BY DAVID RUSSELL
The greatest hitting catcher in baseball history was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, as Mike Piazza became only the second player enshrined as a Met.
He might be the unlikeliest man enshrined in Cooperstown, a 62nd round pick of the Dodgers in 1988. “The only way I ever thought I would be here with you is if I bought a ticket,” Piazza told the crowd during his induction speech. Piazza made his debut late in 1992 and then won Rookie of the Year in 1993. After several All-Star seasons in Los Angeles, the Dodgers traded him to the Marlins, who then flipped him to the Mets in May of 1998.
There were rumors of Piazza going to several different teams, and at one point he thought he would be going to the Cubs. Instead, he learned he was heading to New York. “It was actually the last team I ever imagined wanted me but it was the most amazing experience any human being could have,” Piazza said in his speech.
The Mets found the man who would take them from nice little team to championship contender. Piazza was actually a free agent after the 1998 season, and some fans worried that he would leave, but once he signed a seven year deal, the love affair between Piazza and the Flushing faithful really took off.
“We didn’t get off on the best foot, but we both stayed with it,” Piazza told the fans. “At first, I was pressing to make you cheer and wasn’t doing the job.
You didn’t take it easy on me and I am better because of it.”
Piazza led the Mets to the playoffs in 1999 and the 2000 World Series, a season in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Then came in his home run in the first game in New York after 9/11, which helped the city begin to heal. “Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on September 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves,” Piazza said. “But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders who knew they were going to die but went forward anyway.”
Piazza’s time as a Met ended in 2005, and he finished his career by making cameos in San Diego and Oakland. Piazza, who hit 220 home runs as a Met, will have his number 31 retired by the Mets before Saturday night’s game against Colorado. The Mets will wear a special Piazza patch on Saturday night.
It’s a rare ceremony for the team that has only retired numbers for Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver and Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s number, which was a league-wide honor, was the most recent in 1997. While the Hall of Fame ceremonies brought fans from all over, including many Mariners and Reds fans for Ken Griffey Jr., Saturday will be all about the Mets.