Mike Piazza: The Case to Retire Number 31

Patience is a virtue, as they say, and for Mike Piazza the day has finally come where he can let out a joyful sigh of relief. It took four long years on the ballot and three heartbreaking disappointments, but the wait continues no longer. After a prominent sixteen-year Major League career, Mike Piazza will enter hallowed ground this summer, joining baseball’s finest in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving votes on 83% of ballots cast. Being that the most significant years of his career came within the walls of Shea Stadium, not to mention his induction into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 2013, why isn’t number 31 hanging in the rafters along with 14, 37, 41, and, of course, 42?

When Piazza joined the Mets in 1998, he didn’t just bring a big bat to the Metropolitans lineup, he brought a culture change. In exchange for Preston Wilson, Ed Tarsal, and Geoff Goetz, the Mets received more than just a catcher from the Florida Marlins. The Amazins’ were instantly transformed into National League contenders anchored by the twelve-time All Star. Missing the playoffs by only one game in 1998, the slugging catcher led the team to consecutive postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000. His former bench coach, John Stearns, gave him a nickname: “The Monster”. Piazza’s scorching hot bat certainly lived up to that moniker and led the Mets to a pennant in 2000, and brought Piazza six  All Star appearances, four Silver Slugger awards, and two top-ten National League MVP finishes. All-in-all, Piazza played 972 games with the Mets, posting an unbelievable slash line of .296/.373/.542 with 220 home runs and 655 runs batted in. Piazza would go on to hit 419 home runs in total, drive in 1291 runs, and have a career batting average of .309. He is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, hitting catcher in baseball history, with the only knock on his Mets career being the lack of a World Series title.

Putting aside all of his tremendous accomplishments, there is one moment that defines Mike Piazza’s career as a New York Met. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about his memorable, yet entertaining, feud with Roger Clemens. As a native New Yorker, I can speak first hand to how tough times were for New York City and the United States in 2001. No words can ever describe the impact of the awful acts of terror that were committed on September 11. No words can comfort the individuals who lost loved ones on that day. Former Commissioner Bud Selig would put Major League Baseball on hold following the events of 9/11, and rightfully so. The season resumed on September 16th, and with the first game back in New York occurring on September 21st, and it would be an understatement to say things weren’t emotionally charged.

Home in Queens for the first time since the horrible attacks, the Mets faced their division rival, the Atlanta Braves ,in the midst of a fight for the National League wild-card. After climbing out of a 13.5 game hole, it seemed illogical that the Mets were only 4.5 games away from a shot at a third consecutive playoff berth. More importantly, New Yorkers needed something to hang their hats on, something to give them hope in a time where hope seemed to be lost. That hope came in the form of Mike Piazza, as he stepped to the plate with the Mets down 2-1 in the eighth inning. Piazza is not native to New York; he was raised in Pennsylvania. But he was more than just a player that day, he was an ambassador of his adopted home of New York City. Down in the count 0-1, Piazza belted a two-run home run over the center field fence to give the Mets the lead. A nearly unforgettable image, thousands of American flags flew up in the air. Fans chanted, “USA! USA! USA!” It may have only been for a brief moment, but Mike Piazza was a hero. The all-star catcher was a source of inspiration, and New York embraced it. Some athletes are remembered for setting records, others for winning championships; Mike Piazza will be forever remembered as the man who brought hope to New Yorkers at a time where there wasn’t much hope to be had.

Seaver. Hodges. Stengel. Robinson. Piazza. It feels right to group Mike Piazza’s name in that crowd. With his Hall of Fame induction only a few months away, the time seems right to open the gates and bestow the highest honor an organization can give to a player. Defined by success on and off the baseball diamond, there could not be a better way to honor one of the true sports heroes of New York City. Thirty-one belongs on the left field wall just as much as any of the other numbers up there, and the Mets need to realize that and give Mike Piazza the justice he deserves.

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