Sep 3, 2016

New York Mets Hall of Famer: Mike Piazza (Part One) The Mets Years 1998-2005

In 1997 there were contract disputes with Mike Piazza and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers parent company News Corp. wanted to also secure a major TV deal in South Florida. With all this on the table, he was traded to the Florida Marlins on May 15, 1998.

Piazza & future Mets team mate Todd Zeile went to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Eisenreich. One week later, on May 22, 1997 Mike Piazza was traded to the New York Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. It was one of the best deals in Mets history.

As soon as he arrived in New York, Piazza was a star who helped turn the team around. He became the face of the organization over the next seven years, making the All Star team every year but one, that he wore a Mets uniform. Piazza debuted at Shea Stadium on May 23rd, in game against the Milwaukee Brewers. In the 5th inning he doubled, driving in Matt Franco helping Al Leiter to a 3-0 four hit shutout. The Mike Piazza era had begun. Piazza hit safely in his first nine Mets games & 26 of his first 29 Mets games.

On June 1st he hit his first HR as a Met in Pittsburgh & came back the next day to hit another. On July 18th he had a two HR day against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium. On August 7th he helped the Mets to an 8-7 win in Colorado with a three hit, three RBI day that included a HR. When the Rockies came to Shea Piazza continued to hit well against them. In the second game of an August 18th double header, he came to bat in the 7th inning, with the bases loaded & the Mets down 3-1. He cleared the bases with a double putting the Mets ahead for good. The next day he drove in one of the two Mets runs in the 2-1 win.

On August 22nd he hit a grand slam HR off Andy Benes of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That week he hit five HRs & drove in twelve runs. During the month of August He had nine multiple RBI games. That month he hit nine HRs & drove in 30 RBIs closing out the month batting .320. He started out the month of September hitting HRs in three straight games & having a ten game hit streak. On September 16th, with the Mets down 2-0 in the top of the 9th inning at Houston, Piazza connected for a three run HR off Billy Wagner giving the Mets a 3-2 win over the Astros.

As a total in 1998 he hit .328 (4th in the NL) with 32HRs 38 doubles 88 runs scored a .390 on base % & 111 RBIs. His four grand slams in 1998 (with two different teams) led the majors. He also drew 14 intentional walks (3rd in the NL). With the arrival of Piazza, the Mets were now a new team back in contention; they missed the post season by just one game.

In the next two years Piazza helped the Mets to two consecutive playoff appearances. It was the only time in franchise history this was done 1999 and 2000.

In 1999 he had another Opening Day double in the Mets loss at Florida to the Marlins. The next day he hit his first HR of the year, driving in two runs in the Mets 12-3 win. On April 9th he had a big day in Montreal, with three hits a three run HR & five RBIs helping beat the Expos 10-3. But then he was sidelined with injury from April 9th through the April 25th. On April 28th he hit a walk off two run HR against the San Diego Padres off relief ace Trevor Hoffman, giving New York a 4-3 win.

By the middle of May he was up over .300 and never fell below that average. In teh first three weeks of the month he drove in 11 runs in 16 games he played in. On June 6th he hit a two run HR in the subway series off Roger Clemens in the Mets 7-2 win across town in the Bronx. Piazza then hit another HR the next day against the Toronto Blue Jays in an 8-2 interleague game win. From June 18th through June 22nd he homered in three of our games, while driving in five runs in those games.

In early July he got even hotter, it began with a HR against the Expos at Shea. Then he had back to back HR games in the subway series at Shea Stadium, driving in seven runs in the two games. On July 9th with the score tied at 2-2 in the 6th inning, he blasted a long HR to left center field off Roger Clemens putting the Mets ahead 5-2 for good. The next day with the Mets down 6-4 in the home 7th inning, Piazza hit a three run HR off Ramiro Mendoza giving the Mets the lead in a game they won 9-8. That week he won the Player of the Week Award in the N.L. The Piazza legend was growing bigger & bigger with Mets fans.

In August he began the month with a road series in Milwaukee where he drove in runs in all three games. He totaled eight RBIs overall in the series & hit HRs in each of the last two games, as the Mets swept the series. In the middle of the month, Piazza had an incredible stretch of hitting HRs in seven of eight games from August 13th through the 22nd. In that stretch he had twenty hits while driving in twenty runs, an RBI in ten straight games, raising his batting average to .325.

In the month of August he hit 11 HRs & drove in 32 runs with eight multi hit games. During the September pennant race, Piazza had three different occasions where he had back to back HR games. On September 8th he hit a three run shot against San Francisco Giants at home in a 7-5 Mets win. The next day in Los Angeles he hit a two run HR off Kevin Brown in the 6th inning giving the Mets a 3-2 win. As the 1999 season came to an end the Mets were playing to win the card title & a win guaranteed them at least a tie.

On October 3rd 1999 in game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium, Piazza came to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning. Pitcher Brad Clontz came in to face Piazza & threw a wild pitch scoring Melvin Mora with the winning run. The next day he hit another in the Mets 7-0 win as well. In the one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds to determine the wild card winner Pizza walked three times, once intentionally.

For the season he put up monster numbers leading the team with 40 HRs (7th in the NL), the third highest mark ever for a catcher in a single season. He set a Mets all time single season record with 124 RBIs (seventh most in the league). He had 25 doubles, with 162 hits 100 runs scored a .361 on base % and a .303 batting average. He drew 51 walks, 11 intentional walks (8th in the NL) The slow footed Piazza, hit into a league leading 27 double plays for the season, also setting a Mets club record.

Behind the plate he allowed a league leading 115 stolen bases throwing out just 24% of would be base stealers. He also made 11 errors (2nd in the NL) but led all catchers with 953 put outs. That season he finished Third in the MVP Award voting but won another Silver Slugger Award at catcher.

Post Season: In the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Piazza had a hit in each of the first two games but was then sidelined the next two games with an injury. Overall he batted .222 in the series.

In the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves Piazza went hitless in the first two games, but then had two hits in Game #3 at Shea Stadium. He struggled in the next two games as well, going 1-6 in the famous Robin Ventura walk off grand slam single game which lasted 15 innings.

In Game #6 he hit a two run HR in the Mets four run 7th inning, helping tie up the game. He also had an RBI sac fly in the game, but the Mets lost it in the 11th inning when Kenny Rodgers walked Andruw Jones in for the winning run. Back in the 10th inning the Mets had had taken the lead but Armando Benitez blew the win when pinch hitter Ozzie Smith singled to score Andruw Jones.

Overall In the '99 NLCS Piazza hit .167 with just four hits, with a HR & four RBIs, striking out six times. Overall he was 6-33 in the 1999 post season.

In the Mets 2000 NL Pennant season, Piazza was again denied the MVP award. He would finish third in the voting, but certainly should have won the Award in the hearts fans, as he helped carry a team to the World Series. He put up huge numbers leading his team in hitting batting .324 (10th in the league) with 38 HRs (10th in the league) 113 RBIs, 90 runs scored 26 doubles 58 walks & a .398 on base %. His .614 slugging % was 9th in the league.

Defensively had led all NL catchers with a .997 fielding %, catching 124 games behind the plate (3rd most in the NL) making 862 put outs (2nd in the NL). He once again allowed the most stolen bases in the league (110) for the third straight year & the seventh time in his career.

He opened up the 2000 season with a HR & two hits in the Tokyo Dome against the Chicago Cubs. He struggled in the first week of the season then went on a seven game hit streak where he gathered up 17 hits. On April 14th at Pittsburgh he had a five hit day, including two HRs with four RBIs & three extra base hits in a 8-5 win. He closed out April batting .368 with 13 RBIs but had an even better month of May.

Piazza would hit safely in 20 of 21 games finishing the month batting .372 with nine HRs & 20 RBIs. On May 14th he hit a grand slam off the Marlins Brad Penny in Florida, leading New York to a 5-1 win. On May 19th his two run HR at Shea Stadium off Todd Stottlemyre put the Mets ahead for good, as the bullpen held on to a 4-3 lead for the win. On May 23rd in a game in San Diego, Piazza came to bat in the top of the 10th inning as a pinch hitter in a 3-3 tie. He then hit a two run game winning HR off Trevor Hoffman, giving Turk Wendel the win, as Armando Benitez came on for the save.



On June 9th Piazza hit a 3rd inning grand slam HR in the subway series, in a game across town in the Bronx off steroid user, Roger Clemens. In that game Piazza had three hits as the Mets rolled along to an 12-2 romp. From June 14th through to July 2nd, he had a streak where he set a record by driving in at least one run in 15 straight games. In that stretch he hit eight HRs with twenty five RBIs, including ten multiple RBI games.

The Mets rivalry with their cross town opponents heated up in the Piazza years with the start of inter league play. Piazza always hit the AL New York teams pitching very well, especially against Roger Clemens. In the next month’s subway series in the second game of a day / night cross town double header, the Steroids got the best of Clemens. He hit Piazza in the head with a pitch sending him to the ground & forcing him to leave the game. Piazza suffered a concussion and was forced to miss the 2000 All-Star Game as a result.

Piazza would miss just five games & be back as the teams designated hitter in the interleague games with the American League on the road. In his second game back, he hit a pair of HRs at Fenway Park leading the Mets to a 6-4 win. The next day he hit another HR in the Mets 6-4 loss to the Red Sox.

I got the chance to meet Piazza that summer on a trip to see the Mets play at Skydome in Toronto. We met at a newspaper shop in the office building that houses the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I was wearing my #31 Piazza shirt prior to the nights game, and a gentleman pushing a baby carriage told me the real Mike Piazza was in that new stand store. At first I said “No way”, but I looked and there was a guy who looked just like Piazza, dressed in a suit wearing sun glasses.

I approached him slowly saying “hey Mike!”. At first he didn’t respond, but I didn’t go away, calling to him again “Hey Mike” & then he looked up. I admit I went off like a crazed fan, telling him I was from New York, up here to go to the game tonight. I asked if he would mind taking pictures with us & he did with no problem. He was a true gentleman and a very nice guy to us.

We talked a bit on the way out, I first asked how he was feeling from getting hit in the head the previous week. He said he was feeling better & that the bean ball was part of the game. He laughed when I said to bad you just couldn't beat the hell out of him without getting suspended, he just laughed. I told him that as a lifelong Met fan, the only names I would wear on my back was his & Tom Seaver’s. He thanked me & he said it was much appreciated.

That night in the game against the Blue Jays at Sky Dome, he was the team’s DH & he hit a grand slam HR in the Mets 11-7 win. I cheered proudly from my third base box seat, with my #31 Piazza shirt on as he rounded the bases, almost feeling like he hit it for me.

At the All Star break he had 72 RBIs which were the most ever by a Met, as he broke Dave Kingman's old record of 69. By the end of July he was among the NL leaders in hitting batting at .350. In a five game stretch in early August he drove in twelve runs, as the Mets went on a seven game win streak. That streak was topped off by a three RBI game at Houston on the 9th followed by a four RBI day the next day also against the Astros. He cooled off a bit in early September but hit well down the stretch at the end of the season.

He hit his final HR of the 2000 regular season in a multiple HR game at Philadelphia on September 22 against the Phillies in a 9-6 win. He carried a Mets team to the wild card crown, then to a NL Pennant getting to a World Series, the first NY Subway Series in 44 years.

Post Season: In the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants , he went hitless in the opener at San Francisco in the Giants 5-1 win. He gathered up two hits in Game #2 as the Mets won it in extra innings 5-4. Piazza then got just one more hit in the final two games. In the series he hit .214 (3-14) with four walks, no RBIs or runs scored.


In the 2000 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, he was spectacular batting .412 going 7 -17 with two HRs three doubles, four RBIs & seven runs scored. In Game #2 at St. Louis he led off the 3rd inning with a HR off Britt Reames and drew three walks in the Mets 6-5 win against the Cardinals.

In Game #4 he hit another HR, a solo shot off Mike James in the 4th inning putting the Mets up 8-3. In the game he scored three runs, had two hits & a walk as the Mets beat the Cardinals 10-6 going up three games to one.

In the final Game #5 at a wild Shea Stadium (centerfieldmaz was there) Piazza went 1-4 with a walk & two runs scored. In the bottom of the 1st he walked & advanced to third on a Robin Ventura single. He then scored on Todd Zeile's ground out, force play. For the first time since 1986 the Mets won the pennant advancing to the World Series.

In Game #1 of the Subway World Series he hit a deep fly ball in his first at bat missing a HR. He went 1-4 in the game batting third as the teams DH. In the 1st inning of Game #2 the Piazza / Clemens drama unfolded once again, on a national stage.


Piazza was once again facing Roger Clemens for the first time since the beaning incident in July. Piazza fouled off a pitch & his bat broke in half with the barrel of his bat flying towards Clemens's feet landing at the pitcher's mound. Clemens picked up the broken barrel and threw it in the direction of Piazza who was running up the first base line.

The umpire stepped in the middle of the two, giving both teams a warning, as both benches cleared. No punches were thrown & no other incidents occurred from there on. There were no ejections just a lot of talk.

The Mets were down 6-0 in the top of the 9th inning but made a comeback effort scoring five runs, falling one short. After Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a single, Piazza left his mark in the Bronx with a two run HR over the left field wall.

In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, the Mets were down 2-1 to Orlando Hernadez in the home 6th. Piazza led off with a ground rule double & then scored the tying run on Todd Ziele's double. The Mets went on to win the game on Benny Agbayani's 8th inning RBI double, giving the Met fans on World Series thrill at Shea (centerfieldmaz was also there).

In Game #4 Piazza drove in the Mets only two runs with a two run HR in the 4th inning off Denny Negale. The Mets lost this game by one run as well 3-2. In the final Series Game #5, Piazza had the only Mets extra base hit, going 2-5. He made the last out of the Series with a long fly ball to centerfield that almost tied the game, missing a HR by inches.

In the 2000 World Series he hit .273 (6-22) with two HRs two doubles & four RBIs with three runs scored.

Following the Mets NL pennant season, Piazza started 2001 off with a two run HR off Tom Glavine, in his first at bat of the season on Opening Day 2001 in Atlanta. A few days later in the home opener at Shea Stadium, also against the Braves, Piazza hit two HRs & drove in five runs in the Mets 7-5 win. In the first week of the season he hit four HRs with ten RBIs. During the month of May his average fell off to .262, but at the end of the month into the start of June he hit five HRs over a seven game span.

On June 17th in the subway series match up at Shea Stadium, the Mets were down 7-2 in the 8th inning. They rallied for four runs making it 7-6 with Piazza coming up with a runner on. In heroic fashion he hit a two run HR off Carlos Almanzar for what was the game winning HR. In July he hit safey in 14 of 16 games getting his average back over .290.

On July 27th he hit two HRs against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium, driving in three of the Mets six runs. Two nights later he then hit a walk off HR off Philadelphia’s Rheal Cormeir. On AUgust 10th Piazza hit a three run HR in St. Louis off Woody Williams in the first inning. He later doubled in the 7th with the Mets behind, driving in the tying run, as the Mets went on to win it in extra innings.

911: In September New York, America & baseball were all shocked by the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center. The 911 attacks were one of the worst tragedies this country ever had to face, as many Americans lost their lives on that historic day. Baseball play was halted for seven days, as the country tried to regroup. Piazza like many other of the Mets players helped in the relief efforts as Shea Stadium was used a supply stop for the rescue & emergency workers.

Baseball resumed on September 17th in Pittsburgh as the Mets took on the Pirates. That night Piazza quietly went 0-3 but walked in the Mets 4-1 win. From there he got hot, he hit HRs in three straight games, including one of his most memorable on September 21st. It was the first game played back in New York City after the 911 tragedies. It was a very emotional night at Shea Stadium, as baseball returned & the city tried to move forward.

The Mets took on the Atlanta Braves that night with an emotional pregame ceremony honoring the victims of 911. On hand were family members, many New York dignitaries, police men & fire fighters, all in attendance. The score was tied going into the top of the 8th inning. With two outs John Franco allowed a walk & a single. Armando Benitez was brought in but allowed a double to Brian Jordan, as the Braves took a 2-1 lead.

In the bottom of the inning with the fans a bit down, Matt Lawton grounded out. But then Edgardo Alfonzo walked & Mike Piazza came to bat against Queens born pitcher, Steve Karsay. Piazza connected with a tremendous HR, a two run blast putting the Mets ahead in what turned out to be the winning run.

It was one of the biggest HRs in New York’s baseball history as it meant so much in the wake of the city's tragedy. The Shea Stadium Crowd went crazy, erupting to an emotional frenzy. The fans, the NYPD, the FDNY & other city officials including the Mayor all jumped for joy embracing each other in the first happy moment in a long time. It has become one of Piazza's defining moments in his time in New York as he lifted the city and baseball to the next level. It was symbolic to everyone to try to begin to put 911 behind us all.

Quotes: In the DVD “Shea Goodbye” Braves nemesis Chipper Jones said it was the only time he didn’t mind losing a game, seeing what it meant to the city and the country.

The win put the Mets just 4.5 games behind the Braves in third place, as the reigning NL Champions were back in the race. Unfortunately the Mets fell out of the race in the coming weeks & finished up 82-80 in third place six games back of Atlanta.

For 2001 Piazza hit .300 with 36 HRs, 151 hits, 29 doubles 94 RBIs, 81 runs scored 29 doubles & a .384 on base %. He drew 19 intentional walks (6th in the league). He caught 131 games behind the plate (3rd in the NL) allowing 114 stolen bases throwing out just 22%. He posted a .991 fielding % with 919 put outs (3rd in the NL).

In 2002 there was some early excitement at Shea Stadium as Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn & Jeromy Burnitz were brought in the club. Unfortunately none those moves worked out & the Mets fell to a fifth place finish. It would also be Bobby Valentines last year as the teams manager.

Piazza had a good start to the year batting .306 at the end of April with seven HRs. On April 15th he hit two HRs against the Atlanta Braves helping the team to a 7-6 win. On April 30th in a game at Arizona, Piazza hit a three run HR in the first inning, & then came to bat in the second inning hitting a two run HR. Before the day was over he had six RBIs in the Mets 10-1 victory. On May 17th he hit a grand slam HR at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, it was his second four RBI game of the month. On May 29th his 7th inning HR was the game winning run in a 4-3 victory over the Phillies at Shea Stadium. 

During interleague play in June Piazza hit HRs in Cleveland, Chicago & another at Shea against the cross town rivals. On June 15, 2002 in another Subway Series game, drama was at its highest when Roger Clemens made a hyped up return to Shea Stadium. It meant Clemens would have to come to bat with their being no designated hitter rule in the NL ballpark.

All everyone in New York talked about all week was the matchup. The Mets fans (including centerfieldmaz) were there giving hell to Clemens & his team mates all game long. In the 3rd inning Mets pitcher Sean Estes was on the mound as Clemens came to bat, he threw a pitch behind his head but not close to hitting him. It seemed more people wanted to see Clemens have to hit the dirt although it did not happen. The situation ended there & the moment was gone.

Clemens struck out looking. In the 6th inning Piazza gave the fans a huge thrill by hitting yet another HR off Clemens. This time a solo shot putting the Mets up 4-0 on their way to an 8-0 win. That day even Mets pitcher Sean Estes hit a HR in the 5th inning off Clemens. It was a great day for Mets fans.

As the series shifted across town later in the month, Piazza hit another HR on June 29th in the Mets 11-2 win. On July 3rd at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia Piazza hit two three run HRs, driving in six of the Mets eight runs in their 8-7 win. He drove in 18 runs in the first two weeks of the month & a total of 24 with seven HRs for July. In September he hit HRs in back to back games twice in the first ten days of the month. In the month Piazza hit safely in eighteen of twenty two games.

On September 9th he hit a grand slam HR against the Phils in a 6-4 Mets win. On September 14th he hit two HRs against the Expos in a losing cause & closed out the year with a two run HR against the Braves in a 6-1 Mets win. Piazza was steady with his usual numbers in 2001 but for the first time in his career, his batting average dropped under .300 as he hit .280.

He still led the team in HRs (33) RBIs (98) & a .359 on base %. He hit 23 doubles with 57 walks 69 runs scored & 134 hits. He caught 121 games behind the plate with a .986 fielding %, throwing out just 18% of base runners trying to steal.

Injuries and age started to catch up to Mike, in 2003, mainly due to all the years of taking a beating behind the plate. He would only played in 68 games; hitting 11 HRs with 13 doubles 34 RBIs a .377 on base % while batting .286. In just 64 games behind the plate he posted a .982 fielding % throwing out 28% of runners trying to steal. One of his biggest highlights of the year was hitting a walk off HR on May 10th against Jaret Wright of the San Diego Padres. It was the only time in his seven years as a Met that he did not make the All Star team.

It was during this year that the Mets wanted to try using Piazza at first base to ease the stress on his knees. It was a highly publicized experiment placing him at first base & something that never worked out. On September 25th he made his debut at first base on the same night Bob Murphy did his final Mets broadcast. The Mets finished fifth in the East with a 66-95 record.

In 2004 on May 5, 2004, Piazza hit a dramatic walk off HR Jim Brower of the San Francisco Giants. Not only did the Mets win the game, but the HR surpassed Carlton Fisk for most home runs all time by a catcher #352.

The Mets honored Piazza on June 18, 2004 with “Mike Piazza Night” in an interleague game against the Detroit Tigers. I was lucky to attend the game and see some of the all time greats who honored Piazza. Guests included; Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench; Gary Carter, Lance Parrish & Ivan Pudge Rodriguez. That night in front of 37,000 fans Piazza came to bat to a standing ovation & singled in his first at bat with  one of his two hits. The Mets won the game on Mike Cameron walk off HR.

On an early June home stand against the Florida Marlins, Piazza had a two HR night on June 5th & then came back the next day to hit another HR driving in four runs in the Mets 5-2 victory. Piazza kept his average up over .300 into mid July where he slumped & battled injuries.

In the 2004 All Star Game, Piazza was the starting catcher once again & Roger Clemens now an Astro, was the staring NL pitcher. The media hyped up the matchup, Clemens would give up six runs in the first inning, and rumors later spread that Piazza told the American League batters what pitch Clemens was throwing.

In August Piazza missed a lot of action due to an injury. In September he only hit two HRs, and did have a four game stretch where he drove in at least one run. He finished the year with 20 HRs 21 doubles 54 RBIs 81 hits 68 walks a .362 on base % while batting .266. Piazza caught 50 games behind the plate & played in 68 games at first base. He made eight errors at first posting a .985 fielding % helping complete 44 double plays.

Piazza played his last season in New York in 2005; it was a new era as Willie Randolph took over as a manager. Piazza was back as the team’s main catcher, seeing action in 101 games behind the plate. Overall he played in 113 games hitting 19 HRs with 100 hits 23 doubles 62 RBIs batting .251 posting a .326 on base %.

Behind the plate he posted a .997 fielding % (4th in the NL) making only two errors all year. On the down side he only threw out 14% of would be base stealers. In early May he had back to back games where he drove in three runs, hitting HRs in both games, including two on May 6th at Milwaukee leading New York to a 7-5 win. Three days later he drove in four runs while hitting a three run HR at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

In July he had three games where he hit HRs & drive in three runs each time just like the young Piazza had so often done. On August 2nd he walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning getting credit with a game winning RBI. The next day at Shea Piazza hit a HR against the Milwaukee Brewers. The following day he hit another HR gathering up three hits while driving in five runs on the day.


On August 16th he suffered an injury which would shut him down for the next month. In September he had his last multiple HR game, it came in the first game of a double header in Washington against the Nationals. He homered in the second inning & then again in the fourth inning, as he drove in three runs. In the first game of a double header on September 29th he & David Wright hit back to back HRs in an 11-0 win over the Colorado Rockies.

It would be the last HR Piazza would hit in a Mets uniform. On the last day of the season, he received an emotional send off from the Shea Faithful shedding a tear as he waved to the standing ovation.

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