Everything reaches an end, even the 2017 All-Star break, which, according to my ballological clock, is the longest in recorded history. True, it’s been the same length as last year’s All-Star break and the year before’s and all the years since they made it four looooooooong days instead of the previously interminable three days, but our failure to get any younger has made us increasingly impatient. In the immortal words of Jimmy Cannon , “Baseball, gentlemen! Baseball!”
Until 7:10 tonight (or after, if you don’t get around to reading it until later; this stuff is evergreen), I’m altering that admonition to “Piazza, gentlemen — and ladies! Piazza !” I have a little more Mike to share with you, about how his career reached an end but also how his legacy went about unfurling. Unlike previously proffered Deleted Scenes  that were trimmed for space so my book would fit just right, these anecdotes and observations are better described as outtakes, passages intended to give the Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star  story I was telling additional texture. What threads them coherently is they are from the portion of the Piazza journey when he was making the turn from erstwhile Mets player to eternal Mets legend. We pick him up just as he’s finished being reminded how much he’s loved at Shea Stadium, no matter what uniform he’s wearing, and we follow him as the number he wore on his Mets uniform is ready to be affixed high above Citi Field.
I hope you’ll enjoy this string of Mike memories, and I hope to see you, literally or virtually, at the following venues that will soon temporarily transform into Area 31:
• Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St. in Manhattan) for Gelf Magazine’s Varsity Letters sports reading series, Monday, July 24, 7 PM. I’ll be joined by fellow baseball authors Ron Kaplan, Jay Jaffe and Mark Feinsand and, ideally, you. Details here .
• Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine (110 N. Park Ave. in Rockville Centre, L.I.), Friday, July 28, 7 PM. Wonderful place, wonderful vibe, we’ll have a wonderful time. Details here .
• The Hotchkiss Library (10 Upper Main St. in Sharon, Conn.), Friday August 4, 6 PM for the library’s annual Sharon Summer Book Signing. This is a fundraiser for the library, so they do sell tickets. Thirty or so authors representing an array of genres will be on hand. As Bob Murphy would have suggested, if you’re in the area, come on by. Details here .
• The Baseball by the Book podcast, hosted by veteran baseball writer Justin McGuire. It’s a good, in-depth conversation about what made the title character of my tale the icon and star the cover says he is. Listen to it here  or find it on iTunes .
• Orange & Blue Thing, “a weekly show about Mets baseball and other stuff fans might care about,” Thursday, July 20, 6 PM. OBT is hosted by Darren Meenan of The 7 Line and fine SNY writer Brian Erni, and it’s an Amazin’ amount of fun. If you can’t tune in as it airs live on The 7 Line’s Facebook page , it is readily accessible in audio form via Soundcloud  and iTunes .
A CODA TO A REUNION
With the conclusion of San Diego’s August 2006 visit to Shea and the triumphant return it marked for their No. 33, the Padres moved on to Houston, the Mets to Washington, business to usual. By the next Shea homestand, Mets fans were cheering a new acquisition, reliever Guillermo Mota. Mota was kind of a low-rent Roger Clemens in the narrative of recent years. As a Dodger, he had hit Piazza in consecutive Spring Trainings, the second time fully raising Mike’s ire to the point where he charged the mound and then the visitors’ clubhouse at Port St. Lucie in search of revenge. If Mota was anathema to Mike, then he was a four-letter word to Mets fans…until Mota was a Met and, well, if he could record a big out in the seventh and get the game to Aaron Heilman in the eighth and closer Billy Wagner in the ninth, maybe this Guillermo’s a good dude.
The Mets won their division in 2006, the Padres theirs. If each succeeded in their respective LDS dates, Mike would come back to Shea under much more fraught circumstances. He’d be the enemy standing in the way of the home team trying to win a World Series for the first time in twenty years. The Mets kept up their end, sweeping the Dodgers, but Piazza’s Padres fell to the Cardinals. Thus was averted a hypothetical battle for the soul of the Mets fan on the level of what might’ve been when Tom Seaver was on the Red Sox’ disabled list in 1986. As it was, the Cardinals did the Mets in, too, beating them in seven games for the pennant, and going on to win the World Series over the Detroit Tigers in five. Among the Redbirds earning a ring was Preston Wilson, the main chip the Mets traded for Piazza eight years earlier. Proud stepdad Mookie cheered him on while wearing a wool cap bearing an STL insignia. The only game St. Louis lost was started by the same man who started the All-Star Game for the American League in July: Kenny Rogers.
Kenny walked three over eight innings, none with the bases loaded.
MAKING THE APPARENT OFFICIAL
Piazza hadn’t announced he was retiring after the 2007 season ended. He didn’t know he was retiring. Pulling off a Ted Williams or Todd Zeile moment — one last swing for a home run, then hanging ’em up — is too poetic to be common. It’s hard enough for a player to simply go out on his own terms. John Franco and his 424 saves, the most by a lefty in MLB history, were released by Houston in early July of 2005. Al Leiter had caught one last bolt of lightning in a bottle that season when he was shipped from the Marlins to his original team, the Yankees, and helped them to the playoffs (where they lost in the first round). He went to camp in Tampa in the spring of ’06 but never made it to Opening Day. By his own volition, he faced one batter in a game that didn’t count, got him out and, as orchestrated in accordance with Joe Torre, left the mound. It wasn’t the same as getting that last out that never came against Luis Sojo, but after 162 wins spread out across nineteen major league seasons, it was closure enough. Edgardo Alfonzo, on the other hand, was still seeking ballplaying opportunities as 2008 edged into view. Burdened by a bad back, Fonzie was never the force with the Giants he’d been with the Mets, yet he kept playing, bouncing from San Francisco to Anaheim to Toronto to a stint at Triple-A Norfolk (without a callup to the Mets) to, in 2007, Central Islip, N.Y., home of the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, a club partly owned by Bud Harrelson. The glue of those 1999 and 2000 Mets was geographically not far from Shea Stadium, yet a world away.
Mike Piazza and his 427 home runs, 396 of which were hit when he was in the game as a catcher, were neither here nor there when ’08 rolled around. He got nibbles, but no firm offers, and eventually decided he wasn’t any longer in the mood to catch or throw or hit. There was no ceremony at home plate, no microphone, no visible act of separation between his ballplaying self and the rest of life that awaited him at the age of thirty-nine.
But there was, at his agent’s suggestion, a press release. Issued on May 20, 2008, it made official what his absence in box scores had already made apparent: Piazza wasn’t playing anymore. The statement was expansive and gracious, thanking an array of owners, executives, managers and teammates he’d known along the way. His Metsian gratitude was expressed to Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday; Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine; Art Howe and Willie Randolph; Franco and Leiter; longtime clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels (whom Mike’s dad once presented with a Lexus as a reward for shedding a hundred pounds); and, most touchingly and tellingly, the fans.
Mike had kind words for the folks in Miami, San Diego and Oakland. He lumped Los Angeles in with those short-term ports. But he saved the most for last: “I have to say that my time wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful.”
THE LAST DAYS OF SHEA STADIUM
The first year Mike Piazza didn’t play baseball was the last year Shea Stadium hosted it. After forty-five seasons, the Mets were moving. Their new place would be steps away from the old one, going up in the parking lot since 2006. It would be called Citi Field to honor the sacred heritage of selling naming rights to the highest bidder, and it promised all the nooks, crannies and amenities a modern ballpark was expected to feature. Symmetrical Shea had none of those. It was 338 feet down the lines, 410 to center and lousy with leaks. Juxtaposed with the closing of renovated Yankee Stadium (hailed as a vintage 1923 facility, overlooking that it was essentially remade in 1976), the reaction from the outside was a shrug. Goodbye multipurpose stadium from the ’60s, don’t let progress hit you on your way out to the valley of ashes.
Ah, but inside Shea, from those who filled tens of thousands of seats thousands of times, the mood was different. Shea was home. Shea was 1969 and 1973 and 1986 and, not incidentally, 1999 and 2000. Shea was a bunch of other years, too, seasons when generations of kids fell in love with the team that played there and the sport at which they occasionally excelled and all the clatter they themselves could contribute to. Mets management seemed to recognize that for all the aggressive salesmanship they were devoting to peddling “world-class” Citi Field, there was a genuine attachment among their public to Shea Stadium. Also, there was probably a pretty penny to be made by exploiting it.
Thus, 2008 became the year of Shea Goodbye. What wasn’t nailed down was sold. What was nailed down had its nails pried loose and sold. It was how ballparks left this mortal coil in the Twenty-First Century, so it wasn’t as if the Mets invented morbid commerce. Just about everything that wasn’t nailed down was going to be demolished anyway (except for the delightfully dilapidated Home Run Apple, which ownership was ready to toss in the dumpster before a public outcry saved it as a curio for the new park).
But between authenticating and auctioning, the Mets did include some honest-to-goodness commemoration of their past. Numbers were peeled off the outfield wall to signify how many home games were left, the privilege of revealing those digits usually given to old Mets or dignitaries with a bona fide Shea background — Ralph Kiner, groundskeeper Pete Flynn, organist Jane Jarvis — though sometimes it was delegated to a representative of the automotive manufacturer that sponsored the exercise. A ballot went online with seventy-five great moments that had transpired at Shea since 1964. Fans were asked to vote, and the Top Ten would be presented during the final homestand.
The winner, in an absolute non-surprise, was the Mookie/Buckner play from 1986. Two slots behind it, as if to prove older fans weren’t all that hip to computers, was the winning of the 1969 World Series by the honest-to-goodness Miracle Mets. What could be bigger than the franchise’s first and most storied championship if not quite as big as the ball that squirted as if on demand between a visiting first baseman’s legs?
Mike Piazza’s home run on September 21, 2001. It was voted the second-greatest moment in Shea Stadium history. That long fly ball didn’t win a championship or make one possible. It also didn’t rebuild any skyscrapers or save any lives. But the hope it represented amid the darkest of New York nights won an permanent home in the hearts of millions.
Perhaps that, to invoke a particularly hopeful lyric from Fiddler on the Roof, was a miracle, too.
On the final day of Shea Stadium, soggy Sunday, September 28, 2008, the Mets had a chance to add an addendum to the ballpark’s greatest moments. They were tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Wild Card. If they won, they would, at the very least, earn a berth in a one-game playoff as their 1999 ancestors did. If the Mets won and the Brewers lost, they’d go directly to the postseason. Instead, Milwaukee won, the Mets fell to Florida and, as was the case on the final day of 2007, the Mets were eliminated.
It would have been a horrible way to end the ballpark’s life. Somehow, the Mets wiped away the anger and angst of the blown playoff spot by rolling out the classiest of farewells, Sheaing Goodbye like they meant it after the dismal loss. Player after player from the veritable cornfield of Mets baseball emerged from beyond the fence, wearing the jersey that represented his period. A few from 1964, the year the joint opened. A slew from 1969, when the grounds grew sacrosanct. A plethora from the ’70s and ’80s. Not as many from the ’90s or ’00s, the latter of which were still going on. Some of these guys you remembered coming back for Old Timers Day, which was a Shea tradition until it wasn’t. Some of these guys hadn’t been back in a Mets jersey since they stopped playing. Robin Ventura was making his first appearance since walloping that grand slam for the Dodgers in 2004. Fonzie shed his Duckness and was a Met again for the first time since 2002. Doc Gooden, for whom post-baseball life had not been a straight line since he threw his last pitch in 2000, came out fourth-from-last to a cathartic group hug of 50,000 or so. He was succeeded into the spotlight by Willie Mays, whose two years as a Met player and six as a Met coach (never mind his Polo Grounds roots as a New York Giant) had been plunged down the memory hole. They were retrieved for this occasion and Willie was once more greeted as a Met.
How do you follow Willie Mays? Who could possibly have the presence to hold his own in the footsteps of the Say Hey Kid?
Mike Piazza came out after Mays. It was not a letdown. Mike was making his first Met appearance in retirement on the last day a Met could do that at Shea Stadium. His timing was spot on. The crowd roared as if he was digging in against Clontz or Clemens. Piazza represented certified history of the highest order, yet he was recent enough to know intimately. Nobody upstages Willie Mays on a ballfield, but Mike Piazza surely held his own.
The only Met who could follow Mike Piazza was Tom Seaver. The hope — and it was really more an assumption — was that Piazza would follow Seaver, his NY plaque joining Tom’s upstate, his 31 permanently marked on the wall next door beside 41. Those rituals would come later. They weren’t guaranteed, but they had to happen. In the meantime, there was Seaver taking the last walk in from the outfield. Of course it was Seaver. Being “‘The Man’ in New York,” as Wright called Piazza, is one thing. Being The Franchise at Shea was its own thing.
Once you’ve introduced forty-three Mets, what do you do with them? The Mets asked each of them, now ringing the infield, to touch home plate. The last two to do so were Piazza, then Seaver. Master of Ceremonies Howie Rose informed the fans these two would form a battery for the final pitch Shea would ever see. Tom, “the Hall of Fame pitcher,” took to the mound, Mike, “a soon-to-be Hall of Fame catcher” crouched behind the plate. Seaver found one more competitive pitch in his right arm after all. Piazza dug it out of the dirt. They then took the long walk together, all 410 feet of it, out to center field, then just beyond it, closing the gates behind them.
In the end, Shea Stadium belonged to Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza and everybody who watched them.
THE FIRST YEARS OF CITI FIELD
The tableau was recreated on a smaller scale when it came time to say hello to Citi Field, a smaller ballpark, on April 13, 2009. Just Seaver and Piazza, this time without the heaviness that hung over Shea. Shea was no longer visible. Now it was the parking lot to the new place. The Mets intended to christen this home the way they went out of their old one, Seaver to Piazza one more time, a first pitch rather than a final fling.
It was a proper acknowledgement of Met history, and pretty much the only one at Citi Field for the first several months of its existence. Neither Seaver nor Piazza had achieved Met greatness at Citi, and Mets management seemed devoted to the notion of a clean slate. From the outside, the building resembled (almost eerily) Ebbets Field. Inside, as soon as you stepped in the front entrance, you were in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Take the escalator up and the first exclusive space whose sign greeted you was the Ebbets Club.
Mets fans who didn’t want Mike Piazza to go into the Hall of Fame as a Dodger had to wonder why their ballpark was intent on obscuring the Mets. The answer to the question of why there was so much homage to Brooklyn in Queens but relatively little sign of the team that was slated to play eighty-one games a year there could be found in the background of the chairman and chief executive officer. Fred Wilpon grew up in Brooklyn loving the Dodgers. His dream was to recreate what was lost…which was great, to a certain extent. You can’t love Mets history without at least appreciating from whence the Mets sprung.
Wilpon and Citi Field certainly had the Dodger part covered. But there was nothing explicit to signify the Giants also played in New York (at the Polo Grounds, where the Mets were born) and left for California alongside the Dodgers in 1957, thereby necessitating the Mets. And there was almost nothing about the Mets, who’d been around since 1962. The old Apple was shoved down into the Bullpen Plaza, a veritable basement most fans never passed through. The Mets Hall of Fame — which hadn’t inducted a new member since Tommie Agee in 2002 — had been hidden from public view at Shea, but at least there was some evidence of it if you happened to wander into the lobby of the Diamond Club. At Citi Field, there was not yet a Hall of Fame, and the clubs that weren’t named for Ebbets were named for sponsors.
To be fair (which few were in the mood to be, given how dreadful the Mets turned out to be in 2009), it was only the beginning, and the Mets did hear their faithful’s cry for some evidence that the Mets were of some interest to the people who ran the Mets. In August, a few murals went up. Out in the left field concourse, two ran the height of a wall. One was Casey Stengel holding court, circa 1962. The other was Mike Piazza celebrating having just taken Trevor Hoffman deep in 1999.
Not bad for a start. Eventually, the Mets filled in more and more of their cramped quarters with Metsiana. In 2010, a sparkling if compact museum was carved out of retail space off the Rotunda and included fresh new plaques for each member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame. It was announced four overdue honorees would be inducted into its confines in August: Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen. A Mets Alumni Association was formed, with Seaver as its figurehead. VIP entrances were dedicated to Stengel, Seaver and Gil Hodges (though kept off limits to fans holding less than very important tickets). The Shea Apple was given a place of prominence in the main plaza, right down the stairs from the 7 train. The nameless walkway beyond right-center field was dubbed the Shea Bridge, as the Mets dared to speak the name of Citi Field’s predecessor a year after practically pretending it never existed. One Saturday night when the Mets were on the road, the Billy Joel concert film The Last Play at Shea was run on CitiVision, and Shea Stadium got bigger cheers than any player had received all season. The Ebbets Club became the Champions Club, themed to 1969 and 1986 instead of 1955. Banners representing a panoply of Mets were hung from lamp posts, spanning Marvelous Marv Throneberry to Jason Bay, the big free agent prize of the most recent offseason.
The Mets were still overmatched on the field, but they were beginning to look pretty conscientious off it.
With considerably less fanfare than they devoted to the fortieth anniversary of the 1969 Mets in 2009 — which was highlighted by Nolan Ryan’s first Queens homecoming, thirty-eight years after he was traded for Jim Fregosi — a small gathering of the 2000 National League champions was organized. Prior to the opening of the Citi Field round of the Subway Series, the Mets brought back a half-dozen alumni from their most recent World Series club: Franco and Fonzie, who lived locally and tended to come around a lot, and four guys who’d been off the radar since their services had been deemed expendable: Rick Reed, Turk Wendell, Benny Agbayani and, in a bit of a shocker, Mike Hampton, pariah to fans since he split for Colorado, but undeniably the only NLCS MVP in team history. Ten years was long enough to let bygones take their natural evolutionary course.
It was hard to top a number retirement like Seaver’s in 1988, both in terms of who wore the number and how he expressed his gratitude, so maybe that’s why the Mets never made a move to retire another player’s number over the next twenty-eight years. They had worthy candidates. Gary Carter’s 8. Keith Hernandez’s 17. Doc Gooden’s 16. Darryl Strawberry’s 18. Add up the numbers attached to each of those Metropolitan icons and they equaled a championship in 1986, yet none of the tentpole players from the most overpowering team in Mets history was ushered to join Tom on the wall. A reason could be deduced for the exclusion of each of them, or maybe they just all cancelled one another out. Still, you’d figure 108 wins and a rousing World Series victory would yield at least one set of digits for the ages. Their manager, Davey Johnson, No. 5 a generation before a Davey named Wright made 5 his, was also bypassed. Johnson leapfrogged Hodges as all-time manager when the 40th Anniversary team became the 50th Anniversary team, but 5 never received the treatment 14 and 37 had.
“I don’t live in the past,” Johnson shrugged when asked about it in 2016, though what he and his team accomplished in 1986 continued to live on as the most recent world championship in its franchise’s possession.
Willie Mays, the most astounding of New York Giants, brought 24 back to town with him from San Francisco for two years as a player and six more as a coach. Perhaps the greatest ballplayer ever gave maybe the most moving farewell address of any baseball man this side of Lou Gehrig, saying “goodbye to America” as a Met in 1973. Willie went into the Hall of Fame while employed by the Mets, and by the time he drifted west to rejoin the Giants, his number was almost permanently removed from circulation. It was given to a minor league callup named Kelvin Torve by accident in 1990 and then immediately revoked once it was realized what had been done. It was loaned out to Rickey Henderson during his stay because Rickey Henderson, 24 in prior uniforms, was an eyelash removed from immortal status already, and besides, Rickey asked Willie if it was OK. When Henderson left Flushing, 24 got put away, but not put on display. It could stand as the missing link to the Mets’ heritage, the way Robinson’s 42 serves that additional purpose for the family’s Dodger lineage, but nobody has acted to make that connection official.
GETTING A GRIP ON HISTORY
Before Piazza’s number would find sanctuary in retirement, the jersey he wore on his most memorable night found itself in the midst of controversy. In March of 2016, No. 31 from September 21, 2001, was found to have landed up for auction, an item like many others that can be bought as “game-used” merchandise…but an item like no other considering the game it was worn in and the home run that was hit while it was being worn. The Mets didn’t send it to the auction house, but, reportedly, had sold it to the collector who did. This was as close to a sacred garment as a baseball jersey could be, connected to the moment that began, in popular thinking, to heal New York at its lowest moment. The Mets let it get away, laundering it via their official memorabilia arm as they routinely peddle a slew of uniforms and tchotchkes. The buyer let them display it for a while in their museum, but eventually took it back and (as was his right ) put it up for sale. Piazza expressed dismay and the Mets expressed regret. In April, a Wall Street group agreed to pay $365,000 for the jersey with the intent of rotating it for display among the Mets museum, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the 9/11 Memorial Museum downtown.
That PR misstep aside, good vibes surrounded the defending National League champs as 2016 got underway. The Mets looked ahead at the possibility of repeating their pennant win and maybe going a littler further in the midst of looking back with uncommon gusto. In May, the organization conducted its first nostalgia night of the season, welcoming back the 1986 Mets on the thirtieth anniversary of their having conquered the world. No numbers had been retired on their behalf, but that almost made sense in as much as the affection of the fans for that year of a lifetime was still very much active. Even the showing of the “Let’s Go Mets” video that attested to those Mets having had the teamwork to make the dream work was greeted with mad love by a sellout crowd. The ’86 Mets were introduced in ’16 in a sort of chronological order, as emcee Rose weaved a narrative that took the club from April to October, culminating in Jesse Orosco coming out to recreate the final pitch of the World Series, throwing it to D.J. Carter, son of Gary. At that moment, the spirit of No. 8 couldn’t have been more alive and well.
There was an appetite for this sort of remembrance among Mets fans, even if the Mets brain trust inevitably seemed slow in accepting a taste for tradition exists among followers of a team whose tradition isn’t the most glorious within the five boroughs. The Mets produced a spiffy 50th Anniversary logo in 2012 and made a few celebratory gestures, but didn’t bother to gather as many living 1962 Mets as they could. They skipped all but the most cursory observance of the fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Mets, giving out only a deck of playing cards as homage to the year You Gotta Believe entered the Mets lexicon. Such reluctance to embrace their own history tends to leave them open to appearing clueless when stories like Piazza’s 9/21 jersey being sold break. In June, the Daily News made great hay of suddenly noticing there was no statue of Seaver outside Citi Field and even eliciting a quote from Tom’s wife Nancy that she was “embarrassed’ for them.
Tom was more of a diplomat for the team he still technically served as an ambassador. “I’m not dead yet,” he told the newspaper, lobbying, as long as he was on the subject, for a Hodges statue. With Tom out in California continuing to deal with the ongoing effects of Lyme disease, he wasn’t visiting Queens all that often. Travel was said to be tough on him, so as much as he cherished Hall of Fame weekend, he wouldn’t be at Cooperstown in July when Mike was inducted. Nor, it turned out, would he see 31 join 41 in Flushing.
Piazza had sporting concerns separate from how the Mets were playing and who else they might be honoring. Mike bought himself a soccer team in Italy, A.C. Reggiana 1919. They were what was known as a third-tier club, but many said the same about the Mets prior to Piazza’s involvement with them, and that worked out well. Yet as Mike took to being on the other side of player-owner negotiations, he was, with a ceremonial summer at hand, about to get a reminder of what it was like to have been the guy wearing the uniform.
With due respect to his passion for Italian soccer, the sensation was guaranteed to give him the kick of a lifetime.
PERENNIAL PUNCH LINE
Not on the roster at the time of the retirement of Piazza’s 31, but on the payroll, as the joke annually goes, was Mike’s 1999 teammate, Bobby Bonilla, retired from playing since 2001. The deferred payments of a million bucks-plus Steve Phillips arranged so he could jettison Bobby Bo in advance of 2000 had been made every July since 2011 and were slated to be doled out annually until 2035. The non-news dependably spawned a stream of giggles at the Mets’ expense (especially when they aren’t contending) as well as some diligent contrarian explanations that no, really, it was a good deal for all concerned if you examine it closely. Maybe, but the idea that Bobby Bonilla, 53, was still drawing seven figures couldn’t help but come off as kind of a hoot…though admittedly the laughs came easier in 2016 with the 2015 NL pennant flying proudly above the right field porch
A WORD ON WAR
The only note of dissonance for retiring 31, really, came from a visit to the Mets’ franchise page on the indispensable Baseball Reference.
The “All-Time Top 20 by WAR” greets you there. That’s Wins Above Replacement, a statistical shorthand intended to encapsulate everything about a player’s performance, offensively and defensively. When Baseball Reference calculated every WAR for every Met in his time as a Met (through the 2016 season), nobody emerged as more of a WARrior than Seaver. No. 41 had a 79.1 in his dozen Met seasons, a spectacular pace. Wright, after parts of thirteen seasons, was second, with 49.9. David was followed by Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Strawberry, Carlos Beltran, Alfonzo…
Where was Piazza? No. 31 was No. 13 on this list, his WAR listed as midway between 24 and 25, a little behind Hernandez, a little ahead of Howard Johnson. Longer longevity in a Mets uniform helped many of the Mets ranked higher than Mike. More time meant more WAR. Piazza also took a hit from his declining years coming in New York and was debited for his defense, an element of his game he threw himself into so he could make it to the major leagues and hit a ton. WAR is a handy tool, a nutshell communiqué of how good a player is or was. The 24.5 Piazza put up as a Met over eight seasons tells you he was pretty darn good.
But the 31 the Mets opted to put up told you so much more. It reminded you that for eight seasons — even the later, less imposing ones — you always looked forward to Mike coming to bat, and if you weren’t blown away by the results every time, you were rarely far from satisfaction. That 31 was going to look perfectly appropriate next to 41 told you all you needed to know.