Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Piazza: Next Stop Cooperstown

Mike Piazza made it official today, and announced his retirement, after 16 seasons, and in five years from now will surely be a first-ballot Hall of Fame election. No one signed Piazza after playing an injury-riddled final season with the A's last year, so he called it quits.

Piazza will go to Cooperstown as the player with the most home runs as a catcher. He was the dominant player at his position during the '90s, and led the Mets to the World Series in 2000. Not bad for a guy who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the draft as a favor to Tom Lasorda.

Piazza will be remembered for a lot of things, his mammoth home runs, his dustups with the Texas Con Man, Roger Clemens (more on that later), and many other things. But I will never forget, for the rest of my life, one night that involved Piazza that stands out among all of them.

On the night of September 21, 2001, New York City was hurting. Hurting really badly from the terrorist attacks that had occurred just ten days earlier. We were all trying to come to grips with what had happened, and that night the Mets were playing the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium, the first sporting event in New York since we were attacked. I remembered I worked in Manhattan that day, and had to go to a concert in the East Village to see one of the bands that the music company I worked for at the time was promoting.

Just before 7 PM, I stopped off at the ESPN Zone in Times Square to see the opening ceremonies that were taking place that night that would honor the victims and the first responders. I got there just as it was starting, and it was an incredibly emotional experience. It made me think so much of my missing friend Joyce. The crowd in the place was incredibly respectful to the unfolding scene on the TVs, and cheered and applauded at just the right moments. And I will never forget the shot of Mike Piazza with his head bent down in memory of the 9/11 victims with tears in his eyes.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay at the ESPNZone, as I had to be at the show by 8 PM. (For the life of me, I can't remember who the band was.) The entire night I was thinking of little else but how the Mets were doing against the Braves. At certain intervals, I put on my Walkman to get updates. The Mets were still very much alive in the pennant race, but I was just hoping the Mets could give their fans a memorable evening.

As the concert was drawing to a close, the Mets were down 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth. There was a man on and two outs and Piazza was coming up. I decided to stay with the game to see what Mike did. And lo and behold, he drove a pitch from Steve Karsay and hammered it over the left-centerfield fence to put the Mets up, 3-2. I pumped my fist in the air and let out a yell. I had to explain to a friend of mine, who wasn't a baseball fan, why I did that.

But I was glad I had done it, as the Mets went on to win, and for just a very brief time, made New Yorkers happy again amid some horrific struggles they were going through.

Rudy Giuliani said right after the terrorist attacks that we had to go back to as normal a life as we could possibly return to. And for me, that was getting excited about baseball again. And Mike Piazza helped do that on the night of September 21, 2001, and for that, I will always be grateful to him, as just about every Mets fan is.

Enjoy your retirement, Mike.

Getting back to Clemens. Earlier today I realized that if the Texas Con Man is really finally through with baseball and doesn't throw another pitch again in the big leagues, he and Mike Piazza will both be eligible for the Hall of Fame together for the first time in 2013. And the way things are going for The Carpetbagger, it doesn't appear likely, barring a miracle of some kind, that he will go in to the Hall on the first ballot, if ever. (Especially if he does time in jail for perjury.)

Piazza appears to be a leadpipe cinch for enshrinement.

Yes, in his dustup with Clemens, it looks like Mike will have the ultimate last laugh.

No comments: