Mike Piazza is the perfect example of how hard work, dedication and determination can guide you to fulfilling your dreams. Piazza wasn’t considered a blue chip prospect coming out of high school in 1986. Matter of fact, it was his father’s lifelong friendship with Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda that led to the Dodgers drafting Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB Amateur draft. Four years later, Piazza began a six year run as the greatest Dodger catcher since Roy Campanella. Beginning in 1998, he began an eight year run as not only the greatest catcher in New York Mets history, but their greatest offensive player of all time as well.
On May 22, 1998, the Mets traded for and acquired Piazza from the Florida Marlins. It was the first time since Darryl Strawberry’s departure in 1990 that the Mets had a marquee offensive star in his prime. Piazza immediately delivered as he batted .348 with 23 homeruns and 76 RBI’s as the Mets fell one game short behind the San Francisco Giants Chicago Cubs for the National League Wild Card spot. Piazza, however, was not to be denied the following season.
The 1999 season was arguably the greatest offensive team ever in Mets history, led by Piazza’s stats of .303, 40 homeruns and 124 RBI’s. The Mets also had four other players hit over .300(Rickey Henderson, Roger Cedeno, Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura). Despite a starting pitching rotation that lacked a true ace, the Mets won 95 games and defeated the Cincinnati Reds to earn the National League Wild Card and their first postseason berth since 1988. In an epic six game NLCS, the Mets fell short to their nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. Piazza again was not to be denied the following season.
Despite winning 94 games, the 2000 Mets were not as good as the 1999 Mets. They lost John Olerud, Roger Cedeno and Rickey Henderson and replaced all three .300 hitters with the aging Todd Zeile, Derek Bell and journeyman Benny Agbayani. These three replacements numbers didn’t come close to the departed trio. The reason the Mets were able to repeat as the NL Wild Card team and go all the way to the World Series was because Piazza carried them on his back.
The 2000 season was Piazza’s finest as a Met as he hit .324 with 38 homeruns and 113 RBI’s. It was apropos that with the Mets season on the line in Game Five of the 2000 World Series against their crosstown rival Yankees and legendary closer Mariano Rivera that Piazza would make the final out. Piazza hit the ball as hard and loud as anyone had ever hit Rivera. I swore that ball was going out. Instead, the ball died in centerfield as Bernie Williams caught the ball to end the series and Mets season. The 2001 season would see Piazza hit the biggest regular season homerun in Mets history.
After the events of September 11, the sports world in America was shutdown due to the terrorist attacks. The first sporting event to take place in New York following the attacks occurred at Shea Stadium on September 21, 2001. The Mets were losing to the Braves 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning when Piazza came to the plate with a runner on. Piazza proceeded to hit a dramatic two run homerun that sent Shea Stadium into a deafening roar. In my 43 years as a Mets fan, it was the loudest I ever heard the Mets fan cheer in what will always be considered the greatest regular season moment in Mets history.
The 2001 season ended with the Mets finishing third in the NL East. Piazza had another outstanding season, batting .300 while hitting 36 homeruns and 94 RBI’s. It would be the last time Piazza hit .300 or better in a single season.
The next three seasons saw the Mets a struggling and mediocre team. While Piazza still made the NL All-Star team two out of those three seasons, his numbers seriously declined due to injuries and being in his mid 30’s. Finally, after the 2005 season, Piazza left as a free agent. He would play two more seasons before finally retiring at the age of 39.
In 2016, Piazza became the first Mets everyday player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He set an offensive standard for catchers that hasn’t been approached since. He carried himself with class both on and off the field. Despite alleged PED use, he was never proven to have used them. Teammates and management loved him. Most of all, he will be forever remembered as bringing New York City a moment of joy during a time of despair.