Mike Piazza

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Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza (1999).jpg
Piazza with the Mets at Shea Stadium, May 30, 1999
Catcher
Born: (1968-09-04) September 4, 1968 (age 45)
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 1, 1992 for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
September 30, 2007 for the Oakland Athletics
Career statistics
Batting average .308
Home runs 427
Runs batted in 1,335
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Michael Joseph Piazza /pˈɑːtsə/ (born September 4, 1968) is an Italian-American former Major League Baseball catcher. He played in his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and the Oakland Athletics.

A 12-time All-Star, Piazza is often regarded as one of the best-hitting catchers of all time and holds the record for home runs hit by a catcher, with a career total of 427. He had at least one RBI in 15 consecutive games for the New York Mets in 2000, the second-longest RBI streak ever (Ray Grimes of the Chicago Cubs had 17 consecutive games.) In 2013, Piazza wrote an autobiography titled "Long Shot".

Childhood[edit]

Piazza was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania and grew up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He is of Italian and Slovakian ancestry, he is the second-oldest son of Vince and Veronica, with brothers Vince, Jr., Danny, Tony, and Tommy.

Vince Piazza earned a fortune of more than $100 million in used cars and real estate, and attempted several times to purchase a Major League Baseball franchise.[1] When the Dodgers—managed by Vince Piazza's childhood friend Tommy Lasorda, Mike Piazza's godfather—visited Philadelphia, Piazza visited the Dodger clubhouse and served as a bat boy in the dugout.[2]

Vince Piazza's own hopes of playing baseball had ended at the age of 16 when he left school to support his family. He saw that Mike Piazza had potential in the sport, and began encouraging his son to build his arm strength at the age of five.[1] When he was 12, Piazza received personal instruction in his backyard batting cage from Ted Williams.[3] The Hall of Famer praised his talent, advised him not to let anyone change his swing, and autographed Piazza's copy of Williams' The Science of Hitting.[2] Vince Piazza threw hundreds of pitches nightly to his son,[1] who shared his father's focus on baseball, clearing snow if necessary to practice his hitting and, after reaching the major leagues, practicing on Christmas Eve.[2] He attended Phoenixville Area High School and graduated in 1986.

Major league career[edit]

Los Angeles Dodgers[edit]

After his father asked Lasorda to select Piazza as a favor,[4] the Miami-Dade Community College student was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft as the 1,390th player picked overall in the draft.[5][2] Lasorda asked Piazza to give up his first base position and learn how to catch in order to improve his chances of reaching the major leagues, and helped him attend a special training camp for catchers in the Dominican Republic.[2] Although critics saw him as unfairly privileged due to his relationship with Lasorda, Piazza became an excellent hitter, especially for a catcher.[4] His major league debut came with the Dodgers on September 1, 1992 against the Chicago Cubs. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and then doubled to deep center field in his first official at-bat, against Mike Harkey of the Cubs.[6] He hit his first home run on September 12, 1992 against Buddy Black of the San Francisco Giants.[7] He only appeared in 21 games that season, hitting .232.

He won the National League MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 after appearing in 149 games, hitting .318, slugging 35 home runs and driving in 112 RBI. He was also selected to the 1993 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, his first of 10 consecutive (and 12 total) All-Star appearances.

In 1996, Piazza hit .336 with 36 home runs and 105 RBIs, finishing second in MVP voting, behind Ken Caminiti.

Piazza's best season with the Dodgers was 1997, when he hit .362, with 40 home runs, 124 runs batted in, an on-base percentage of .431 and a slugging percentage of .638. He finished second in voting MVP for the second consecutive season, behind Larry Walker.

Florida Marlins[edit]

He played six seasons for the Dodgers until he was traded to the Florida Marlins on May 15, 1998. Piazza and Todd Zeile went to the Marlins in return for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Manuel Barrios, and Jim Eisenreich.[8] He only appeared in 5 games with the Marlins, where he hit .278.

New York Mets[edit]

Piazza batting against the Milwaukee Brewers.

One week later, on May 22, Piazza was traded from the Marlins to the New York Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. Despite stellar numbers from Piazza, the Mets missed the 1998 postseason by one game. Piazza helped the Mets to two consecutive playoff appearances in 1999 and 2000. The latter of the two resulted in a National League pennant and a World Series appearance in the 2000 Subway Series, which the Mets lost 4-1 to a New York Yankees team which won their fourth World Series in five years. Of note, all five games were decided by two runs or fewer, something that had not occurred in a World Series in almost 70 years. He became known as The Monster after coach John Stearns was caught on tape during the 2000 National League Championship Series after a Piazza hit saying "The Monster is out of the Cage".[8][9]

Piazza was involved in a bizarre incident during the 2000 World Series. Earlier in the season during interleague play, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball. Piazza suffered a concussion and was forced to miss the 2000 MLB All-Star Game. Clemens was widely criticized by Mets fans for the incident, but Clemens maintained that the play was not intentional. Clemens and Piazza faced each other again in the first inning of World Series Game 2. During the at-bat, Clemens threw a pitch that broke Piazza's bat as he fouled it off, sending the barrel and a sharp edge of the broken bat directly at Clemens on the mound just as he finished his pitch. Clemens caught the barrel, and then almost immediately threw it with apparent frustration across the first base line towards the Yankees' dugout and just past Piazza who was running down to first. Piazza gave a long stare at Clemens and slowly started walking towards Clemens to confront him, and Clemens asked the umpire for a new ball as if nothing had happened. During replays, Clemens can be seen shouting "I thought it was the ball!" and asking the umpire for a new ball multiple times as the two benches cleared and met at the mound. Words were exchanged between the two players, but no punches were thrown from either team.

Piazza while with the Mets.

Piazza would later catch for Clemens when both were on the National League team in the 2004 All-Star Game. Clemens gave up six runs in the first inning.[10]

To ease the stress on his deteriorating knees, Piazza began to split his time between catching and playing first base during the 2004 season, an experiment which was abandoned before the end of the season because of Piazza's defensive deficiencies.[citation needed] Although recognized as a great hitter, Piazza has had some notable defensive accomplishments. Among them, Piazza caught two no-hitters thrown by Ramón Martínez and Hideo Nomo while playing with the Dodgers. Nomo's was particularly impressive because it happened at Coors Field, notorious at the time for being a hitter-friendly ballpark. Additionally, Piazza's .997 Fielding Percentage was tops among National League catchers in 2000.[11]

On May 5, 2004, Piazza surpassed Carlton Fisk for most home runs by a catcher with his 352nd as a catcher.

On October 2, 2005, Piazza played his final game in a Mets uniform, as it was well-reported that the All-Star catcher and the team would part ways following the season as Piazza's seven-year Mets contract expired. During the game against the Colorado Rockies, Mets manager Willie Randolph replaced Piazza after the eighth inning, at which point the Shea Stadium crowd of 47,718 serenaded him with a standing ovation, at which point Piazza humbly bowed to the stands and blew kisses to the adoring fans. The game was delayed for eight minutes while fans shouted and clapped rhythmically, with the ballpark's video screen displaying memories of Piazza's 972-game Mets career over nearly eight years in New York, as players from both the Mets and Rockies stood at the steps of their dugouts and clapped in appreciation of Piazza's legendary Mets tenure.

San Diego Padres[edit]

Following the 2005 season, Piazza filed for free agency and he signed a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres on January 29, 2006. Prior to the start of the 2006 season Piazza represented Italy in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Serving as the Padres' starting catcher and clean-up hitter, Piazza experienced somewhat of a rejuvenation in 2006, batting .283 with 22 homers and helping the Padres to a division title. On July 21, 2006, Mike Piazza collected his 2,000th career hit in the major leagues.

On August 8, 2006, Piazza played his first game at Shea Stadium since leaving the Mets. During the three-game series, Piazza drew frequent, repeated standing ovations which were indicative of the high level of regard held by New York's fans. It was on par with that of Tom Seaver on his return to pitch at Shea Stadium in 1977 and 1978. Even more telling was during that series, on August 9, he drew a rare curtain call in the opposing park following a home run off of Mets pitcher Pedro Martínez in the 4th inning. Not done for the day, Piazza went deep off Martinez again in the 6th. And with the Mets ahead 4-2 in the 8th, and two runners aboard, Piazza hit one to the wall in center, nearly bashing his third homer of the day and putting the Padres ahead.

Oakland Athletics[edit]

Piazza signed as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics on December 8, 2006.

On July 25, 2007, in the top of the ninth inning in a game between the Angels and Athletics at Angel Stadium, a fan threw a water bottle that hit Piazza, who had homered earlier in the game. Piazza then pointed his bat in the stands at the fan he believed threw the water bottle to get the attention of security. The fan, who was identified as Roland Flores from La Puente, California, was arrested by the ballpark security. Piazza pressed charges against Flores.[12] Flores was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation on March 27, 2008.

Only nine other players have ever had over 400 home runs with over a .300 lifetime average while never striking out more than 100 times in a season (Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols and Chipper Jones).

Retirement[edit]

After not being signed to any MLB team for the 2008 season, Piazza announced his retirement on May 20, 2008, saying, "After discussing my options with my wife, family and agent, I felt it is time to start a new chapter in my life. It has been an amazing journey."[13]

Piazza made a return to Shea Stadium during the "Shea Goodbye" closing ceremony on September 28, 2008, where he received the final pitch in the history of the stadium from Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Piazza and Seaver were also afforded the immense honor of officially "closing" Shea when they walked off together into the center field exit and closed the door on the park after waving goodbye to the capacity crowd. On April 13, 2009 Piazza received the first pitch in Citi Field history from Seaver before the Mets opening game against the San Diego Padres.

Mets teammate Tom Glavine called Piazza a "first-ballot Hall of Famer, certainly the best hitting catcher of our era and arguably the best hitting catcher of all time".[4] On May 8, 2010 while receiving an award Piazza said to reporters that if he got into the Hall of Fame he would like to be inducted as a Met, for whom he played seven-plus seasons.[14]

Piazza managed the USA team in the 2011 futures game wearing a Mets cap to the event.

According to journalist Jeff Pearlman, multiple sources reported that Piazza had confessed to using performance enhancing drugs in the course of his playing career.[15] On January 9, 2013, Piazza failed to be elected to Baseball Hall of Fame receiving only 57.8% of the votes falling short of the 75% qualifying votes. He stated that he would address the performance-enhancing drugs and steroid rumors in his book Long Shot.[16] In his second appearance on the ballot Piazza's percentage numbers did rise (62.2%) but not to the 75% needed to be inducted.

Piazza was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame on September 29, 2013.[17]

Legacy[edit]

Piazza is known as the greatest hitting catcher of all time, hitting 427 career home-runs and having an OPS of .922.

Acting[edit]

Piazza has appeared in the movie Two Weeks Notice and has acted in a number of TV shows and commercials.[18]

On May 3, 2013 Piazza debuted with the Miami City Ballet saying a few lines in the role of a hit man in the troupe's production of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Piazza wants to increase the reputation of ballet among sports fans as a result of his daughters attendance at a ballet school.[18][19]

Personal life[edit]

On January 29, 2005, Piazza married Playboy Playmate Alicia Rickter at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Miami, Florida, before 120 guests, including his best friend Eric Karros, Brande Roderick, Lisa Dergan, Anjelica Bridges, Al Leiter, John Franco and Iván Rodríguez.

On February 3, 2007, Piazza's wife gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter. Nicoletta Veronica Piazza was born at 4:07 a.m. in New York City. She weighed 5 lbs., 8 oz. and measured 19 inches long. The couple's second daughter, Paulina Sophia Piazza was born August 3, 2009 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami, Florida.

He is known to be a fan of heavy metal music, and is featured on the CD Stronger Than Death by Black Label Society. He is also godfather to Zakk Wylde's son, Hendrix. He often co-hosts Eddie Trunk's Friday Night Rocks show on WAXQ ("Q-104.3 FM") in New York City and was featured as the primary guest on an episode of That Metal Show.

Piazza is a devout Roman Catholic and was featured in Champions of Faith, a DVD documentary exploring the intersection of Catholic religious faith and sports. He also appeared in the follow-up video Champions of Faith: Bases of Life.

Piazza is also avidly involved in the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago.

While playing with the Mets, Piazza was a resident of Cresskill, New Jersey.[20]

Piazza was represented his entire career by sports agent Dan Lozano.

Piazza has lived in Miami since 2002.[18]

Career highlights and milestones[edit]

  • In 1993, Piazza hit 35 home runs, the most by any rookie catcher, eclipsing Matt Nokes' 32 home runs for Detroit in 1987. Additionally, Piazza's 35 home runs is the most home runs by any Dodger rookie.
  • He won the 1994 ESPY Award for Breakthrough Athlete
  • He was named the All-Star Game's MVP, in 1996, after he went 2-3 with a double, home run and two RBI at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, near his home town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
  • His 40 homers in 1997 and 1999 are the third most by a catcher. Todd Hundley is second, with 41 homers in 1996, Javy López is first, with 42 in 2003, and Johnny Bench had 45 in 1970, although only 38 home runs were hit while catching.
  • His .362 average in 1997 was the highest ever by a catcher in the National League, tying the Major League record set by Bill Dickey, who also batted .362 for the New York Yankees in 1936. This record was broken by Joe Mauer who hit .365 in 2009.
  • He won the Ted Williams Award, presented by CNN/SI and Total Baseball in 1997.
  • His 201 hits in 1997 were the most in major league history by a player used as a catcher in 130 or more games
  • On September 21, 1997, Mike Piazza became just the third player and the only Dodger ever to hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium with a blast over the left-field pavilion.
  • He hit the longest home run in Astrodome history, an estimated 480-foot, two-run blast off José Lima in the first inning of a game on September 14, 1998.
  • Led the majors with four grand slams in 1998. His fourth slam and first as a Met came against the Diamondbacks' Andy Benes in the second inning of the August 22 game at Shea Stadium.
  • Hit his 200th home run on September 16, 1998, at Houston. The home run, a three-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning against Billy Wagner, gave the Mets a 3-2 lead in a game they would win, 4-3, in 11 innings.
  • Tied a Mets club record on July 18, 2000 when he hit his third grand slam of the season. The only other Mets with three grand slams in a year are John Milner in 1976, Robin Ventura in 1999 and Carlos Beltrán in 2006.
  • His 72 RBI prior to the All-Star Break in 2000 were, at the time, the most in club history. Dave Kingman had 69 in 1976.
  • Piazza, Derek Jeter, and Bernie Williams are the only players in major league history to hit a World Series home run in both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium.
  • He won a record 10 consecutive Louisville Silver Slugger Awards. The award is given annually to the best offensive player at each position in each league.
  • He joined Cincinnati's Johnny Bench (1968), New York Yankees' Thurman Munson (1970), Atlanta's Earl Williams (1971), Boston's Carlton Fisk (1972), San Diego's Benito Santiago (1987) and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar, Jr. (1990) as the only catchers to be named Rookie of the Year. Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto would also be bestowed with this honor following his stellar 2008 season, along with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey after the 2010 season.
  • He finished second in the NL Most Valuable Player voting behind San Diego's Ken Caminiti after batting .336 with 36 home runs, 105 RBI, 87 runs and 16 doubles in 148 games in 1996. (Caminiti later admitted to taking steroids during his MVP Award-winning season.)
  • He led the All-Star voting in 1996, 1997, and 2000.
  • He hit more than 30 home runs in eight consecutive seasons (1995–2002). He has nine career 30-homer seasons.
  • He hit .300 in nine consecutive seasons, dating from 1993 to 2001.
  • Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Johnny Bench were on hand at Shea Stadium to honor Piazza on "Mike Piazza Night" on June 18, 2004. Piazza was celebrated for breaking the record for career home runs by a catcher.
  • He hit his 400th career home run on April 26, 2006, off the Arizona Diamondbacks' José Valverde.
  • He hit a double off of the San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain for his 2,000th career hit on July 21, 2006.
  • Hit three home runs against the Colorado Rockies on June 29, 1996.[21]
  • Mike currently serves as the hitting coach for the Italian baseball club in the World Baseball Classic and in the 2009 World Cup.[22]
  • On September 21, 2001, ten days after the terrorist attacks of September 11 Mike Piazza hit a home run in the first professional sporting event in New York City since the attacks, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead over the Braves.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Berlind, William (1999-10-17). "Mike Piazza's 'Loudmouth' Dad Nervously Watches Mets Advance". New York Observer. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Coffey, Wayne (1998-06-07). "HOMETOWN HERO METS'S PIZZA HAS BECOME FAVORITE SON OF PHOENIXVILLE, PA.". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  3. ^ "The Ballplayers - Mike Piazza". BaseballLibrary.com. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  4. ^ a b c Schwarz, Alan (2008-05-21). "Piazza Calls It Quits After 16 Years and 427 Homers". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  5. ^ 62nd Round of the 1988 MLB June Amateur Draft
  6. ^ Dodgers vs. Cubs September 1, 1992 Boxscore
  7. ^ Dodgers vs. Giants September 12, 1992 box score
  8. ^ a b "Mike Piazza from the Chronology". BaseballLibrary.com. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  9. ^ Noble, Marty (2008-09-27). "Piazza's post-9/11 shot became iconic Slugger's dramatic game-winning homer added to legacy". MLB.com. Retrieved 2009-03-04. 
  10. ^ "2004 All-Star Game Box Score". Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  11. ^ Mike Piazza Fielding Stats
  12. ^ ESPN - Piazza to press charges against fan who threw bottle - MLB
  13. ^ "Piazza, one of greatest hitting catchers in MLB history, retires". Associated Press. 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  14. ^ Brescia, Joe (2010-05-07). "If the Hall Calls, Piazza Wants to Enter as a Met". New York Times. 
  15. ^ The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality by Jeff Pearlman. HarperCollins. New York: 2009 pg 240
  16. ^ "Legendary Met Mike Piazza To Address Steroid, PED Rumors In New Book". CBS News New York. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Mike Piazza to be inducted into Mets Hall of Fame on Fan Appreciation Day". MLB.com. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c Mike Piazza makes his ballet debut in Miami, a hit man again Newsday May, 4, 2013
  19. ^ Mike Piazza Makes His Debut With Miami City Ballet May 4, 2013
  20. ^ Heyman, Jon. "NY SPRING TRAINING / East Is Eden / Piazza's found contentment after leaving the West Coast", Newsday, March 21, 1999. Accessed February 21, 2011. "Piazza looked long and hard in Brooklyn but eventually settled on a house in secluded Cresskill, in Bergen County, N.J., away from the action but closer to his mom and pop in Valley Forge, Pa."
  21. ^ "June, 1996". Retrieved 2007-06-24. 
  22. ^ "IBAF Baseball World Cup 2009 - rosters". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 

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