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All Eyes on Mike

One of the umpires working the Mets-Marlins game in Miami on Sunday should have taken a moment from making an eventually overturned call and blown a whistle to order a stoppage in play after a couple of innings. Baseball doesn’t operate like that, but how could any Mets fan worth his parmesan dedicate all of his or her bandwidth to just another game — no matter its relative import in the standings — when an almost unprecedented Metsian occasion was unfolding far north of where Michael Conforto [1] was diving [2], Jose Reyes [3] was tripling and Steven Matz [4] was pitching?

Mike Piazza [5] drew our attention from what every other Met was up to. When he played, it was by coming to bat. This time, it was by coming to speak.

Mike was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday [6]. I’m not sure at what point he was officially inducted. He was elected in January, but what’s the point of demarcation that separates election from induction? No Chief Justice of the Baseball Court appears in Cooperstown with a request to raise your right hand and repeat an oath, so it’s hard to pin down. Is it when the newbie is called to the stage by emcee Gary Thorne? Is it when Commissioner Rob Manfred finishes reading the description on the plaque? Or is it when a Piazza or Ken Griffey, Jr. [7] starts to talk?

I thought Mike Piazza was a Hall of Famer ages ago, so I shouldn’t worry about such niceties, but I’m glad the BBWAA inscribed his Fame for good, because we got to hear him speak at length. It was worth missing a couple of innings of Mets-Marlins. It was worth waiting four elections as well, but don’t tell those who unjustifiably delayed the inevitable.

You thought Piazza could hit. The man can accept induction just as powerfully.

Piazza is not under the impression he ascended to baseball immortality by himself. Through sniffles that seemed to have nothing to do with allergies or a summer cold, Mike emotionally namechecked most everybody who gave him a boost along the way. There were parents and coaches and Dodgers by the bushel. Since he was going in as a Met, of course he mentioned Mets. He praised John Franco [8]’s generosity for handing him No. 31. He paid homage to his batterymate Al Leiter [9]. He credited Edgardo Alfonzo [10]’s excellence for facilitating his own. All of that was much appreciated, but I have to confess I listened most closely to hear what he said about us:

“How can I put into words my thanks, love and appreciation for New York Mets fans? You have given me the greatest gift and have graciously taken me into your family. Looking out today at all the incredible sea of blue and orange brings back the greatest time of my life. You guys are serious. We didn’t get off on the best foot, but we both stayed with it. At first, I was pressing to make you cheer and wasn’t doing the job. You didn’t take it easy on me and I am better because of it. Sometimes a jockey whips a horse. It isn’t always pleasant to watch, but it gets results. The eight years we spent together went by way too fast. The thing I miss most is making you cheer. No fans rock the house like Mets fans. You are passionate, loyal, intelligent, and love this great game. To be only the second Met to enter the Hall of Fame, after Tom Seaver [11], brings me great pride and joy. And I truly enjoyed Gary Carter [12]’s company. He was a wonderful man, a great player, and I miss him.”

After that — and a heartfelt tribute to those who gave their lives in the hope that others could live on September 11, 2001, ten days before Mike hit what is generally considered the most meaningful of his 427 big league home runs — it was hard to remember the Mets were still playing the Marlins. And when you remembered, it was hard to imagine they could lose, which they didn’t dare [13].