Piazza takes rightful place in Mets Hall of Fame
NEW YORK -- The Mets' Hall of Fame is open, and, from a different perspective, the Mets' Hall of Fame is closed, though only temporarily.
Explanation needed: The season is complete, and now the seats at the big Citi get a few months to recover. But the Hall at Citi Field still conducts business. Step inside and see plaques saluting Doc, Darryl and Davey; Casey, Kid, Kiner and Kooz; Mookie, Murph and Mex; Tom and Tug; and Grote and (Le) Grand Orange. And now Mike Piazza is included.
No. 31 became the No. 27 inductee Sunday afternoon when most of the seats in the Citi were occupied and most of the folks in the park were preoccupied with the pregame ceremonies saluting the retired slugger/catcher/icon.
Now the doors to the Mets' Hall ought to close for a while -- not to the public, but to possible candidates. The Mets have done all that must be done as far as placing plaques. Twenty-seven is a baseball number -- 27 outs in a game. They ought to keep it that way. With the inclusion of Piazza, all the iconic Mets have been inducted. Stengel, Hodges, Seaver, Koosman, Hernandez, Kiner, Gooden, Strawberry and the best-hitting catcher of all time. Not a bad assortment of talent and achievement. But enough is enough until a few years after David Wright's final base hit (or fly ball run down in the deepest part of the park).
Just as the club seemingly has run out of 90-victory seasons, the Mets have exhausted their supply of icons.
There may be a vacancy filled someday by a Darling or a Leiter -- no objection here -- and years later by a Matt, a Zack or an Ike. And because Edgardo Alfonzo is among the three best position players the Mets have developed -- Strawberry and Wright are the other two -- and he was such a reliable run producer, he too is worthy of a plaque. And I always will endorse the candidacy of Marv Throneberry. Seriously, he was as famous as he was flawed, and the poster boy of 1962.
But for now, we ought to let the wine age.
None of those on the outside looking in has an iconic Mets past. None performed and produced at the levels established by Seaver, Hernandez and Piazza for an extended period. None had the impact of Nos. 41, 17 and 31. In comparison to Seaver, Gooden was a shooting star. And no player, other than Seaver (1967 to June 15, 1977) had impact comparable to that of Hernandez (June 15, 1983, through 1989). Finally, no player dressed in Mets togs ever was the presence at the plate that Piazza was (May 23, 1988, through 2005). Not Straw, Carter, Fonzi, Cleon Jones, Dave Kingman, John Olerud, Frank Thomas (no, the other Frank Thomas). Not even Mike Vail in 1974 when National League pitchers couldn't figure him out. Not even the Bad Dude who, as Joe Torre used to say, "wants so bad to be so good."
Piazza was a different bird. Power in excess, and as Curt Schilling once said, quoting The Who, "He can beat my best."
Moreover, Piazza could make a moment. Oh, could he make a moment! And oh, the moments he made. Anyone could have hit the 9/21 home run against the Braves that night in 2001. (Well, maybe not Rey Ordonez). But Piazza did hit it. And he already was big enough to make the moment bigger than one of his colleagues could have. He rocked Shea that night. As Kevin Mitchell liked to say in 1986, "He rocked the world."
And what of the home run he hit in the eighth inning on June 30, 2000? It climaxed the Mets' unfathomable 10-run, one-inning comeback against the Braves. The force of that line drive moved the ballpark too -- off its foundation.
And in September 1998, four months after the Marlins succumbed to the Mets' pursuit of batting order anchor, Piazza hit a rocket off the facing of the second deck of the Astrodome against Billy Wagner, a line drive that reached home run territory quicker than you can say Ed Ott.
Piazza hit 'em as far as Kingman hit 'em high. And he batted .296 during his time in Queens. His first hit as a Met served as a warning. He scorched the earth with a double that reached the wall in right-center at Shea in a New York second. With Piazza batting, it was "Married men on the infield" ...and the outfield. Tom Glavine said he pitched in fear of a comebacker from two hitters -- Gary Sheffield and Piazza. Safety was a relative term, even for those seated 450 feet from the plate when Piazza was in the box.
He could be the middle of the order by himself. Piazza acknowledged Fonzi, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile on Sunday.
"They made it easier for me," he said.
But the truth is his mere presence in the on-deck circle prompted opponents to offer more hittable pitches to those batting around him. And when Piazza was seeing it well and swinging it well, he "sizzled."
That was Bobby Valentine's choice of verb. Lenny Harris picked it up and identified Piazza as "Bacon" for a few weeks. "Unbelievable and unsaturated," Harris said.
Piazza's impact while a Met was almost exclusively on offense. His receiving was at least adequate, his throwing never caused anyone to liken him to a Molina.
"He played hurt, and he played hard," John Franco said Sunday. True. But Piazza's variable personality sometimes undermined his impact. Most teammates were uncertain what to make of him from one day to the next. But as long as he hit, no one had even a marble-sized problem with him.
His standing in the club's history was captured by Franco, who said, "Of all the great Mets, you're right up here with the top."
During his thank yous Sunday, Piazza used two words seldom heard at Citi Field these days -- Nelson Doubleday. He noted how instrumental the former Mets owner had been in bringing him to and keeping him at Shea Stadium. (Incidentally, Piazza characterized Doubleday as "no longer with us," which would be news to the 80-year-old former publishing tycoon).
"We're selling entertainment," Doubleday used to say when Shea Stadium was packed. "And what's more entertaining than having a good-looking, well-spoken guy with lots of muscle hitting balls over buildings?"
Those words are not on Piazza's plaque. But the image is, sort of.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.