Eighteen years ago I thought I’d be getting on a flight to NY
and head to Cooperstown right about now for the first time in my life. I could have gone when Don Sutton was inducted, but to be honest, Don never stirred my spirit. Don did pitch a 1 – 0 shutout against the Pirates in the first game I ever saw, and pitched many a brilliant game along with being one of the great compilers, but his effect on me wasn’t going to get me on a plane to NY.
Many Dodger fans who saw Steve Garvey in the 1970’s kind of expected Steve Garvey to end up at Cooperstown, but Steve saw his career plateau at age thirty-one and to make the HOF, you better be great after thirty-one or lose your eye. Plus, even if Garvey had continued to mash for more years, he was never my go-to guy on those teams, it was Ron Cey.
Mike Piazza on the other hand connected with me from the first day I started reading about him tearing up the minor leagues. The name, the ridiculous place he was drafted, no one seemed to believe in him. When he finally arrived in 1993 he was like a comic book baseball star.
I don’t remember the first game I ever saw him play at Dodger Stadium but I’ll never forget the sound the ball made when he made contact. I wish they had exit velocity back then because it was a sound I’d never heard. Maybe Dick Allen back in 1971. Maybe.
It was not like I hadn’t seen the likes of Allen, Robinson, Grabarkewitz, Sudakis, Garvey, Cey, Smith, Baker, Wynn, Gibson, Marshall, and Pedro, I had, but I honestly couldn’t recall any of them hitting the ball harder than Piazza.
All of his games lump into one faded memory except one. His rookie season in 1993, he dismantled the Giants in the last game of the year, hitting two home runs and breaking Giant fans hearts.
As Piazza’s career went on, it was clear he was headed to the HOF, by 1998 he had re-written the record books for catchers. I told my wife that when he went into the HOF, we would make our first trip to Cooperstown. A trip I should be making today, but I won’t be because in 1998 the Dodgers and Mike Piazza parted company. Eric Stephen at TBLA wrote a great article about Piazza’s accomplishments and details of the trade so I have nothing to add. It was a great baseball trade for the Dodgers, the return they got was easily value for value, but I personally lost my favorite player, and he was replaced by my least favorite player. Over time it was easy to appreciate the skills of Gary Sheffield but he had one thing always going against him. He wasn’t Mike Piazza.
I’ve been a Dodger fan for 50 years, and I’ve had favorites, but I think Mike Piazza was always my favorite Dodger. I still followed his career, enjoyed his success with Mets, wish he had tried to kick Roger Clemens ass, wish the Dodgers and his relationship had not been so acrimonious after he left.
I understand Piazza wearing a Met hat at his HOF ceremony, and it might seem silly that the fact he’s not wearing a Dodger hat is keeping me in Los Angeles, but it is what it is.
I blame all of this on Peter O Malley, he did all of Los Angeles a disservice by selling the team to a corporation like Fox. Peter at the time said that single ownership simply wasn’t the future and that most teams would end up being owned by corporations. He sure read that tea leaf wrong.
Now I have to hope I’m still alive when Clayton gets inducted.