THE BEST TRADE IN METS HISTORY
* May 22, 1998: New York Mets trade Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnell to the Florida Marlins for Mike Piazza.
One thing I look at with trades is which team got the best player. Depth is nice, but it takes difference makers to win. And winning is the goal, not putting together mediocre teams with a roster full of “value” players. The Piazza trade is a reminder of that. One of the players dealt to the Marlins, Preston Wilson, provided some inexpensive production for Florida. Mike Piazza cost money, as well as players. It was money well spent.
Mike Piazza was the definition of a difference maker, a star so bright he overshadowed the entire team. Not since Tom Seaver was one player so clearly the star of the team. And unlike Tom, Piazza played every day.
Well, the fans with the Sunday day-game packages might wish to differ. Like God, Mike usually rested on the seventh day.
Steve Phillips was the GM of the Mets when Piazza was acquired and he deserves credit for the particulars of the deal. But the first person I always think about when it comes to this trade is Nelson Doubleday.
Nelson stepped in to save the day, where a lesser man feared to tread.
The Piazza trade was basically a three-way deal, as the Marlins had just picked him up from the Dodgers with their goal to quickly move him again. Florida was dumping salary, they traded a package of veterans to L.A to get Mike and then all but ran advertisements on television to get the word out. Mike Piazza was on the market.
One of our owners at the time, a guy named Fred Wilpon, went on WFAN’s “Mike and the Mad Dog” show to address Piazza. He didn’t think Piazza fit, citing the injured Todd Hundley as why we didn’t need the best-hitting catcher in baseball history. I heard that interview live and my heart sank. I was also dismayed by Wilpon’s logic in the interview.
But this was 1998, not 2014, and Nelson Doubleday still owned 50% of the team. And Nelson understood the opportunity at hand, and pushed for the Mets to do a deal.
It was unbelievable at the time, a roller coaster of fan reaction: We could get Piazza? Wait, we don’t want Piazza? We got Piazza?!
Mike Piazza was — by far — the greatest hitter to ever play for the Mets. There’s no reasonable second choice. It’s become a baseball cliche, the guy who can “carry a team” for a couple of weeks. With Piazza, it was actually true. There were times when he got into a zone and everything he hit was hard. I was thinking about that the other day, as I hung around an indoor baseball facility where a large group of high school boys took batting practice. The quality of sound.
Forget seeing a great hitter. You could hear him. Somehow the bat on the ball makes a slightly different sound, a mighty THWACK, cut after cut after cut. We both love getting to the park early for batting practice, hanging back, enjoying the sights. When Mike stepped in, we leaned forward to watch. I think Pujols in his prime hit in a similar way. They both stepped into the box as the aggressor, the guy with a bat in his hands, there to do damage.
I’m very grateful that I got to watch him on a regular basis.
There are some special hitters that are just entertaining to watch. You don’t want to miss an at bat, even if the game is pretty much decided. Strawberry had that type of magnetism. Piazza clearly did too. You never knew when they would do something crazy.
Mike had that cobra-like, late swing where it seemed as if the ball was past him, and he’d whip that bat around and rocket the ball over the right-centerfield wall. The other thing — and it was mentioned in our comments section a while back, I believe — was that we absolutely knew we were witnessing a first ballot Hall of Famer.
That is true. It’s funny how that has turned out.
I’m not upset by it. This is a confusing time, where clean guys and tainted guys are on the same ballot. A lot of good people are genuinely not sure how to handle it. I believe it will be slowly sorted out — and that the game’s greatest hitting catcher will be enshrined. Not sure if you want to go here, Mike. But what’s your take on the steroids thing? I realize it’s not been proven, and likely never will be. Do you think Mike took them? And does it matter to you?
I believe in innocent until proven guilty. I don’t know, and so I don’t think it’s fair to speculate. Would it matter to me? Yes. It wouldn’t ruin every memory, but I also can’t condone it for any player. It’s fairly obvious that PEDs help your performance and create an unfair playing field.
What to do about it is a trickier question, one that all sports have to think about.
A quick run through Mike’s numbers with the Mets:
- Seasons: 8
- Games: 972
- Hits: 1,028
- Doubles: 193
- Homers: 220
- BA: .296
- OBP: .373
- SLG: .542
Those numbers, while impressive, do not speak to his peak years (and he put up some crazy numbers with the Dodgers). In 2000, he led the Mets all the way to the World Series, 38 HRs, 113 RBIs, and a slash line of .324/.398/.614.
Yes, of our four World Series appearances, I can’t think of any that were more attributable to one player. And this is coming from a big Tom Seaver fan.
Mike also provided some great Mets memories.
Plenty. The huge home run in the first game back after 9/11 is the first one that always comes to mind. Here is one I think about a lot that some people forget. In 1999, after losing the first three games of the NLCS to the Braves, the Mets won games four and five, game five, of course in thrilling fashion. The idea, however, that the Mets could make history and be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit was still hard to believe with the last two games at Turner Field. Sure enough the Braves took control of game six early, but those Mets battled back, and when Mike hit a huge 7th inning home run off of John Smoltz I was convinced that team was about to do something incredible. Sadly, Kenny Rogers had other ideas.
Picking a number one trade was hard, an argument could be made for many on our list. When choosing this trade I came back to the point I made above, of how often the key to a trade is who got the best player.
The Mets have never acquired a player better than Mike Piazza.