It’s a cheap and easy bit for writers to place somebody’s longevity within the context of some long-ago president’s term of office. The device is losing a bit of its oomph as a marker of time in this electoral era of two-term chief executives — two decades ago only takes you back two presidencies — but I still see it. Here, though, I’ve found a different metric to express the passage of the years.
We’ve been blogging so long that Mike Piazza was still on the Mets when we began.
When I think of the period in which Faith and Fear has operated, I think of the Mets of David Wright and Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, peppered by significant appearances from Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado and Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey until we get to Matt Harvey and whoever winds up helping him help our cause. Mixed in around the core of whom we’ve covered most closely are the guys who logged significant innings for better — Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca, Endy Chavez, Daniel Murphy — or worse (let’s not punish ourselves with names). Plus there have been plenty of Mets who’ve strolled in and out our consciousness, including a surfeit of guys who’ve stood in to bear the brunt of the inevitable “he’s so old/been around so long” asides: Julio Franco, Moises Alou, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison…
But Mike Piazza, while not ancient when we set up non-profit shop, had them all beat. He was a Met from the ’90s. He was a Met from 2000. He was this thing that was not like the others. He wasn’t promoted from within like Reyes and Wright to make things better or acquired on the open market like Beltran or Pedro to facilitate the process. He was all that remained extant of a glorious Met age, one that was growing ever more distant when Faith and Fear first logged on.
Piazza’s prime crested in 2001, maybe 2002. The next two years were about consolidating his historical standing…and, unfortunately, propping up the greatest-hitting catcher of all time at first base. Then came 2005 and us and bloggers like us, which isn’t really important in considering the story of Mike Piazza, New York Mets Hall of Famer, but gets my attention nonetheless. Piazza was, at most, four years removed from his peak when the Mets were trying to rebuild from the wreckage that was left in the wake of the glory of Mike’s times. It was only four years from 2001 to 2005. Yet it already seemed so long ago. His impending exit, a recurring storyline everywhere you looked in Metsopotamia that season, only sharpened the sense of loss all of us were facing once October 2, 2005 — which also seems longer ago than eight years — rolled around. We took it as our charge to hail him repeatedly as he inevitably left us.
Mike Piazza isn’t just part of our collective Met past the way all the other Mets Hall of Famers are. He’s part of Faith and Fear’s fabric. Jason and I wrote posts about him in the present-tense. These weren’t paeans to Seaver or Gooden and the way it was. These were “good thing Mike got that double” or “too bad Piazza struck out” or other fleeting concerns that fill a baseball fan’s head night after night. He was a legend for sure, but also a player in our midst. The same man who connected for lightning bolts in playoff games and capped unprecedented comebacks and lifted a wounded city on his shoulders was batting in the same lineups with Doug Mientkiewicz and Miguel Cairo and Jose Offerman. Mike Piazza was necessarily just another player to us. An extraordinary presence, mind you, but also the hitter we hoped could lift a fly ball deep enough to score Kaz Matsui, and if he didn’t, well, maybe Danny Graves can hold ’em in the top of the next inning.
The End of Piazza was always in sight in 2005. He was running out the clock on a long and lucrative contract. He wasn’t the future. He was only intermittently the present. But his presence among us wasn’t incidental, either: 19 home runs, 62 runs batted in, 34 times Willie Randolph’s cleanup hitter. And he was still the signature star of the Mets in a time of transition. He was the one Met everybody everywhere knew. You didn’t have to explain Mike Piazza. He’d explained himself fully to New York years before.
Nobody’s exactly filled that role since, it occurs to me. We’ve had guys who are baseball-famous, but I’m not 100% convinced any of them walking into a randomly chosen public place in the Metropolitan Area would elicit automatic recognition from all on hand. Piazza had that going for him and going for us. He was how we greeted the world. We were Mike Piazza and the Mets. As long as we had Piazza, how bad could we be?
Actually, we got pretty bad there from 2002 to 2004, but a renaissance, no matter how brief its ultimate shelf life, took hold soon enough to encompass both Mike Piazza and Faith and Fear in Flushing. I, for one, am grateful, we got this thing going in time to cast him as a character in our ongoing chronicling, if only in its first chapter. It was our privilege to send him off in our way in 2005 and it is our honor as bloggers and fans to give him our best today.