Mike Piazza. (Photo: Getty Images)

Indulge me for a moment as we travel back into the late 1990s.

The New York Mets were one of the up and coming teams in Major League Baseball. While they weren't necessarily a threat to seriously contend for a pennant, they were piecing together a roster that could at least scare the Atlanta Braves, who were in the midst of dominating the National League East with 14-straight divisional titles. In 1997, just a year after finishing 20 games under .500, the Mets recorded 88 wins, good enough for their first winning record in seven years. 

While they still had to wait for a first playoff berth since 1988, the Mets looked poised to make the next step, entering 1998 with a team centered around the patient bat of John Olerud, young second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and left-handed ace Al Leiter, whom the team acquired via trade with the Florida Marlins. 

But starting catcher Todd Hundley, who had hit 30 home runs the season before, was recovering from elbow surgery which left much to be desired from the Mets offense, which was a big reason why the team had started the season 23-20. 

 

On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, superstar catcher Mike Piazza's relationship with the Dodgers was deteriorating to the point where it looked unlikely that he would re-sign at the end of the 1998 season, when his contract was due to expire. Fearing they would lose their catcher for nothing, the Dodgers traded the six-time All-Star and 1994 Rookie of the Year to the defending-champion Florida Marlins on May 15 in a seven-player deal that included Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla heading to the west coast. 

Piazza's stay in Florida wasn't expected to last long, though. The Marlins, who have made it a habit in their 25-year existence to trade away their best players in order to rebuild on a budget (they did the same in 2003 after a second World Series and in 2017 to spark a culture change), were likely to trade Piazza before the July 31 trade deadline. 

The Mets were immediately linked to the catcher, much to the chagrin of Hundley, though general manager Steve Phillips initially said he had no interest in pursuing a possible trade. 

Whatever happened, whether it was pressure from the very top or the mythical goading from WFAN sports radio legends Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, Phillips' tune quickly changed as he got on the horn with Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski and pulled off one of the greatest deals in franchise history. 

On May 22, just one week after being acquired by the Marlins, Florida and New York agreed to swap Piazza for Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall, three players who didn't amount to much in the majors. 

Piazza would make his debut the following day, May 23, at Shea Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers, going 1-for-4 with a double in a 3-0 win. 

The rest is history.

After a rough start in New York, Piazza signed a seven-year deal with the Mets after another 88-win season in 1998 and led the team to an appearance in the 1999 NLCS and the 2000 World Series. He hit 220 home runs in New York, more than half of his 427 career round-trippers as he solidified his standing as the greatest offensive catcher in Major League Baseball history and a Hall of Famer, which came to fruition in the summer of 2016 at Cooperstown. 

And he's wearing a Mets hat on his plaque, too.