I was very happy when Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame on his fourth try, though probably not as happy as I was irked when he wasn’t elected on his first, second and third tries. Judging by the real-time reactions that exploded every January between 2013 and 2016, I wasn’t alone in either of those Mets fan emotions. We wanted our guy in the Hall and we wanted him there ASAP, not three years later.
Once the deal was sealed, the importance we as Mets fans had placed on Mike Piazza’s ascension into baseball immortality intrigued me. Not just the Hall vote, but the whole issue of how he would be portrayed on his plaque (the “go in as a Met” aspect) along with resolution regarding the fate of No. 31 and whether it would be officially taken out of circulation. We were concerned with Piazza, we were concerned with his cap, we were concerned with his uniform. It represented a lot of care devoted to somebody who hadn’t swung a bat on our behalf in a Koonce age.
But we’re fans that way, and Mike made us only more so. That’s the short explanation of why I decided to write the book that has just been published. Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star strives to answer the question I was asking myself while Mike was being made immortal: why did this matter so much to us? We already loved Mike Piazza as a Met and he left an undeniably deep impression on us. I don’t logically believe we need a Hall of Fame to reinforce our sense of how his accomplishments moved us between 1998 and 2005, but the Hall exists, just as do identifiers on plaques and team number-retirement rituals. If these validations are gonna be around, we sure as shootin’ want a piece of their action. Damned if we’re gonna be left out of having our fandom validated.
Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star (subtitled in a nod to the popular spy novel my father favored) is out now, digital and in print, online and at retail. It was, at heart, written by a Mets fan for Mets fans. Other segments of its prospective audience include anybody who loves baseball; Hall of Fame junkies; ’90s nostalgists; Dodger/Marlin/Padre/Athletic completists; and, to a certain degree, students of the human condition. The book is for anybody who is interested, actually, but a Mets fan wrote it in an undeniable New York state of mind.
The book begins its journey in the late summer of 1992, a moment in time to which its three intertwining elements — our notions of baseball immortality, the contemporary Mets experience and Mike Piazza’s career — can trace their roots. You’ll cross paths with the first Mets Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, watch a franchise sink to its lowest point of esteem in more than a decade and glimpse a largely unheralded September callup get his feet wet. The next steps are into 1993, when the Mets fall and Piazza rises in extreme proportions, then the seasons directly beyond, when circumstances eventually conspire to bring the two parties together for the benefit of a third actor…us.
Once we are all linked in common cause, you’ll be immersed in perhaps the most riveting period in Mets history, the years we remember first and foremost as Mike Piazza’s. Of course Mike had help. His supporting casts come into play, as no team rises only on its catcher, slugger, icon and star. Those teams, steered by Bobby Valentine, came close to winning a different prize every year for four consecutive years: the Wild Card in 1998, the National League pennant in 1999, the World Series in 2000 and a division title in 2001. They didn’t win any of them when each was their immediate aim, but damn they came close, and nearing each of those goals couldn’t have been any more exhilarating had they managed to capture them.
That was Mike’s doing. And Valentine’s. And so many others who made our revolving extended family until most of them were ushered away in that circle-of-life fashion baseball in general and the Mets in particular deploy sans sentiment. The last of the Piazza Mets to go was Piazza himself, amid a farewell unprecedented in the otherwise oblivious annals of Met goodbyes. Mike’s final bow as a Met commenced in 2005 and took a dozen years to complete. Before it was over, we grew eternally grateful, then impatient, then testy, then, at last, rewarded.
That’s more or less the book. I think you’ll like it. I hope you’ll read it. It’s available now. I’ll be appearing in a couple of places in the Metropolitan Area to sign and talk about it in the next few days — Foley’s in Manhattan Sunday 3/19 at noon, Staples High School in Westport Tuesday night 3/21 at 7:00 — with more such dates to be announced. I look forward to seeing you soon and thank you for your consideration as always.