A lot changed for the New York Mets 15 years ago.
On May 22, 1998, the club made a big splash by trading for Mike Piazza.
It remains one of the more noteworthy deals in Mets history—not to mention one of the oddest sets of circumstances in recent Major League Baseball history.
Only eight days earlier, you'll remember, Piazza had been traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins, along with Todd Zeile, in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich and minor leaguer Manuel Barrios.
The Mets then swooped in and landed him by giving up Preston Wilson, a top prospect and a pair of minor leaguers who never amounted to anything in Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.
It's not often that a former NL Rookie of the Year winner-turned-perennial MVP candidate who plays a premium position in the middle of his prime—Piazza was 29 at the time—gets traded twice in a little over a week.
The background on these deals are steeped in circumstances, as Steven Booth of the Hardball Times wrote about in detail. The gist of things?
Piazza, entering his final season before free agency, was unhappy with ongoing contract negotiations with the Dodgers; the Marlins, coming off a World Series win the previous season, were making moves to dismantle the team for financial reasons; and the Mets, following an 88-74 record in 1997, were looking to get better—and further away from an ugly early-1990s era.
Turns out, that's just what happened in Flushing. At least initially.
At 24-20 on the day Piazza was acquired, the Mets actually won seven straight with their new catcher.
Talk about immediate impact.
From there, the team would go on to match its 1997 mark at 88-74, finishing second in the NL East to the Braves (of course). While it didn't come with a postseason appearance, the Mets were in contention for the NL Wild Card until the final weekend, and a second straight 88-win season was further evidence that the team was on the upswing after failing to win more than 77 games in any year from 1991 through 1996.
Looking to keep the good vibes going, the Mets locked up Piazza long-term in October of 1998, signing him to a seven-year, $91 million deal—the largest in baseball history at the time.
At the time, Piazza had this to say, per the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Mets showed incredible commitment to me. If I'm so fortunate as to go into the Hall of Fame someday it definitely will be in a Mets uniform.
With Piazza in tow, the Mets would enter into the best stretch in team history since its heyday in the mid-1980s, as the table shows. That's worth spending a little time reminiscing about.
In fact, the very next year in 1999, New York earned the National League Wild Card berth, thus making the playoffs for the first time since 1988.
Piazza didn't do much that October, going just 6-for-33 (.182) with only one homer and four RBI, but the Mets as a team defeated the Diamondbacks in the division series—their first postseason series win since the 1986 World Series victory.
New York again won the wild card, finishing second to the Braves (again) after Atlanta had dispatched of them in the 1999 NLCS despite Robin Ventura's epic grand slam-single.
This time, though, the Mets would advance all the way to the World Series, defeating the Giants and Cardinals along the way.
While the Mets would lose the Subway Series to the crosstown Yankees—Piazza actually made the final out in Game 5—the catcher's postseason performance was a big reason the team even got there, as he batted .302 (16-for-53) with four homers and eight RBI in 14 games.
The loss to the Yankees in many ways, though, signified a downturn in both the Mets' performance as well as Piazza's:
But beyond individual seasons, there were plenty of other memories and moments from Piazza's time in Flushing.
Some of the bad? Try that awkward announcement in 2002 from Piazza himself that he's not, in fact, homosexual, regardless of the rumors circulating in media-crazed New York.
And who could forget the infamous Roger Clemens bat-throwing incident in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, three months after Clemens had beaned Piazza in the head in an interleague matchup?
There was also that failed experiment to play him at first base once he started becoming a defensive liability behind the plate as far as preventing baserunners from stealing.
But overall, there was more good than bad.
While it's more of a personal achievement-slash-memory than a team accomplishment, perhaps the pinnacle "moment" of Piazza's time with the Mets was his game-winning two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning against those arch rival Braves in what was the first pro sports event played in New York 10 days after the attacks of September 11:
To this day, Piazza is a big part of Mets history, as he ranks among the club's all-time leaders in several key categories (see table).
What's more, the franchise showed how much he meant to them by asking him to be a part of the opening ceremonies for Citi Field in 2009, where he caught the first pitch thrown out by Tom Seaver.
Fitting, because once Piazza is elected into the Hall of Fame—he earned 57.8 percent of a required 75 percent in his first go-round—he'll join Seaver as only the second Met to be enshrined.
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