown, Pa., native, Tommy Lasorda, who managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976 to 1996.

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