Thursday, January 7, 2016

One of 427

Mike Piazza, a New York Met from May 1998 through the 2005 season, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. Piazza played behind the plate in 96 percent of his 1,700 major league games (85 percent as a starter) and was elected to the Hall as the finest offensive catcher of all time. (In contrast, he led the league 10 times for stolen bases allowed.)

The Mets sent a congratulatory email to fans. Piazza would like to be
inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Met but the choice is not the player's.

Piazza finished his career with a .308 batting average, .545 slugging percentage, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs. Piazza's 369 home runs and as a catcher is the record. He averaged a home run every 16.2 at bats, placing him 34th for all time, regardless of position. I saw many Piazza home runs at Shea Stadium but one is particularly memorable.

To the left and rear of the small bleacher section that stood behind the left field power alley was a large banner bearing the logo of KeySpan, the (then) local gas utility. The company promised $10,000 to any batter who hit the sign, a feat I never saw.

Only Piazza came close, with a monster home run that cleared the bleachers and the picnic area to land in the parking lot. It was huge; the entire stadium just stared in awe. I remember thinking that KeySpan should pay Piazza anyway, that missing the sign by—I don't know—50 feet to the right was damn close enough.

ADDENDUM: Based on a blog post by Daily News sports editor Bill Price, I think the home run I remember came on July 10, 1999, against Ramiro Mendoza of the Yankees. He's right; there were tents set up outside of the picnic area. "It’s one of the few times Piazza stood at home plate and watched the ball for a few seconds," Price writes.

Not One of the 427
Another Addendum

Image of Boeing 747-400 courtesy of Cory W. Watts

After posting the preceding, I remembered one time when Piazza memorably did not hit a home run. Delta Airlines, a long-time sponsor of the Mets, had for years a contest where a fan would win round-trip travel to anywhere in the (continental?) United States if a Met hit a home run in that inning. I mailed in a dozen or so post cards every year.

When my name was announced on the radio, the three-four-five hitters were coming to bat: John Olerud, Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo—I figured my odds of winning were as good as they could be. Three up, three down, and I was flying nowhere.

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