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.
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.
But 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.