The one thing the Mets have lacked for much of their history is a consistent power bat in their line up. There have been notable exceptions such as Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Dave Kingman, Darryl Strawberry and even David Wright. But in the summer of ’98 the Mets were a team without a potent power bat. The Mets fans cried they yelled that they needed a offensive presence in theline up. They threatened not to attend games until this one player was traded to the Mets. That player is number two on this countdown. He is possibly the bestpower hitting catcher that has ever graced a baseball diamond. He is Mike Piazza !!!
Michael Joseph Piazza born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on September 4, 1968. Mike grew up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, the second of five children. As a child, Mike was usually made the bat boy for the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers whenever they were in town to play the Phillies, because his godfather was none other than Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda.
Mike graduated high school in 1986, and enrolled at the University of Miami. He would play for the Miami Hurricanes baseball team for one season, but his grades were poor so he transferred to Miami Dade Community college to play baseball. As a favor to his father, Lasorda had the Dodgers draft Mike in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He was the 1,390th player picked overall. At the urging of his godfather, Mike abandoned his natural position as a first baseman and switched to catcher. Lasorda’srationalwas that it would improve Mike’s chances of reaching the major leagues. While in the minors,Mike blossomed as a hitter, anddeveloped as a decent catcher. Mike was a September call up for the Dodgers in 1992. He appeared in 21 games that season. In 1993, his first full season with the Dodgers, Mike was voted the National League Rookie of the Year.
By 1996, Mike was a offensive force to be reckoned with. He hit .336 while slamming 36 home runs and105 RBIs. Mike finished secondinthe National League MVP vote, behind Houston Astro, Ken Caminiti. In 1997, Mike had a batting average of .362, with 40 home runs while driving in 124 runs . Many consider it his best season ever.
In 1998, Mike had a contract dispute with the Dodgers andwas obviously unhappy. He demanded a trade from the Dodgers and in May of that year he was traded to the Florida Marlins along with third baseman, Todd Zeile for outfielders, Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla, catcher,Charles Johnson, as well as Manuel Barrios, and Jim Eisenreich. Mets fans were obviously upset since their own power hitting catcher, Todd Hundley wasonthe disabled list with a arm injury. There have been many reports that said that then Mets co owner, Nelson Doubleday wanted to obtain Piazza very badly, but his partner, Fred Wilpon objected because he didn’t see the need for another power hitting catcher. Doubleday allegedly pushed hard until Fred finally relented and on May 22,Mets G.M, Steve Phillips finally pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Mets outfield prospect ( and stepson of Mets icon Mookie),Preston Wilson, along with pitching prospects, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz to the Marlins for Mike.
Mike struggled at first while trying to adjust with his new team. He was booed loudly when he would make an out. But he began to hit and the fans warmed up to him – even serenading himwith a rendition of “Happy Birthday” on his actual birthday of September 4th.Mike finished his first season with the Mets battingastellar .348 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs in just 109 games. That off season he signed one of the richest contracts ever when inked a agreement for six years/ 92 million dollars total.
In 1999, Mike batted .303 while launching 40 homers ( tying the Mets single season record by his predecessor, Todd Hundley) and driving in 124 runs. Mike carried the Mets all the way to the NLCS that year, but lost to the Braves in six games.
Mike had another career year in ’00 when he hit .324 with 38 homers and 113 RBIs. But Mike suffered the biggest scare of his career while playing the Yankees in the regular season “Subway Series”. Mike was beaned in the head by a Roger Clemens fastball which knocked him unconscious. Up to that point Mike owned Clemens, and there was no doubt in my mind that the pitch was intentional – especially since the “Rocket” had the reputation asbeing both a “hot head” as well as a “head hunter”!! They would meet again in the first game of the ’00 World Series. In the first inning Mike would shatter his bat on a fastball by Clemens. The barrel of the bat landed at Rogers feet. He picked it up and in what looked like a moment of “ Roid rage” threw the bat towards Mike. Mike jawed at Clemens and the benches cleared but no punches were exchanged. May Mets fans ( as well as many Yankee fans) were surprised that Clemens wasn’t ejected over his behavior. The Yankees dispatched the Mets in five close games to win the 2000 World Series at Shea Stadium. It was a punch to the gut for many Mets fans.
In 2001, with the Mets in the thick of pennant racewith the Atlanta Braves, the tragedy of 9/11 impacted the entire world . Ten days later after the tragedy, baseball returned to New York, and Mike would hit what most Mets fans would say was his most memorable home run as a Met, when he launched a two-run blast off of Braves reliever Steve Karsay, which gave the Mets a 3–2 win. That homer has been deemed one of the greatest moments in Major League Baseball history.
In ’04 there was some controversy surrounding Mike. His knees were giving in to the day to day stress of catching. The Mets manager, Art Howe, said he would split Mike’s duties between catcher and first base to ease the burden on his knees. Howe never spoke to Mike about the change, and when the media questioned him about it Mike was viable angry and confused.Mike relented and played a handful of games at first before the experiment was abandoned because Mike quite clearly was being made ( unintentionally) to look like a fool at his new position. On May 5, 2004, Mike became the all time home run leader for a catcher, when he surpassed Carlton Fisk. It was his 352nd homer as a catcher.
Mike played his final season with the Metsin 2005. He hit a career low .251 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs in 113 games. Everyone included Mike saw the writing on the wall, and that the Mets under the new regime of Omar Minaya was not going to sign him and his balky knees to another contract. In his last game as a Met he was given a standing ovation by the fans. Mike reciprocated by blowing kisses and bowed towards the capacity crowd..
Mike would sign withtheSan Diego Padres that next season. He was the starting catcher for the Padres. Mike batted .283 with 22 homers that season, and on August 8, Mike came home to Shea since leaving the Mets. Mike received numerous standing ovations – even after he cracked a couple of homers against his former team. Mike signed withthe Oakland A’s as a free agent in December of 2006. Mike made his final appearance as a player On June 23, 2007, He was unable to play due to a injury, but he brought out the A’s lineup card to a thundering ovation from the capacity crowd at Shea Stadium.
Mike would retire from baseball just before the start of the ’08 season. Mike would attend the “ Shea Goodbye” closing ceremonies in September of ’08. He and Tom Seaver had the honor of throwing and receivingthefinal pitch ever at the stadium. They walked together with the strains of ” In My Life ” by the Beatles as well as Leonard Bernstein’s ” Fanfare For The Common Man” while walking towards the center field gate, stopping periodically to wave to fans and have their pictures taken for prosperity, until the finally closed the gate – symbolically closing Shea Stadium.At the Mets home opener on April 13th 2009 Piazza received the first pitch in the history of Citi Field history from Tom Seaver to ” open the newly finished Citi Field in a game against the San Diego Padres.
In his eight years with the Mets, Mike hit 220 homers , drove in 655 RBIs while hitting .296. I think Mike will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and when he does get the call I hope he gets in as a Met ( which from what many reports say is his preference !).
Tomorrow we conclude this series with the number one Met of all time as voted by you the fan. Who will it be you might ask ? Well you will have to come here tomorrow to find out.
And with that said… HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!
Mets alumni celebrating a birthday today include :
Original Mets reserve first baseman, Ed Bouchee is 78 (1933) .
Original Mets starting pitcher from ’62-’65, Galen Cisco is 75 (1936) .
Mets Middle reliever from ’93-’94, Mauro Gozzo is 45 (1966) .
Future Hall Of Famer – except not as a Met, Jeff Kent is 43 (1968) .
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed back up first baseman, Craig Brazell of the New York Mets as a free agent on March 7, 2006.
And while you keep waiting for Oliver Perez to be released, just remember that there are just 25 Danny Heep days until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami and 32 more days until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn hates Mondays ( he wants to shoot the whole day down ) !!!