Monday, January 30, 2006

Thoughts on Mr. Met

So Mike Piazza is still not a San Diego Padre officially. I doubt there's a real problem that could jeopardize the signing; perhaps he wasn't able to take his physical yet. In any event, we'll talk about it now.

If you're a Mets fan, the last eight years have been defined by Mike Piazza. Sure, we know he wasn't a homegrown product, and we know that his last few years as a Met were less than spectacular. But that doesn't matter. Piazza will always be viewed by Mets fans a true Met and an all time great Met. I still remember being at home on Friday afternoon, May 15, 1998, when news broke of the Marlins-Dodgers trade that sent Piazza to Florida. Came kind of out the blue. I remember spending that Sunday at the Salute to Israel Parade debating with my friend Jared Jerome whether the Mets could then get Piazza from the Fish. I took the "shut up, you're nuts, they can't and they won't" side of the argument. (That was the day David Wells pitched his perfect game for the Yankees, by the way.) Over the next week, after the Mets had declared that they had no plans to pursue Piazza in a trade, a flood of angry calls to Mike and the Mad Dog poured in. And I thought, "these callers are wasting their time." Finally, Friday, May 22, 1998. Listening to WFAN at about 2:30 when Mike announced, "The Mets have called a 4 o'clock press conference to announce a major trade." Could it be? Are you serious? And then, a few minutes later, confirmation: "The Marlins have also called a press conference. It's Piazza."

Not having been old enough to witness 1986, that became the best day of my life as a Mets fan. This was a guy every team wanted, the Mets were given no chance to get, and they went out and brought him in. In the prime of his career. Unbelievable. We knew he'd be the face of the franchise.

If only he'd stay. New York being what it is, Piazza got off to a slow start, and some people I'd rather not call "fans" started the booing. Piazza was pressing, Piazza wasn't happy, and, according to every report, Piazza was as good as gone. As soon as he hit free agency in November he was going to sign with Anaheim, or Colorado, or maybe some other team, but he sure as hell wasn't staying to be treated like crap in New York. But not only did he stay, he didn't even file for free agency. We forget about that, my friends. We all remember how elated we were that day in May 1998, but we don't often talk about how lucky we were that Piazza had a miraculous (a word I HATE in the context of sports, but let's just go with it) change of heart at the very end of the season and stuck around.

$91 mil over 7 years. That was a lot of money (still is, whew) and a lot of years. 2005? I remember thinking, "when the hell is it going to be 2005? Where the hell will I be in 2005? I'LL BE 23 IN 2005??!?!?" And here we are. 7 seasons of great memories later, Mike Piazza will now be donning #31 for another club. It's fitting, for me, that Piazza is going to San Diego. Because that will always be one of my strongest game memories of Piazza: April 28, 1999, Padres-Mets at Shea. The Mets blew a 2-1 lead in the top of the 8th, and entered the bottom of the 9th down 3-2, with Trevor Hoffman on the mound. A virtual "game over." John Olerud got on (ok, that's not part of my memory - thanks retrosheet) and then Mike smacked one over the right field fence. Game winning 2 run homer, Mets win 4-3. I was going nuts. I went into my brother's room to celebrate, but he had already fallen asleep. So what did I do? I woke him up. "Jonny, Piazza just hit a game winning homer off Hoffman!! Mets win!" "Are you nuts? I already missed the homer, what good does waking me up do now? You're an idiot, thanks a lot." "Yeah, fair point. Sorry, good night." I have a theory that this incident is what turned my brother off to society and sent him to a life of religious fanaticism, but that's for another blog.

Anyway, let's focus on the present. This is a great signing for the Padres. I've said all along that Piazza at age 37 is still better than a lot of catchers in their primes. He's certainly better than Doug Mirabelli at 35. So $2 mil is well worth the investment. If Piazza can hit 15 homers, drive in 70 runs, and not be too much of a defensive liability, he'll be a bargain at $2 mil. Better than that he'll be an absolute steal. And if he loses it completely mid-season, the Padres didn't risk that much money. Buster Olney has predicted that Piazza won't finish the season as a Padre (presumably because he'll be released or will retire). I think he's got more left in the tank than that. Maybe not a lot more, but I think he can help the Padres out for at least all of 2006.

I hadn't started the blog yet, but most of you know my thoughts on the way the Mets replaced Piazza. Paul LoDuca isn't that much younger, has much worse power, is no better at throwing out runners, costs much more, is locked in for 2 years, and cost the Mets a decent prospect in Gaby Hernandez. And oh yeah, the little thing about him not being the face of the franchise for the last 8 years. I'm not saying that alone would mean you don't eventually move on. You have to be able to recognize a player for all his done for your team, and then be ready to show him the door to improve your club. But the Mets didn't do that here, and Piazza's bargain signing with San Diego bears that out. It's a pity. But at least Minaya was able to check something off on his little list there by jumping for LoDuca so we could all see what a quick and decisive general manager he is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think every Met fan remembers the exact place they were when the Mets trade for Piazza went through. Its kinda like JFK shooting but in a good way of course. Im stupid

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's scary, but that's exactly right. I remember hearing it as I was leaving school, and running all the way home like a little kid.

The pity was that the Muts never (save for 1999) gave Piazza the lineup support around him. He could have easily driven in more runs, and of course a championship would have been nice...

4:27 PM  

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