From Left Field: Remembering Mike Piazza
The Mets are looking at signing Ronny Paulino to back-up Josh Thole which would form the catching tandem for the 2011 season.
I know this post might be a little off topic with all the Hot Stove murmurings going on, but I felt that it would be a good time in lieu of the Mets possibly signing a catcher to remember the career of Mike Piazza.
Piazza burst onto to the scene with Los Angeles Dodgers and won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1993. He put up big numbers for the Dodgers through five full seasons.
Then on May 22, 1998, the improbable yet remarkable happened for Met fans. The Mets sent Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Piazza, who had been traded to the Marlins only a week earlier.
Todd Hundley had gone down with an injury so the Mets desperately needed a catcher. Piazza arrived with a bang and immediately became a fan favorite.
The Mets locked him up to a seven-year, $91 million contract in 1999, which was a huge contract at the time.
In eight years with the Mets, Piazza hit .296 and clubbed 220 home runs, second on the all-time Mets list to Darryl Strawberry. He was a hero to so many Mets fans, young and old.
He wasn’t exactly a defensive wizard, especially throwing out runners, but he more than made up for that with his potent bat.
Sadly, time caught up with Piazza. His body could no longer take the beating of a catcher, so the Mets experimented with him at first base. It didn’t go so well, and after one more year behind the dish, the Mets let him walk.
He actually put up decent numbers at age 37 in his one season for the Padres. He retired as the all-time home run leader among catchers, a feat he accomplished with the Mets. His legacy will never be forgotten.
So that leads us to the question: How have the Mets went about filling Piazza’s enormous shoes?
They acquired Paul LoDuca from the Marlins before the 2006 season, and he turned in an All-Star caliber season, hitting .318. He never had the power of Piazza, but he held his own at the plate and brought much needed fire to the team. But even LoDuca began his decline in 2007, signaling the end of his Mets tenure.
The Mets saw Brian Schneider as the answer at catcher and traded Lastings Milledge to acquire him and Ryan Church. Schneider was a good defensive catcher but was a very weak hitter.
Granted, the Mets constructed their offense so that they didn’t need Schneider to produce, but after seeing Piazza for so many year, we fans grew accustomed to seeing production out of the catching position.
Ramon Castro was a good backup to Piazza and a good backup to Schneider. Omir Santos chipped in nicely in 2009, but the Mets never saw him as more of an insurance plan.
They brought in Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco for last season, and in the beginning, those deals looked great. Both guys got some big hits in big spots.
But Blanco began wearing down and Barajas hit a cold spell, forcing the Mets to promote Josh Thole. Thole is a solid contact hitter and could develop some pop.
He and Paulino would form a serviceable tandem for 2011, if they are both healthy. Paulino always seemed to get a big hit against the Mets when he played for the Marlins so hopefully he would continue that, just against the other teams.
Piazza has been sorely missed for the past few years, but if the other position players can produce, the production of Thole/Paulino would fly under the radar.
About the Author: Jim Mancari
Jim Mancari hails from Massapequa, N.Y. He recently earned a Master's degree in Journalism at Hofstra University. He is a devout Mets fan and takes pride in his team, despite their lack of success over the last few years. Like all Mets fans, Jim has plenty of hope. He also writes as the sports reporter for the Brooklyn Tablet newspaper and the senior editor of metroBASEBALL Magazine. Click my name to view my personal website.
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