Mike Piazza and Tom Seaver at the last game at Shea Stadium in 2008.
Photo by Bruce Adler
By David Russell
Tom Seaver has company.
Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame last Wednesday, making the iconic catcher the second player to enter Cooperstown as a Met.
Seaver, who was elected in 1992, released a statement on the announcement. “Without a doubt Mike Piazza was one of the top hitting catchers in the history of the game. For Mike to compile the stats he did while catching is amazing. His election to Cooperstown in most deserving.”
The 1997 Mets had won 88 games, but were still not a title contender. On May 22, 1998, the Mets traded for Piazza even though the team already had Todd Hundley, an All-Star catcher in 1996 and 1997.
“It was a fascinating time in Met history,” said Fran Healy, Mets broadcaster from 1984-2005. “Todd Hundley was the most popular player by a lot. And now Piazza was replacing him. Piazza became more popular in a short time. I never saw that before in any sport.”
The 23 home runs Piazza hit for the 1998 Mets helped him win over fans as the team tried playing Hundley as a left fielder. In the off-season Piazza re-signed for seven years as Hundley was traded away. Piazza hit 220 homers for the Mets from 1998-2005, and was an All-Star in every season except 2003.
Piazza hit 40 homers in 1999 as New York made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. The following year, Piazza hit 38 more and led New York to the World Series.
Although Piazza was putting up great numbers, he had a quiet demeanor. “He was one of the best interviews,” said Healy, who hosts The Game 365 and Halls of Fame on the MSG Network. “He was thoughtful and articulate. I probably interviewed him more than anyone. He would get into a zone at the ballpark. I was almost reluctant to approach him at times. The toughest time to interview guys is before the game because they’re so focused.”
Healy was in the booth for Fox Sports New York on September 21, 2001, when the Mets played the first game in New York City after 9/11. Trailing the Braves 2-1 in the eighth, Piazza hit a two-home run to give the Mets the lead. “He became a baseball demigod when he did that, after all the anxiety that surrounded the country,” said Healy
After leaving the Mets following the 2005 season Piazza played for the Padres and A’s before retiring after 2007. He holds the record for most home runs by a catcher with 396.
Piazza has remained visible since his retirement. Following the final game at Shea Stadium in 2008, he caught the last pitch in stadium history from Seaver, and the duo hooked up again before the first game at Citi Field the following April. Piazza entered the Mets Hall of Fame in 2013 and it is likely that his number 31 will be retired by the team during the 2016 season.