2 Guys Talking: Mike Piazza, the Greatest Mets Hitter Ever

Piazza the Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike:

Sunday is not just the last game of the season, the Mets are also honoring Mike Piazza. As with the 1969 Mets, when Tom Seaver rightfully earned the nickname “The Franchise,” there was never a doubt as to whom the big gun was on our 2000 National League Championship squad. With all due respect to folks such as John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo, this was Piazza’s team.

Jimmy:

No question. It’s an overused cliche, how a player could “carry a team on his back.” Most of the time, it’s not evident. But for Mike Piazza, he truly was that guy, the heart of the order. When I think of Mike, I think of how he hit the ball so hard. The ball sounded different off his bat, a qualitative difference you could hear.

Mike:

Oh yes, and we found that out with his very first hit as a Met, on May 23, 1998. Piazza hit what looked like a line single to left center, only he hit it so hard it kept speeding through the grass like a rocket. What first looked like a single was a double, and I couldn’t believe what I had seen.

Jimmy:

Do you remember the trade, Mike? A bunch of folks hated the idea, “But we’ve already got Todd Hundley?” Or better, “We can’t trade away the farm!”

Who did we trade, anyway? I seem to have forgotten the names of those immortals?

Mike:

I remember it very clearly. Our current majority owner, Fred Wilpon, went on WFAN to spin, and he was clear that he didn’t think we needed Mike. Thankfully Nelson Doubleday was still around and stepped in or else we would have never traded for Piazza.

ed yarnellWe traded Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, and Ed Yarnell, all highly rated prospects at the time. Wilson did end up having something of a career, but I think that trade worked out for the Mets.

A quick personal story about that Piazza trade. My birthday is on May 24th, and I didn’t know it, but there was a party planned for me for the 23rd, which was a Saturday. We had the game on, of course, and four people showed up with Piazza jerseys. It was less than 24 hours from the trade announcement!

Three other people came late, they couldn’t bear not going to the game. I fully understood. That is the type of excitement that can be created with a smart bold move. A big market move too. Piazza needed to be paid, otherwise he would never have been available.

Jimmy:

Great teams — championship teams — need great players. Maybe somebody can go digging up for an exception, and maybe it exists, but the exception does not make the rule. I really think that was an object lesson of Mike Piazza. A team needs great players. That’s how you win, that’s how you sell tickets. And the fact is, there just aren’t that many to go around. Mike Piazza was special, we knew it at the time, and we appreciated it fully. The best hitter the Mets have ever had.

Mike:

PiazzaOh I agree with that completely. It’s funny, since we started blogging we have brought up Hernandez and Carter a few times, as signature moments that changed the franchise. The Piazza years did not include a World Championship, but that was the only thing Mike didn’t end up delivering. The move to get Piazza was as great a deal as any the Mets have ever made.

Mike had so many memorable at bats with the Mets it would be silly for me to list them. I’m certain we will see a montage of them on Sunday, when he is rightfully inducted into our Hall of Fame.

If they want to surprise us all and retire his number, that would be just fine with me too.

 

 

 

 

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18 comments

  1. Patrick Boegel says:

    I think the Piazza acquisition and the years he was here and the aftermath all typify the Wilpon owned Mets and their inability to chew gum while walking at the same time.

    I give limited, and I mean really limited defense of Wilpon at the time, as I was never sold that Steve Phillips was exactly the best consigliere, or perhaps given the boss he was.

    Nevertheless the Mets after the pitiful years of the early 1990s were so hell bent on rebuilding a farm system that was productive their plan was to ignore basically the major league product. That storyline should sound oddly familiar.

    I think that the Wilpons never fully recovered from the Darryl Strawberry disaster and just could not stomach the idea of “what if we can’t make a contract deal?”

    With Piazza ultimately on board the Mets made deals around him that were always half measures. Not going the extra mile to keep Olerud (I refuse to believe he would not have stayed given the right deal). Fine thing letting Hampton go, he was looking for absurd money, but replacing him with Steve Trachsel? That is not creative. All the while the Mets were drafting guys like Jason Tyner.

    Then as the farm system was neglected and decayed. Piazza got old, they continued to surround him retreads and reclamation projects.

    Then they stumbled into the graces of some decent picks and prospects with hype. So naturally they traded them for another Mike Piazza? No Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson.

    Which of course sparked the Mets to actually go out and begin acquiring major league talent, in quick fashion from Beltran to Pedro to Wagner to Delgado, funny thing they were missing when 2006 rolled around, a decent right handed bat with a touch of pop.

    Of course at this time the Mets began their systematic philosophy of if thou spends on the major league roster, thou goes cheap on the minor league development.

    Then as the major league team buckled under age and injuries, there was little to replace them.

    Rinse and repeat. Bottom out the major league roster, spend on player development.

    Amazingly the Braves, Cardinals, Tigers, Red Sox, Angels amongst others appear to be able to chew gum and walk all at once.

    They had a great one in Piazza, managed to bungle that experience not too surprisingly, while here, and after. Half measures. Team hall of fame, but no retired number yet. Those are saved for I don’t know who.

    • Alan K. says:

      Many other MLB have retired numbers of players without waiting for the HOF to act. I think retiring Piazza’s number should be a no brainer. The Mets are weird when it comes to honoring their players.

  2. If you guys had to choose between either Piazza or Carter as the greatest Mets catcher ever, which one would you choose? As for me, as much as I appreciated all that Piazza did for the team, I’d still take Carter.

  3. James Preller says:

    I would go with Mike, and that’s no knock on Gary Carter.

  4. Michael Geus says:

    I also would say Piazza, but it would be close.

    • Alan K. says:

      With all due respect to Carter, not really close at all in my mind. Piazza was here longer and put up better numbers with a lesser supporting cast. Gary was outstanding his first two years here but tailed off badly afterwards.

      • Patrick Boegel says:

        I’d even cut a little deeper on Gary, he was outstanding from just before Labor Day of 1985 through the end of an unfortunate 2nd place finish.

        Beyond that he certainly was the epitome of no quit and helped guide that team to he promised land with some other vets, but he really was toast in terms of production by the time he arrived as a Met.

  5. IB says:

    Carter was toast in terms of production by the time he arrived as a Met? The back of his baseball card say different.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      The funny thing about baseball cards is they are a composite of a larger story. When you peel back the onion, the back of the baseball card is full of misinformation.

      Carter had a 10 year run in which his offensive production indexed well above league average, particularly when you consider he was a catcher. Of those 6 were all-star level, only one of which occurred with the Mets.

      He put up nice composite numbers in 1985 and 1986 but, 1985 was really about a 32 game stretch at the end of the year, which for a catcher is truly impressive.

      Carter played four seasons with the Mets. They got one of the better seasons of his career in 1985 (again which largely was accumulated during a short 32 game window) they got one of the lesser of his top seasons and the two worst full seasons of his career by far.

      Fair to say he was not any longer a force for most of his tenure.

  6. Dave says:

    Piazza gets the nod based on longevity and impact. Carter had 2 great years as a Met (85,86) and 1 good year (’87). Piazza had 2 2/3 great years as a Met (109 games in ’98, 99, 2000) and 2 near geat years (‘01,02). Piazza certainly benefited from having very high on base guys in front of him (Olerud, Alfonzo, Henderson, etc) but his overall “body of work” as a Met was better than Carter’s.

    Moving beyond stats, Piazza’s presence revitalized the franchise the day he arrived. He made the Mets relevant after several years of bad records and low attendance. In his low key way, Piazza was a NY sports rock star. Carter defintely made the Mets better, but Gooden, Strawberry and Hernandez had already changed the mood of the franchise in 1984, the year before Carter arrived.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      Olerud only played 1 2/3 years with Piazza though, Henderson 1. And Alfonzo was very clearly not the same player after 2000.

      Carter did have Hernandez in front of him in 1985 and Strawberry behind him for most of the season, then Hernandez, Backman and Dykstra ahead of him most of 1986 and Strawberry some.

      No trying to diminsh Carter’s career or accomplishments, but his most potent stuff simply did not happen in New York.

      • Dave says:

        No real argument that Piazza was a better hitter with the Mets than Carter. I’m just saying that if you look at their best two seasons with the Mets(for both of them it was their first two full seasons ) they are roughly comparable, taking the different eras into account. In 1985, Carter was one of 7 NL players with 100 or more RBIs and one of 5 with 30 or more HRs. In 1999, Piazza was one of 27 NL players with 100 or more RBIs, and one of 24 with 30+ HRs. An interesting side note is that one of the other players with 100 RBIs in 1985 was Hubie Brooks, the player the Mets gave up in the Carter trade. To your point though, Carter fell off the table offensively after 1986, so his status as a Mets icon is based on his central role with the World Series team in ’86. This is one of the reasons Carter is wearing an Expos cap in Cooperstown, while Piazza will likely be the second player to go into the HOF as a Met.

  7. Tom M says:

    Just to add to Jimmy’s question about remembering the trade. Remember we took off from work to golf at kissena and your Mom had you paged through your beeper (pre cellphone). We walked off the course because you thought something was wrong and you had to call her.

    When you found out she was getting you to tell you about the trade we went to the clubhouse to celebrate.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Yep, and we walked off the course even though we hadn’t finished the round. In my case, of course, that is never a bad idea.

  8. James Preller says:

    I did not realize that Mike participated in sports that required walking. Must have been the good old days.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Of course I had a cart. You can be sure of that.

      A little literary license, with the “walked off the course,” sorry to alarm you.

  9. Don P says:

    It’s curious that you mention his first hit. I remember it so vividly. I think the shortstop jumped to try to catch it. Two hops later, it hit the wall! I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy’s a Met?”

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