As the latest news comes in about Willie Randolph's future as the Mets manager, it occurs to me that if it wasn't for a trade the Mets made a decade ago, this managerial problem, or the Mets, might not matter much in New York.
On May 22, 1998, the Mets made perhaps the most important trade in the history of the franchise. The Mets acquired catcher Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins for center fielder Preston Wilson, pitcher Ed Yarnell, and pitcher Geoff Goetz.
At the time, Mets GM Steve Phillips got an all-star catcher who was coming off one of the best offensive seasons a catcher has ever had. By the time Mike Piazza left the Mets in 2005, the Mets had once again become important in the New York sports scene, mainly because of Mike Piazza.
Before the Mets obtained Piazza in 1998, the Mets were hardly making a dent when it came to New York baseball. During that year, the Yankees were on their way to a 114-win regular season and their second World Series Championship in three years. The Mets, who had won 88 games in '97, were still only averaging around 17,000 fans the first two months of the '98 season.
Piazza's first game as a Met, May 23, 1998, drew more than 32,000—most of the tickets purchased on the day of the game. In the ten years since, the Mets have averaged more than 47,000 fans at Shea Stadium. One man did this: Mike Piazza.
During his time as a Met, Mike Piazza led his team to the 1999 NLCS, and the 2000 World Series. More importantly, Mike further punched his ticket to Cooperstown. During his over seven years in blue and orange, Mike was voted as the starter for the NL in the All-Star Game each year, and broke the home-run record for catchers. His 352nd home run, surpassing Carlton Fisk, officially made him the greatest hitting catcher of all-time.
While most people criticized him for his defense, the fact that he was able to hit the way he did while catching the amount of games he did is a true testament to how great of a hitter Mike Piazza was.
Piazza's offensive accomplishments have changed the perception of the catcher. As Piazza walks away from the game of baseball, there are now many catchers who can swing the bat decently—even though none come close to Piazza. No longer are catchers just responsible for calling a good game behind the plate, especially in the National League.
But for all of the accomplishments and home runs, the true legacy of Mike Piazza can traced back to one night in New York wearing blue and orange. Nobody will forget the first game back in New York after 9/11. With all of New York still grieving, it was Mike Piazza who, just like when he came to the Mets in 1998, gave the Mets, the fans, and the city a jolt.
Piazza hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to give the Mets a 3-2 win. And with his home run that night, Mike Piazza gave New Yorkers a reason to cheer, and a reason to believe—just like when that trade was made in '98 and the Mets franchise was changed forever.
And now, as all good things must come to and end, so does the career of Mike Piazza. He leaves the game with 427 career homeruns, 296 wearing a Mets jersey.
For everything that Mike Piazza did for the game of baseball, he will always be remembered for the memories he gave Mets fans in Shea Stadium, and that is why his Number 31 will soon be honored in Citi Field, and his Hall of Fame plaque will have him wearing a Mets hat.