What made Mike Piazza special to this city was his ability to capture the moment. We all know the rags to riches story of being a 62nd round draft choice by the Dodgers in 1988 — as a favor to his father, who was a friend of Tommy Lasorda. What he developed into was the greatest offensive catcher that Major League Baseball has ever scene.
Sure, there were defensive limitations, but his offensive prowess far outweighed that fact until the last few years of his career. In his 16 years, he hit .308 with 427 career homers and 1,335 RBI. He hit over 30 HR in a season nine times. Yes, I know he has been dogged by PED rumors, but he never failed a drug test and I am certainly not going to pain him with the brush of guilt because of ‘back acne’. What I will say is this, when he was acquired on May 22, 1998 he lived up to each and every expectation.
Instead of running and hiding from the expectations and the pressure, he embraced it. He embraced everything that it meant to represent the Mets and New York City. He enters into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown as a Met because even though he was given his first opportunity and thrived in Los Angeles he cemented his greatness here, in New York.
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There is certainly a long list of great baseball players, immortals even, that played in New York. If you are a baseball fan, the names of Seaver, Mantle, Ruth and Gehrig just to name a few. Piazza, deserves to be on that list because he earned it. He earned it with each and every long majestic home run. He learned it with every clutch RBI. He earned it because he thrived in the most pressurized sports city in the country.
Make no mistake about it, it is the rare player that comes to this city and lives up to the expectations. He was a star before he arrived and continued in that role in this city. He carried a franchise and gave them relevancy. You can always picture the stance and the Mizuno bat and the freakish raw power to all fields that he possessed.
You can certainly picture his stance and his follow through and his long majestic towering homers deep into the sky. He cleared Dodger Stadium, he hit a 477 foot grand slam against the Marlins that drew as genuine a reaction from Tommy Lasorda that you will ever see. In the Yankees-Mets rivalry, his dominance of Roger Clemens drove ‘The Rocket’ insane as we all witnessed by the legendary bat toss.
Piazza was a moment player. What I mean by that was the moment never seemed to big for him.
With that being said, Piazza will forever be known for his post 9/11 homer as sports returned to NYC for the first time since our nation was attacked. It was 10 days after the attack and it was the first sign of some sort of normalcy returning to this city. His 2-run homer off of Steve Karsay, a local kid from Christ the King High School gave the Mets a 3-2 lead and gave the Shea faithful the moment they wanted. A moment, however brief, to take themselves away at that time from everything else that was all too real around them. He hit 427 homers in his career, but on September 21, 2001, that is one that I will always remember. He helped us all heal just a little bit that evening. He gave us a moment that we will all never forget.
So as Mike Piazza had his day on Sunday, I thank him for all the days he gave this city as a player. To the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, thank you Mike, thank you.