BY DAVID RUSSELL
When Mike Piazza led the Mets to the playoffs in 1999 and 2000, it was Todd Pratt who served as a reliable backup behind the plate. Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
It was an honor that was overdue. Piazza didn’t receive enough votes in his first three years on the ballot. “It was shocking,” said Pratt, Piazza’s teammate from 1998-2001. “Mike dominated his years, and dominated his peers. Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets wouldn’t have been what they were without Mike Piazza. For him to not make it on the first ballot was very shameful.”
Pratt had been in a battle for the second catching spot. Todd Hundley had been the starter, and Alberto Castillo and Tim Spehr would see most of the time as Hundley’s backup. In May of 1998, it looked like Pratt would get more playing time but the Mets stunned the baseball world by making a trade with the Marlins to bring Piazza to Flushing.
Pratt would play 41 games in 1998 but then won the backup catching spot to Piazza in 1999. “I think at the end of the day, Mike respected me, watching me play, and he knew I was a valuable asset with the Mets, backing him up and it’s probably one reason I never got traded,” Pratt said.
The relationship between first and second catcher was solid. “Me and Mike had a great relationship,” Pratt said. “If I asked him for anything, he always obliged me. When he needed a break he knew that he could trust the team with me. That made me feel good, that he respected me that much, for a Hall of Famer to hand over the keys to the truck once in awhile.”
The Mets made the playoffs in 1999, the team’s first playoff appearance in 11 years. Piazza suffered a thumb injury, keeping him out of two games of the Division Series against Arizona. Pratt stepped in and hit a series-ending, walk-off home run in game four to send the Mets to the National League Championship Series. “He showed me much respect. He was really happy for me,” Pratt said. “I didn’t get to play much. Once it all cooled down and all the champagne was poured he was one of the first ones to come up to me.”
Pratt was also on the 2000 squad that made the World Series. In game one, Pratt got the start behind the plate at Yankee Stadium as Piazza served as the designated hitter, another benefit of having Pratt on the team.
The Mets traded Pratt to Philadelphia during the 2001 season. Pratt would play with the Phillies from 2001-05, and then played with the Braves in 2006 before retiring. He is currently the athletic director and head baseball coach at West Georgia Tech.
Fifteen years after his last game as a Met, Pratt remains a fan favorite in Queens. “I am honored and humbled at the same time that New York still remembers me, to have a plaque on the sidewalk [outside Citi Field],” Pratt said. “Going to fantasy camp, I mean they just go crazy over me. And I think it’s just because I’m the same person I was the day I was born. True to my word and hard-working.”
The Queens Tribune will be in Cooperstown this weekend for Piazza’s induction into the Hall of Fame and will provide coverage of the event. See our Facebook page for updates as well as our Twitter feed @QueensTrib