On Tuesday night, Mike Piazza was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, capping a career that saw him club 427 home runs, play 1,630 games as a catcher and earn a reputation as perhaps the greatest hitter to ever crouch behind home plate.
Piazza’s enshrinement is not only a victory for underdogs everywhere – he was famously chosen in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, mostly as a favor to his dad, a childhood friend of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda – but indie rock fans, too. After all, he is unquestionably the first Hall of Famer to be memorialized with a Belle and Sebastian song.
“My friend Nate was the first person to take me to Shea Stadium – it was in the late Nineties, and that’s when I first got involved with the Mets,” says Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch. “I was almost instantly drawn to Piazza. That’s the thing about him; he was a talisman wherever he went. He was the kind of player people tended to follow, and we thought he was a good guy.”
Eventually, Murdoch would express that admiration in a song, “Piazza, New York Catcher,” which, like much of his work, is actually an amalgamation of different stories and scenes from his life – “It’s a mixture of so many different images and storylines,” he explains. “I had just met my wife, and she was living in Boston, so we’d meet up in Spain, New York, San Francisco…it was a very peripatetic relationship” – including references to Piazza’s batting average and secret meetings at the Willie Mays statute outside AT&T Park in San Francisco.
But despite all that, the song has come to be known for one line: “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?”
It was a reference to rumors that dogged Piazza throughout his career – in 2002, he even held a press conference to proclaim his heterosexuality – and, at the time he wrote it, Murdoch certainly didn’t think he’d still be discussing the line more than a decade later.
“I remember Nate kind of mentioning the gay thing, and obviously it didn’t affect my opinion of him whatsoever – it almost kind of went into the song as a way of holding a mirror up to gossipy society,” he says. “The way people talked about that stuff, I didn’t give a shit…It never occurred to me that I might become part of the problem.”
Murdoch admits he has no idea if Piazza has ever heard the song – which was released on Belle and Sebastian’s 2003 album Dear Catastrophe Waitress, then found new life on 2008’s Juno soundtrack – but would like to think he would have no problem with it if he did. And not just because Piazza had some of his best years while playing for Murdoch’s favorite team, the Mets.
“I think he’s a cool enough guy that he’d shrug it off, and be happy that there are a few daft hipster kids who know his name,” he says. “It’s funny, I’ve never met him, but my wife follows the Mets as well, and her folks are down in Florida, so one year we drove down to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie. We watched Piazza hit, and she went up with a baseball to get it autographed, and he didn’t even look down and realize she was a woman. He just said ‘Not now kid, I gotta run.'”
Now, Piazza is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Murdoch couldn’t be happier – even if he’s not quite sure how the whole enshrinement process works.
“My wife is in the room right now! She approves, and we’d both like to congratulate him on making it; it’s quite an achievement,” Murdoch says. “It’s taken a while, no? This Hall of Fame seems to work like the Catholic Church does when it makes saints.”