Friday, January 8, 2016

Mike Piazza and the days when the Mets reached for the stars

Mike Piazza reached the pinnacle of the baseball world this week when was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On Friday, I had the opportunity to be there when Piazza stood at the pinnacle of New York, on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, talking about what makes the Big Apple so special to him.

Piazza found it "euphoric" to be "back here in New York as a Hall of Famer, the way people just honor you, hearing the 'way to go Mikeys' when you’re walking around. It’s a lot of fun."

He praised the "passion of the fans" in New York, noting that, "as a player, you can choose, it can really be a lot of pressure – some guys don’t respond well to it, or you can use it as a catalyst to get better, and for me it was the latter. I was blessed to do that."

Met fans were blessed that management traded for Piazza during the 1998 season, eventually jump-starting their offense. Then the Mets gave Piazza a big contract after the season even though they already had someone at his position (Todd Hundley). Within two seasons, the Piazza-led Mets were in the World Series.

In 2015, Sandy Alderson made a midseason trade for Yoenis Cespedes, eventually jump-starting their offense. At the end of the season, the Mets were in the World Series. But if Cespedes ends up in the Hall of Fame, it doesn't look as if he'll be wearing a Mets cap.

There may be valid reasons to avoid giving Yoenis Cespedes a long-term deal, but spare me the excuse that the Mets have no room in the corner outfield. Even if Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto perform as hoped, (which is no sure thing given that Granderson turns 35 in March and Conforto has just a few weeks of MLB experience, during which he was primarily a platoon player) Granderson's contract has just two years to run, so the Mets will soon need to fill a void regardless.

I'm glad Alderson is doing better, but I don't want to hear him say that the Mets are spending again because their payroll has gone up $35 million since 2014 when their payroll dropped $50 million just two years before that.

What would the traditionalists say
about using a bat as a selfie stick?
This has been a special year for the Mets - a trip to the World Series and a trip to Cooperstown for a player who considers himself first and foremost a New York Met. Seeing Piazza in person and hearing him praise teammates John Franco and Al Leiter made me nostalgic for 2000, a year I generally try to forget because of how it ended.

I've been a lot more able to appreciate 2015, since the Mets' success was so unexpected and it didn't end with a loss to the Yankees. But it would be nice to experience another world championship at some point, and unless 2016 Mets management starts acting more like the 1998 version, it may be a long time before we see another title - or another Hall of Famer in a Mets cap.

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