Mike Piazza is a New York Mets Hall of Famer. We didn’t necessarily require official confirmation. After completing three of his eventual eight seasons wearing the orange, black and blue, his eternal status was pretty well nailed down in our eyes as well as our hearts. One can only speculate why it took the Mets six years beyond the end of his playing career to announce they would induct him, but that they will finally do on September 29, our last baseball day of 2013.
I’m ridiculously thrilled by this. I’m more thrilled by Piazza’s pending enshrinement than I am by the presence of the All-Star Game and its auxiliary activities, even as I continue to relish all that. I’m more thrilled than I am by the Mets’ perfectly satisfying Sunday afternoon victory in Pittsburgh that closed out a “first half” (technically 56.17%) that has been tentatively encouraging of late, if generally a far cry from the peak of the Age of Piazza.
Mike played on two undeniably profound Mets teams, three promising if fatally flawed Mets teams and three ultimately abominable Mets teams. Yet the Age of Piazza morphed into an exalted epoch every time Mike picked up a bat. He transcended the letdowns inherent in 1998, 2001 and 2005. He soared above the dregs of 2002, 2003 and 2004. Most enduringly, he was the signature across the bottom of the Declaration of Contention the Mets issued in 1999 and 2000. He was John Hancock in those revolutionary days when we sought to turn the world upside down. He was always out front and you couldn’t miss him.
Piazza’s Mets, when assembled directly on either side of the millennium, were way more than Mike, yet their story always radiated out from behind his chest protector. They weren’t quite the sad stray puppies Metropolitan myth has framed them as pre-Piazza — Bobby Valentine banded together a scintillating 88-74 squad in 1997 and they continued to dance above .500 as 1998 commenced — but yeah, it was dark turning to bright when word got out late on Friday afternoon, May 22, 1998, that the Mets had made a trade with the Florida Marlins. Nobody is in the habit of quoting Jeff Wilpon without preparing to stick a pin in his comic balloon, but the COO is correct in asserting that when Mike Piazza became a Met (more by the hand of Nelson Doubleday than anybody else’s), he “reinvigorated the franchise”. Rooting for the Mets had been our sacred calling regardless of who was catching or batting cleanup. Getting to root for the Mets when it was Piazza who was catching and batting cleanup? That was a seat upgrade of the most elevated order.
The pearly playoff gates raised for a wretch like us in the autumns of 1999 and 2000, lifted as high as they could possibly go by the Amazin’ grace of Mike Piazza and his disciples. They could only go so high and we could only stay Up There so long, but what a time it was. Every game mattered. Every inning was crucial. Every time Mike did something, we craned our necks to see what he wrought. You watched closely in the Age of Piazza. You celebrated at unannounced intervals, but you knew something was coming. You didn’t keep your hands in your pockets if you didn’t absolutely have to. There was too much to applaud. There was too much to high-five.
I was thrilled then. I’m thrilled now. I’ll be thrilled on September 29. Learning that Mike Piazza is on his way to a Mets game near you tends to have that kind of impact on me.