Mike Piazza: A 'Hall of Famer' in NYC, anyhow
Mike Piazza: Whether the best slugging catcher in baseball history ever makes it to Cooperstown is unclear, but New York's National League fans celebrated Mike Piazza's career in Mets pinstripes during the season's finale.
Mike Piazza was never one to hide his emotions.
The former New York Mets slugger wiped away tears and his voice quavered Sunday as he addressed a near-capacity crowd at Citi Field, where Piazza was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame.
"This is the first time that I'm speechless," he said. "What an amazing reception. What an amazing run we had and are still having. Thank you."
With his family and other ex-Mets seated nearby, Piazza was honored during a 30-minute ceremony before the season finale against Milwaukee. He became the 27th member of the club's Hall of Fame, joining baseball luminaries like Tom Seaver, Casey Stengel, and Gary Carter.
Piazza hit 220 of his 427 home runs for the Mets from 1998 to 2005 and led them to a pair of playoff appearances, including the 2000 World Series. His 396 homers as a catcher are the most in major league history.
"I can't really express how grateful I am," Piazza said at a news conference before the ceremony. "Just an amazing journey, really."
Acquired from the Marlins in May 1998 only eight days after the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him to Florida, Piazza made seven of his 12 All-Star games with the Mets. He owns the highest slugging percentage in franchise history (.542) and ranks third in homers and RBIs (655).
"You run the gauntlet here. This is not easy," Piazza said. "To play here and to do well here and to win here is something really special."
Perhaps his most memorable moment was a majestic home run at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first major New York City sporting event after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Piazza's go-ahead drive in the eighth inning against Atlanta sent the crowd into a frenzy on an emotional night, with cameras capturing the poignant joy on faces of firefighters, police officers and other uniformed rescue workers throughout the stands.
Whenever that game was mentioned Sunday, it drew some of the biggest cheers at Citi Field.
"When I think about that day, I really think for me it was just that we were all together," Piazza said.
Introduced to a standing ovation, a clean-shaven Piazza waved to the crowd and stepped on a ceremonial home plate — adorned with a logo that featured his old No. 31.
Moments later he dabbed at tears, and a montage of his Mets highlights played on the large video board.
Piazza's wife, Alicia, and two daughters sat nearby in shallow center field, along with his parents and two brothers.
Famously drafted in the 62nd round by the Dodgers as a favor to his father's friend, Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, Piazza got choked up at the podium behind second base while addressing his family. His dad sat a few feet away in a wheelchair.
"He believed in me more than I believed in myself," Piazza said.
Mets broadcaster Howie Rose read Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proclamation of "Mike Piazza Day" in New York City. Former teammates Edgardo Alfonzo and John Franco presented Piazza with his Mets Hall of Fame plaque, which he held up for the crowd. Players on both teams stood at the dugout railings and applauded.
When the ceremony was over, Piazza threw out the first pitch to Mets captain David Wright. Piazza then posed for pictures with his family and other members of the team's Hall of Fame, such as Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden and Rusty Staub.
In his first appearance on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot this year, Piazza received 57.8 percent of the vote and fell short of the 75 percent needed for election to Cooperstown. He has up to 14 more chances on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot.
"Obviously, I put my body of work up against anybody," Piazza said. "But I truly feel the process is a beautiful thing as well."