NEW YORK -- It would be difficult to understate Mike Piazza's impact on multiple organizations throughout his career. For the Dodgers, he was a revelation, a family friend of Tommy Lasorda who became an icon in his own right. For the Mets, he changed the course of franchise history, becoming just the second player to enter the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque.
In both places, Piazza gained a reputation for clutch hits and prodigious home runs. Here are the Top 10 moments of his career:
1. Healing a nation
Sept. 21, 2001
Ask Piazza, and he will not hesitate in calling his home run on Sept. 21, 2001, the most impactful of his life. Entering the night, no professional sports team had played a game in the five boroughs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Concerns abounded about how fans would receive the game, how safe it might be, whether it should be played at all.
Piazza provided the answers. Coming to the plate in the eighth inning with the Mets trailing by a run, Piazza launched a go-ahead, two-run homer that proved to be the difference. It was an emotional homer not only for Piazza, who had made New York his adopted home, but for the more than 41,000 fans crowded into Shea Stadium for the return of baseball -- and, in a small way, the return of normalcy to New York City.
2. Heading to Cooperstown
July 24, 2016
By the time his 16-year career was complete, Piazza had accumulated 427 homers, 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBIs and a .308/.377/.545 slash line that made him not only one of the greatest-hitting catchers of all time, but one of Major League Baseball’s most accomplished hitters, period. Hall of Fame support for Piazza was initially tepid, but he received 83 percent of the vote in his fourth year on the ballot to ensure induction in 2016.
During a tearful Hall of Fame speech, Piazza thanked both Dodgers fans and Mets fans for providing “the greatest gift” of helping him remember “the greatest time of my life.”
3. Comeback for the ages
June 30, 2000
Following half a decade of Atlanta domination, the 2000 season offered the Mets their best chance in years of unsettling the balance of power in the NL East. The Braves won their first game against the Mets that season and were leading the next, 8-1, when Piazza helped spark a rally with a one-out single in the eighth. The Mets sandwiched two more hits around four consecutive walks, bringing Piazza back to the plate in a game that was suddenly, inexplicably tied. Terry Mulholland’s first pitch was a fastball that Piazza hooked just fair down the left-field line, capping a 10-run inning to send Shea Stadium into hysterics. It became one of the Mets’ most memorable regular season wins of any era.
4. Cranking up the rivalry
Oct. 22, 2000
By the midpoint of the 2000 season, Piazza’s ownership of Roger Clemens had reached a new level. The slugging catcher went 5-for-9 with two homers off Clemens during Interleague matchups in 1998 and ’99, and then hit a grand slam off him on a June 9, 2000, Subway Series game. A month later, Clemens hit Piazza in the bill of his helmet with a fastball, creating ill will between the two that had not dissipated by the 2000 World Series.
In Game 2 of that Fall Classic, Piazza hit a foul ball off Clemens that shattered his bat. Part of it flew toward Clemens, who picked it up and fired it in Piazza’s direction, inciting a bases-clearing incident that linked the two for life.
5. History from behind the plate
May 5, 2004
Considering how well Piazza played into his 30s, it seemed inevitable that he would break Carlton Fisk’s Major League record for most home runs as a catcher. The day finally arrived on May 5, 2004, when Piazza launched a solo shot off Jerome Williams for his 352nd homer at the position, toppling Fisk from a perch atop the leaderboard that he had held for 15 years. Far from done, Piazza finished his career with 396 home runs as a catcher, and 427 in total. (The rest all came as a first baseman, designated hitter and pinch-hitter.)
6. Franchise-changing trade
May 22, 1998
Much as the Mets’ 1984 trade for Gary Carter signaled an immediate return to contention, the franchise’s deal for Piazza 15 years later was heralded as one of the most important events in franchise history. One week earlier, the Dodgers had traded Piazza to the Marlins amid disagreements over a potential contract extension. Because Piazza’s new employer was looking mostly just for salary relief, the Marlins immediately began shopping him to the highest bidder. The Mets, sensing opportunity, dangled a package of Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz, and the sides shook hands. Although it took Piazza a bit of time to warm to his new environs, he eventually signed a record seven-year, $91 million contract to remain in Flushing long-term.
7. Nearly enough
Oct. 19, 1999
With Piazza in tow, the Mets managed to tie the Reds atop the National League Wild Card standings, beat them in a one-game tiebreaker, then cruise past the D-backs in the NL Division Series. Eventually, the Mets found themselves in a win-or-go-home Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, in which they fell behind the Braves, 5-0, in the first inning.
Enter Piazza. The Mets had clawed back to within two runs of the lead when their slugging catcher came to bat in the seventh, launching a dramatic, two-run homer off future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Mets took the lead shortly thereafter and, although they couldn’t hold it -- they lost in 11 innings to fall short of the pennant -- the home run remains one of the most memorable of Piazza’s career.
8. Unique beginnings
As the story goes, the Dodgers only selected Piazza in the 66th round as a favor to his father, Vince, who was childhood friends with Lasorda, the longtime Dodgers manager. Given an opportunity, Piazza developed into an impact hitter in the upper Minors before debuting in 1992 and winning NL Rookie of the Year honors the following season. The rest is, quite literally, history. Over a 16-year career, Piazza became the lowest-drafted player (1,390th overall) to make the Hall of Fame.
9. Shining bright
July 9, 1996
By 1996, Piazza was an established star in Los Angeles, making the fourth of what would become 10 consecutive NL All-Star teams. That Midsummer Classic, however, was his most memorable; Piazza homered off Charles Nagy in the second inning, doubled off Chuck Finley in the third, drove home two runs and won MVP honors in a 6-0 win. Overall, Piazza homered twice and drove home five runs in 11 All-Star appearances.
10. Return to Shea
Aug. 9, 2006
In early August of 2006, a visiting player walked into Shea Stadium, hit two home runs to beat the Mets … and received a standing ovation from the home crowd. The player was Piazza, returning to Shea for the first time since the Padres signed him to a one-year deal as a 37-year-old after the 2005 season. The Mets, looking to move forward with new catcher Paul Lo Duca, let Piazza go in the twilight of his career. But their fans didn’t forget his contributions over eight seasons, and so they didn’t mind too much when Piazza singlehandedly beat them in his return.