Best Mets Of All Time: No. 31 Mike Piazza
There are two players who wear a Mets cap on their Hall of Fame plaque, and there are only two people who have had their numbers retired by the Mets for what they did as players – Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza.
The fact Piazza even became a Met was somewhat of a miracle. It required the Marlins to go into fire sale mode after winning a World Series. It needed the Dodgers to overreact to Piazza not agreeing to a contract extension. It required Todd Hundley to suffer a significant elbow injury. Finally, it required public pressure from the fans and airwaves for the Mets to do the right thing and get a superstar in his prime.
As Piazza would tell it, he went into the shower thinking he would be a Cub, and he came out a Met. There’s probably a euphemism to be made there.
After somewhat of a slugging start, one where he was incredulously booed, he took off, and he had probably the best stretch we have seen from any Mets catcher. To put it in perspective, Piazza had a .876 OPS in June, and his monthly OPS would improve each of the ensuing months to the point where he hit .378/.475/.720 for a Mets team trying to make their first postseason in a decade.
During that stretch, he would have his first memorable home run as a member of the Mets. During that September push for the postseason, he had a dramatic go-ahead three run homer against Billy Wagner with the Mets trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth.
While that Mets team didn’t get over the hump, the Mets made sure Piazza would be a part of the Mets team who eventually did giving him the biggest contract in baseball. With Piazza with the Mets for a full season, things were different for this franchise. Suddenly, they had a superstar, and they were legitimate World Series contenders.
Piazza immediately made good on his contact with a great 1999 season. In that first full season with the Mets, Piazza hit .303/.361/.575 with 25 doubles, 40 homers, and 124 RBI. It was the second most homers a Mets player would have in a single season, and it would be the first time in Major League history a player had 40 homers without a multi-homer game. He would also set the franchise mark for RBI in a season, a record which still stands to this day.
There were so many big homers during that season. There was the beginning of his blood feud with Roger Clemens, who Piazza absolutely dominated. There was his legendary tape measure shot against Ramiro Mendoza, which helped the Mets take their first ever series in the Subway Series:
That would not be the only big homer Piazza would hit that year. Piazza had struggled in the 1999 postseason due to a thumb injury. That injury had actually kept him out of Games 3 and 4 of the NLDS. He would play through the injury during the NLCS, and then in the seventh inning of Game 6, Piazza would hit a game tying homer off of John Smoltz, who is one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time:
Unfortunately for Piazza and the Mets, while they made the comeback, they could not complete it losing that game in heartbreaking fashion. The next year, neither Piazza or the Mets would be denied.
In his Hall of Fame career, Piazza would put together a number of MVP worthy seasons. In 1998 and 1999, he was frankly overlooked, and in 2000, he was probably robbed of the award. In that season, Piazza would hit .324/.398/.614 with 26 doubles, 38 homers, and 113 RBI. Again, with Piazza, it wasn’t just the stats, it was when he did it. Arguably, to that point in his career, he hit the biggest home run he had ever hit when he hit a homer capping off the Mets 10 run inning against the Braves.
The Mets making a comeback like that against the Braves was indication the 2000 season was going to be different, and it was. This time, the Mets were not going to be denied the pennant. One of the reasons why was this time Piazza was healthy, and he would have a great postseason.
In the NLCS, he would lead all players in OPS. To a certain extent, you could argue he was once again robbed of an MVP. He would lead the Mets to their first World Series. That’s when Piazza would be treated unfairly.
It was not Piazza’s fault he was attacked by Clemens, and he did the smart thing staying in that game. It also gets overlooked far too often Piazza would homer later in that game to give the Mets a chance to win. He would also homer in Game 4 of the World Series to give the Mets a chance to win that game and get back into the series. Overall, Piazza would leave that postseason as the Mets all-time leader in postseason homers (since passed by Daniel Murphy).
The shame for Piazza is he would continue playing at a high level while his teammates had a noticeable drop-off in production in 2001. He was almost single-handedly tring to keep that team afloat, and to a certain extent he did as the Mets did have at least an outside chance of making the postseason when September came.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters. On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell in a terrorist attack devastating the city and the country. Baseball would be shut down for a while, and there was not only trepidation over when it would be safe to play sports again, but also when it would be safe to return to New York. When baseball did resume, it was the Mets who were the first New York sports team to play in the city. In the bottom of the eighth, Piazza hit not only the most important homer in his career, but arguably in the history of the City of New York (and baseball):
Piazza’s Mets career would take some strange twists and turns from there. There was the botched first base experiment with Art Howe, and there was the issue whether or not he ever demanded a trade. There were the rumors about his sexual orientation and the awkward press conference which ensued. He would also battle some injuries.
Through all of that Piazza remained a very good to great player. He would first hit his 300th homer, and later on in his career, he would break Carlton Fisk‘s record for home runs by a catcher. The 2005 season would be his last one with the Mets, and he would get a chance to say good-bye to the Mets fans who adored him. Mets fans adored him even to the point where he would received a curtain call when he returned to Shea Stadium as a member of the Padres and homered off of Pedro Martinez.
When Piazza left the Mets, he left as the team’s all-time leader in slugging, and he is second in OPS. He is also in the top 10 in several offensive categories. That includes his being third all-time in homers, RBI, and OPS+. That is in addition to all the Major League records he has as a catcher.
In sum, Piazza was the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and he was the best catcher in Mets history. As a Met, he was a seven time All-Star winning five Silver Sluggers and finishing in the top 15 of MVP voting four times.
An argument can be made he was the most important position player to ever don the Mets uniform. He caught the final pitch at Shea and the first one at Citi He is a Hall of Famer, and he is now the former player who throws out the first pitch for important moments in franchise history. To put it succinctly here, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 31.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
27. Jeurys Familia
28. Daniel Murphy
29. Frank Viola
30. Michael Conforto