MIKE PIAZZA - C
New York Mets
1998 - 2005
Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
NEW YORK METS: A tip of the cap to one of New York City's adoptive sons.
Was there really any debate as to which team Mike Piazza's cap would represent on his Hall of Fame plaque?
I mean no disrespect to Los Angelinos - I don't know what type of relationship Mike Piazza shared with L.A. fans, and the community. So, if this sounds ignorant of me to say, so be it. But, outside of posting prodigious offensive statistics as a member of the Dodgers, his L.A. narrative is comparatively limited, I think, and more easily captured on the back of a baseball card.
The cornerstone of his brilliant career was indeed set at Chavez Ravine. Piazza stormed out of the gate, qualifying as a 24-year old Rookie of the Year. In 7 seasons with the Dodgers, Mike Piazza batted .331, and posted a .966 OPS. In 1997, Piazza slugged .638, and batted .362 (yet ponderously failed to capture the batting title). He did, however, set career highs with 40 home runs and 124 RBI.
The following season he was ponderously traded twice, first to the Florida Marlins, then, amazingly to the Mets. He stepped into the New York limelight as a 29-year old in 1998, and exited at 36-years of age in 2005.
In 8 seasons with the Mets, Piazza batted .296, with a .915 OPS. In 1999, he matched his career highs with another 40 home runs and 124 RBI, but saw his average drop to .303 that season with a .575 slugging mark (... a complete non-issues for Mets fans, as if. We were just giddy to have him).
Overall, Piazza played 243 more games for the Mets than with the Dodgers, posted 78 more doubles, 43 more home runs, 92 more RBI, and scored 89 more runs than he did with L.A.
Then of course, he appeared in back-to-back N.L. Championships, and one World Series with the Mets. In all, Piazza appeared in 22 post-season games with the Mets as opposed to just 6 total games over 2 NLDS appearances as a Dodger.
Numbers, however, can't account for everything, and there's the rub...
Born in Pennsylvania, he was instilled with a very grounded, blue collar work ethic, and at the very least, Piazza was also humble. So it was very endearing to hear him say New York City was, and still remains where his heart lies. Easier said than done, considering the litany of star players who've come to NYC only to endure fractured, even cantankerous relationships with fans and media alike.
Fact is, Piazza instantly became an adoptive New Yorker. As they say - this ain't Kansas, Toto. The author of Long Shot was no recluse. He seemed quite at ease within the frenzied pace and culture of NYC (and in his dealings with a voracious media). Piazza was about town, and routinely hung out on weekends at the local rock stations heavy metal shows.
On a more serious note, the understated superstar's majestic home run in baseball's first game played after the events of 9/11 had a healing quality to it - if I may - allowing not just fans watching at home or in attendance, but New Yorkers and Americans in general, a moment to escape their personal anxieties, respective grief, and the overall anguish gripping the city and nation at the time.
For many, you might say that night was one of the first steps towards regaining a sense of normalcy.
To his credit, Mike Piazza never allowed himself to be called a hero for playing a game. He continues to respectfully defer at every opportunity. That said, one never knows what they'll feel until it happens - and that night, the crowd, uniformed members of our various services, and those more closely affected by that event, spoke for themselves.
Not just as a Met, but as an adoptive New Yorker, he's intricately woven into the fabric of New York City history.
There will always be that bond...