For all of Mike Piazza’s accomplishments – and there were many – the greatest moment of his career might have come during a regular-season game on September 21, 2001.
Indeed, in the New York Mets’ first game after September 11, Piazza hit a game-winning, two-run homer off Atlanta reliever Steve Karsay at Shea Stadium, sending 41,235 fans into a frenzy and galvanizing a city still numb from the terrorist attacks just 10 days earlier.
“Oh yeah, they were crying tears of joy,” former Mets manager Bobby Valentine said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench, referring to the Mets’ faithful. “Emotions (were) being released. (It was) the idea that possibly the fears that they had were being somehow taken care of because of one swing of the bat. (He was) one of the greatest home run hitters and one of the best hitters the Mets have ever had.”
Piazza was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ken Griffey Jr. on Sunday, as each took decidedly different paths to Cooperstown. Griffey was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 draft. Piazza, meanwhile, was taken in the 62nd round a year later. As the 1,390th overall pick, Piazza is the lowest-drafted player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“The great ones get to where they want to go – the ones that work hard every day, the ones that give everything they have,” Valentine said. “When you think of Mike Piazza, of course you think of the home runs. Of course you think of the greatness of his swing. But this is a guy who played as many games as any catcher in the history of baseball. He ran as hard as he could possibly run down to first base every time he hit a ball. If he hit it back to the mound, he was sprinting to first. If he hit a grounder to third base and the score was 10-0, he was sprinting to first. That just shows what that inner quality was all about.”
Piazza, 47, was a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger winner. A career .308 hitter with 427 home runs, he is considered by many the greatest offensive catcher in MLB history.
“He was an inspiration to everyone around him,” Valentine said. “That he came from the 62nd round, that he never gave away an at-bat, that he believed in himself that he was going to be a Hall of Famer – I believe that was one of the driving forces in his play every day. He wasn’t going to settle for anything but the upper echelon. He belongs right beside the other great catchers in the history of baseball.”