Jul 23

What I Will Always Remember About Piazza

PIAZZA AND SEAVER

                                         PIAZZA AND SEAVER

In thinking of my favorite Mike Piazza memory, I always go back that one swing against the Braves, Sept. 21, 2001, in the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

I was in Baltimore at the time, covering the Yankees and Orioles, and in the back of the press box was a television tuned to the Mets and Braves. The pregame ceremonies were moving, and like most of the Yankees writers, my eyes kept darting back to the game at Shea Stadium.

After all, this was our city, and history was being made at the stadium whose parking lot a few days before was used as a staging ground to shuttle food and other supplies to the hundreds in need in lower Manhattan.

During such times it is cliché to say sports are insignificant, but they also have a way of diverting our attention and making us feel good when things are black. Piazza’s dramatic home run off the Braves’ Steve Karsay didn’t heal New York’s pain, but for one moment it made things seem normal.

It wasn’t the greatest moment in franchise history, but it definitely was one of the most significant. For that reason, it is my favorite Piazza memory.

The following are my other most memorable Piazza moments:

Piazza vs. Clemens: This was more a soap opera than a singular event and the first domino was a grand slam the one-time 62nd-round draft pick Piazza clubbed off Roger Clemens in June of 2000.

A month later, in one of the classic punk moves of all time, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball in a night game at Yankee Stadium.

Then, in Game 2 of that year’s World Series, Clemens’ broke off Piazza’s bat, and grabbed the barrel end and disgustedly threw it at the Mets’ catcher.

A few days ago, former Yankees manager Joe Torre said he doesn’t believe Clemens threw the bat at Piazza intentionally.

I covered that game and couldn’t believe not only what I saw, but that Clemens wasn’t ejected. Knowing what I know now, a case can be made for steroid rage.

Of course, Torre wouldn’t throw a former player of his under the bus. However, as somebody who oversees disciplinary cases for Major League Baseball, what Torre would do if faced with a similar incident?

In the end, Piazza’s career numbers off Clemens were 8-for-22 (.364) with four homers.

A footnote to all this was Shawn Estes’ lame attempt at payback when he lobbed a ball behind Clemens’ back. To this day when I think of that pitch, I just shake my head.

Mauling Mendoza: The year before Clemens, on July 10, 1999, Piazza hit a three-run homer off Yankees’ reliever Ramiro Mendoza that measured 482 feet and hit a party tent behind the visitor’s bullpen at Shea Stadium.

Piazza’s swing uncoiled into a ferocious crack when bat met ball. This might have been one of the hardest hit, if not longest, of the 427 homers Piazza hit during his career.

Letting go – twice: Funny, considering the debate as to which cap Piazza would have on his plaque – Dodgers or Mets – is both teams let him go.

Piazza was in the prime of his career, and there was already talk of him being the best hitting catcher of all-time, when the Dodgers foolishly traded him to the Marlins in May of 1998.

The Dodgers and Piazza were in negotiations to keep him from leaving after the season as a free agent. That a contender such as the Dodgers would trade a marquee player like Piazza was beyond stupid. However, in hindsight, it must be remembered Piazza was traded not by the O’Malley family, but News Corp., which helped run the team into the ground.

A week later, the Marlins, in a salary dump, traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.

Piazza’s good-bye at Shea: On Oct. 2, 2005, it was clear Piazza’s eight-year run with the Mets would not be extended. As it usually is with the Mets, it was about money.

He went 0-for-3 in his final game with the Mets, but we all knew he wasn’t going to return and finish his career in New York. The crowd would not let him go and gave him standing ovations throughout the game.

Really saying good-bye at Shea: On Aug. 9, 2006, the Mets were on their way to the playoffs, but the sellout crowd couldn’t resist showing its love for Piazza one more time.

In a 4-3 victory over San Diego, the crowd roared the way it used to for Piazza when he hit a pair of solo home runs off Pedro Martinez. It was fun to see Piazza unload off Martinez in the fourth, but to see him do it again in the sixth was surreal.

Setting the HR record for catchers: Piazza set the record for most home runs by a catcher with 396. The former record was 351 by Carlton Fisk, which Piazza passed on May 5, with a blast by San Francisco’s Jerome Williams, at Shea.

Saying good-bye with Seaver: The Mets know how to throw a party. There was that sensational night against the Braves, and there was also the final Sunday afternoon of the 2008 season when they closed the doors at Shea forever.

All the greats were trotted out, but watching Piazza walk through the center field gate with his arm wrapped around Tom Seaver is something I will never forget.

Treated unfairly by the press: I covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, and usually support that profession.

However, two things made me ashamed.

The first was the crass and obnoxious articles questioning Piazza’s sexuality, which is nobody’s business.

The second were the persistent, unfair attacks and insinuations of PED’s.

My basis in voting for the Hall of Fame is: 1) Has he ever failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball? 2) Was he ever named in an official document such as the Mitchell Report? 3) Did a player, manager or coach ever accuse him on the record?

The answer to those questions have always been NO.

Piazza was again asked that question by long-time New York baseball writer who has an unreasonable vendetta against Piazza based on a few pimples. It was embarrassing to hear the issue raised again, but Piazza answered with class, as he usually did.

That he would be treated so shabbily by the New York press, and yet still want to be inducted representing the Mets is a testament to how you treated him for eight wonderful years.

I only wish it could have been longer.

I hope you’ll share your favorite memories and thoughts about Piazza.

Jun 29

Mets Selling Team Memorabilia Shameful

First, it was Mike Piazza‘s game-worn jersey from the night of his post 9-11 homer against the Braves that went up for auction. Now, it is his helmet. What next, his jock?

Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised. People will buy anything, and if you read the Joe DiMaggio biography you will realize how corrupt and sleazy the sports memorabilia industry can be.

iSeveral Mets minority owners purchased the jersey for $365,000 and display it on a rotating basis at the Mets’ Hall of Fame at Citi Field, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the September 11 Museum in Lower Manhattan. All good places.

Goldin Auctions will accept bids for the helmet unless another white knight rides in. The auction house said ten percent of the sale price will be donated to Tuesday’s Children, a charity supporting first responders.

The Mets were blistered over the jersey and deservedly so. They should be torched for the helmet. They should be singled out every time this happens, and you know it will. The team issued a statement to ESPN: “This item was sold in 2013. In April this year, we instituted a new process with internal controls to prevent something like this from happening again in the future.”

The “what next?” question is a legitimate one. Surely, the Mets have a list of the items they sold – and for what price – to collectors, if for no other reason to report on their taxes. The Mets do pay taxes, don’t they?

To sell memorabilia, especially of a sensitive nature as the post 9-11 variety is cold, callous and totally disregards their history. I’d like to know what other items the Mets sold off to pay down their Ponzi scheme losses.

It is shameful it came to this. Major League Baseball has enough policies, but it would be good to institute a blanket rule no franchise can secretly sell off its history. If a team won’t donate it to Cooperstown or display it in its own museum, it should be given to the player involved.

It shouldn’t that hard, but for the Mets and Major League Baseball, it always is.

Apr 15

Major League List: First African American Players By Franchise

On this date in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. All players will wear Robinson’s No. 42 in today’s games.

The following are the first black players for each Major League team. Note: The list does not include those expansion teams (such as the Mets) formed after 1961 when baseball had become fully integrated.

The Mets are in Cleveland today to play the Indians, whose first African-American player was Larry Doby, who followed Robinson by less than three months, but faced the same obstacles. After his retirement, Doby became an executive for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 1979.

The List

Dodgers: Robinson, April 15, 1947

Indians: Doby, July 5, 1947

Browns (became Orioles): Hank Thompson, July 17, 1947

Giants: Monte Irvin and Thompson, July 8, 1949 B

Braves: Sam Jethroe, Braves: April 18, 1950

White Sox: Minnie Minoso, May 1, 1951

Athletics: Bob Trice, September 13, 1953

Cubs: Ernie Banks, September 17, 1953

Pirates: Curt Roberts, April 13, 1954

Cardinals: Tom Alston, April 13, 1954

Reds: Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon, April 17, 1954

Senators (became Twins): Carlos Paula, September 6, 1954

Yankees: Elston Howard, April 14, 1955

Phillies: John Kennedy, April 22, 1957

Tigers: Ozzie Virgil, Sr., June 6, 1958

Red Sox: Pumpsie Green, July 21, 1959

ON DECK: Mets Need To DH Wright In Cleveland

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Apr 03

Today In Mets’ History: Win Seaver In Hat Lottery

On this date in 1966, Tom Seaver’s name was picked from a hat in a special draft, awarding him to the Mets over the Indians and Phillies.

SEAVER: Mets hit lottery with him. (Topps)

SEAVER: Mets hit lottery with him. (Topps)

In 1965, Seaver was originally drafted by the Dodgers following his 10-2 sophomore season. However, the Dodgers balked at Seaver’s $70,000 salary demands and he re-entered the draft for 1966. This time, the Braves took him.

Seaver signed with Atlanta, but the contract was voided by then commissioner William Eckert because his USC college team had played two exhibition games (although Seaver didn’t play).

When Seaver’s father threatened a lawsuit, Major League Baseball backtracked with the hat lottery.

There are some interesting “what ifs” had history played out differently. For example, had the Dodgers agree to Seaver’s original salary request, he and Don Drysdale could have formed an interesting tandem. No, he never would have played with Sandy Koufax, but they might have gone to spring training together in 1966, which was the Hall of Fame left-hander’s last season. Koufax retired after the World Series that year because of an arthritic condition in his left elbow.

More delicious, however, would have been had he gone to the Indians, where he could have been part of an interesting rotation featuring Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert.

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Mar 06

Why Utley’s Suspension Was Dropped

Mets’ fans won’t be pleased with this, but Chase Utley‘s two-game suspension was dropped by Major League Baseball. Utley was suspended for his aggressive take-out slide in Game 2 of the NLDS that broke Ruben Tejada‘s right leg.

Baseball’s policeman, Joe Torre, called the slide illegal for being a “rolling block” occurring away from the base. The suspension resulted from an outcry by Mets’ fans and New York media, and I believe was issued to avoid an ugly scene when the NLDS moved to Citi Field.

Utley appealed – as was his right – and didn’t play in the games in New York.

TEJADA: Suspension dropped. (AP)

TEJADA: Suspension dropped. (AP)

Here’s why I think the suspension was dropped:

* The umpire’s have discretion to eject a player if they deem it to be a dirty play and they did not.

* There was a take-out rule already in place dictating the runner must be able to reach the bag with his foot or hand and apparently the umpires believed this to be the case with Utley. (watch video)

* Replays showed Wilmer Flores‘ throw put Tejada in an awkward position, one in which he turned into Utley’s slide. This was not the runner’s fault.

* That Utley did not play in the two New York games could be viewed as a de facto suspension.

* Reaction among those in MLB is mixed between dirty and just aggressive. There was hardly a consensus in either position.

* MLB adopted a new rule on break-up slides.

When asked about the suspension Sunday, Tejada told reporters: “I don’t care really. I don’t care. I care about me. I’m healthy here. I’m happy here. So I don’t care about what’s going to happen there or what’s the decision they take there.”

Said Mets GM Sandy Alderson: “The most important thing is that the rule was changed.”