Today, Mike Piazza announced his retirement.

I’m not exactly sure what is appropriate to say in this instance. Here, we have indisputably the greatest hitter to have ever worn a New York Mets uniform, arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.

On the other, we have a guy whose body broke down and who, to the best of my knowledge, couldn’t get an offer to play one more year, which bothered me for some bizarre reason. I have a tendency to write about a lot of stats on this site – mostly because it’s a way for me to see things as plainly as possible and without sentimentality.

But being a fan is all about sentiment. And I was a Mike Piazza fan.piazza1.jpg

I remember when I first found out that Piazza was coming to New York. I even remember that one of the teams in my high school fantasy baseball league (I think it was Scott Brancato’s team) enthusiastically changed its name to “MikePiazzaIsAMet!!!”. To fully understand what this meant at that moment, consider that the Mets began that year (1998) with a “heart-of-the-order” consisting of Bernard Gilkey, John Olerud, Carlos Baerga, and Butch Huskey. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. And now, Mike Piazza was going to take over behind the plate from Alberto Castillo. It’s a big difference.

For the next few seasons, there was very little doubt who the most valuable player on the roster was. Piazza was that guy. He was the one we knew would represent us well in the All-Star Games. Even in those years where the team was horrendous, he was a point of pride.

In the fifth and deciding game of the 2000 World Series, Mike came up to bat with two outs in the bottom of ninth, down 4-2, facing Mariano Rivera with a runner on third. Piazza was the tying run. Then he swung. And my initial reaction to seeing Piazza connect on that pitch was one of celebration. It just looked like a rocket coming off his bat. Of course, this was my mind playing tricks on me. It turned out to be a flyball that Bernie Williams caught with plenty of room to spare. It was hard to believe that Piazza couldn’t come through in a spot like that.

piazza3.jpgBut that’s the role that Mike Piazza played for the Mets in those years. He never was a much of a “clubhouse guy”. He was a pretty dull quote. But those Mets were his team. And it’s a bit odd for me to reminisce like this, seeing as it really wasn’t that long ago. But as his injuries piled up starting in 2003, we saw Mike less and less. Maybe that’s why it feels like he was a part of my childhood, even though I was already 17 when he joined the team. And despite the fact that he was still on the roster until 2006, the dominant catcher was gone after the 2002 season. By the time he became a Padre, he was a league-average catcher who could no longer move behind the plate. And it really did bother me a bit seeing his name on the free agent list this year as the season began.

So I guess I’m glad that Mike has made this decision. Now, the only thing left for me to do at this moment is to have an argument with Nick about whether or not Piazza’s going to Cooperstown wearing a Mets hat or a Dodgers hat.

14 Responses to “Mike Piazza Announces His Retirement”

  1. What a slap in the face for Wes Helms.
    Really though, what kept Philadelphia from putting him on waivers? If they want to give him up for nothing, wouldn’t that have saved them $2.15 million? Or is Wes Helms so bad these days that no one would possibly pick him up?

  2. I haven’t seen such a lopsided deal since the Red Sox sold Ruth’s contract to the Yankees :-)

  3. Nobody was going to pick up Helm’s contract for $2.5 million. Wasn’t going to happen. But Florida will have to pay $750,000 to buy Helms out next season. So, this way, the Phillies save $750,000.

    Having said all that, when you’re getting traded for $1, that’s gotta be a sign that your playing days are drawing to a close.

  4. Still… at $1, wouldn’t he be the highest paid Marlin?

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    Actually, Reggie, I know you were joking, but Wes Helms is now officially the second highest paid Marlin, behind only closer Kevin Gregg.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    Of course, the Marlins aren’t actually paying any of Helms’ salary, so I’m not sure that counts.

  7. Nick Kapur says:

    Paul, thanks for doing this post. I have very similar feelings to you about Mike Piazza.

    Given that he probably didn’t take performance enhancing drugs, he was just about the greatest pure hitter I ever saw. The man seemed to basically only ever hit laser-beam line drives. And he really had to in order to put up those averages, given how slow he was.

    It is downright scary to consider the kinds of numbers he might of put up if he had broken in as, say, a first baseman, instead of a catcher. And given the numbers he put up having spent his entire career in extreme pitchers’ parks like Dodger Stadium (back when it still played like a crazy pitcher’s park), Shea, and Petco, you also have to wonder what his career totals might have looked like if he’d played in hitters’ parks.

    I also agree with you about his clutch-ness. On a Dodgers team where Eric Karros was the next best hitter, Piazza always seemed to be getting the big hit that would put the Dodgers ahead 3-2. I felt like I could count on it, every time.

    From the article you linked to, it certainly sounds like Piazza wants to go into the Hall as a Met, what with his singling out the Mets as his happiest time in the Majors, and calling Mets fans the greatest fans in the world. Piazza also did spend one more season with the Mets than with the Dodgers, and also took the Mets to a World Series appearance.

    But in my mind, he definitely should go in as a Dodger. His first few years with the Mets were still great, but the Mets years also encompassed all of his decline years. It was as a Dodger that he established himself as the greatest hitting catcher in the history of ever.

    During his hitting peak as a Dodger from 1996 to 1997, Piazza had an average OPS-plus per season of 174. In 1997, his last full year as a Dodger, Piazza put up an insane 185 OPS-plus. As a catcher. In Dodger Stadium. I always felt that the trade the following year took a bit of a toll on him, as his numbers immediately fell off a bit after the trade and he was never quite the same. Of course that may have just been natural decline, but I still felt like something was lost.

    He also had a some pretty great moments as a Dodger, such as hitting a homer out of Dodger Stadium (the first to do it since Willie Stargell in the 70s), and hitting a line drive homer over the back of the left-field bullpen wall (which I actually saw in person).

    Anyway, I’m rambling on, but the point is that he was a ridiculously awesome hitter, and no matter what hat he wears I’ll be celebrating along with you Paul when he goes into the Hall on the first ballot.

  8. “Now, the only thing left for me to do at this moment is to have an argument with Nick about whether or not Piazza’s going to Cooperstown wearing a Mets hat or a Dodgers hat.”

    You have to start with his stats as a Dodger vs Met.

    I’ll get you started:

    Homerun = LA-209 NY-220

    RBI= LA-674 NY-655

  9. Paul Moro says:

    Nick, you probably know this already, but it’s not up to Piazza to decide what hat he wears into Cooperstown. Which, of course, is fascist.

    Anyhow, I think it’s hard not to recognize that Piazza had his best years as a Dodger. I mean, come on. That 1997 season was downright ridiculous. A 185 OPS-plus for a catcher? Are you kidding?

    I’d *like* to think that what hat he wears won’t matter for me either – as long as he gets in first-ballot. But I can’t make any promises that I won’t flip out if/when the Hall makes him wear a Dodger hat.

    And Doug, we also need to take into account the fact that Piazza played 726 games as a Dodger while he played 972 games as a Met. This still works the discussion in both directions – do you cite that fact as proof that he was more a Met than a Dodger? Or does that unequivocally prove that he was much more productive as a Dodger?

  10. Sarah Green says:

    That jerk Wade Boggs ruined it for everyone by selling his HOF plaque to the highest bidder.

  11. Paul Moro says:

    Sarah, I don’t think the whole Boggs situation is a big deal. But then again, I’m also the guy who has no problems with PED users and Pete Rose being enshrined in the Hall either. I guess I don’t particularly like the sense of elitism. I don’t think it’s the Hall’s place to make calls on morality. What makes them so pious?

  12. Sarah Green says:

    I hope this is just more of the legendary Moro deadpan humor.

  13. Paul Moro says:

    … Yes… Yes it is… Please don’t hurt me…

  14. “That jerk Wade Boggs ruined it for everyone by selling his HOF plaque to the highest bidder.”

    There was another player before Boggs. I forget his name, but I heard it last night on XM radio MLB live show.

    But they did say between Boggs and the other guy, it is a huge reason why Copperstown picks now.

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