'It's nice to be recognized': Zeile to enter NYS Baseball Hall of Fame

October 18th, 2023

NEW YORK -- played for 11 Major League teams from 1989-2004. A portion of those years -- two stints from 2000-01 and 2004 -- was spent with the Mets.

Those seasons -- in addition to his off-the-field endeavors and his current job as an analyst on “SNY TV” -- were impactful enough for Zeile to be voted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame. The induction takes place on Nov. 11 in Troy, New York.

“It’s nice to be recognized in one place because the way my career unfolded with a lot of years … it’s really hard to establish a legacy in any one place,” Zeile said. “But this honor makes it more special. I was a little surprised, quite honestly. The Mets are one organization I want to be identified with.”

Zeile’s impact was first felt during his two years as a first baseman with the Mets. On the field, he helped guide New York to the 2000 Subway Series against the Yankees, who ended up beating their crosstown rivals in five games. Across 10 games in the National League Championship Series and World Series, Zeile hit a combined 15-for-39 (.385) with a home run and nine RBIs.

But it was off the field where Zeile made his mark in Gotham. It came after the tragic events of 9/11 which occurred more than 22 years ago, claiming nearly 3,000 lives -- 2,753 at the World Trade Center alone. A few days after the terrorist attacks, Zeile and other members of the 2001 Mets, along with other volunteers, helped make sure that all the food and supplies were in the trucks ready to go to Ground Zero.

Zeile is the main reason the Mets became the first team to wear first responder hats on the field after he exchanged hats with a police officer at Ground Zero. Zeile is most proud of the contributions the team made after the tragic events. His most memorable moment occurred 10 days after the attacks.

The Mets played their first game at Shea Stadium against the Braves. Mike Piazza punctuated the momentous affair with a game-winning homer in a 3-2 victory over Atlanta, but the first thing that comes to Zeile’s mind is the pomp and circumstance during the game.

“It wasn’t only because I was a player on the field,” Zeile said. “It was because I was a member of the community who was grieving and healing. That 9/21 game is something I think about today. It was remarkable, memorable and important.

“The most memorable thing from that particular experience aside from Mike’s home run was Liza Minnelli coming out during the seventh inning singing the theme from 'New York, New York' and doing a chorus line kick with firefighters. The fans in the seats finally felt like they could celebrate the unity of being New Yorkers and healing together. … At that point, there was an energy that came to the team. When Mike hit the home run, I felt, ‘Of course, this happened.’ It wasn’t like I was surprised. It was like this is how it was meant to go.”

Every September since 9/11, Zeile joins other members of the 2001 Mets to visit firehouse houses in New York to let the people know they are not forgotten. This past September, for example, Zeile and teammate John Franco had an emotional visit with the firefighters from Engine 16/Ladder 7. Nine men from that firehouse were tragically killed at Ground Zero.

After his playing career ended, Zeile became a popular figure during the Mets’ pre- and postgame shows on “SNY TV.” After a Mets victory, he gives his “Zeile of Approval,” which highlights the star performer of the game. He has been with the network since 2017.

“The TV work has been a bonus,” Zeile said. “I found my way back to New York with some influence from people like [former Mets chief operating officer] Jeff Wilpon and my wife, Kristin. Other than that, I don’t know if I would have made my way back into baseball. … The Wilpons were great about encouraging me to get some time on the network. A little turned into a little bit more, then a semi-regular role turned into a regular role.”