On May 22, 1998, the New York Mets made one of the biggest trades in franchise history. They landed an All-Star and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in a trade with the Florida Marlins.
Following their 88 win season in 1997, the New York Mets came into their 1998 campaign as contenders for the postseason. Looking to add a thumper in their lineup to aid their hunt for October, they searched one out on the trade block. With opportunity looming, General Manager Steven Phillips went on to make a big splash. On May 22, 1998, he brought in future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza.
Prior to the 1998 season, Piazza had been a household name as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had drafted him in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB armature draft. Since his call up in 1992, he won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year and six All-Star appearances.
Going into the 1998 season, Piazza was entering the final year of his contract and had been very open to an extension. However, he and the Dodgers had very different ideas regarding his worth. Piazza and Los Angeles came to a stalemate and did not plan on negotiating an extension during the year. As a result, the All-Star catcher entered the year expecting to enter free agency following the season.
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On May 15, with the Dodgers sitting at a record of 19-22, third in the division, and unlikely to make a postseason run that year, the Dodgers decided if they couldn’t re-sign Piazza, they were better off dealing him away in return for prospects and agreed to a trade with the Florida Marlins.
Despite winning the World Series the previous year, at the time of the trade, the Marlins had a worst record than the Dodgers, sitting at 14-28. Set on unloading many of the members of their championship team in order to clear salary, Piazza was acquired from Los Angeles along with Todd Zeile in exchange for Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield.
It was a parade of former and future Mets.
The trade was an unprecedented move, as the deal was a swap of nearly $100 million in contracts, with Piazza and Zeile being acquired with the sole intent of dealing them again later in the season in exchange for prospects. The Marlins dealt Zeile to the Texas Rangers at the July 31st deadline. Piazza left Miami much sooner.
The All-Star catcher ended up only appearing in five games with Florida, as the Mets decided to strike while the iron was hot and 8 days after being dealt from Los Angeles, New York traded Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson ,and Ed Yarnall to Florida in exchange for Mike Piazza.
Piazza made his debut for the club the very next day on May 23rd, sporting the jersey #31, which closer John Franco gave up for him. Facing off against the Milwaukee Brewers, a crowd of 32,908 packed into Shea Stadium to watch the future Hall of Famer make his debut. In his first game in Queens, Piazza batted third and went 1-4 with an RBI, along with catching a complete game shut out thrown by Al Leiter, improving the Mets record to 25-20.
Overall, Piazza played in 109 games for the Mets in 1998 following his trade. He slugged 23 home runs, drove in 76 RBI, and batted .348 with a .417 OBP. The Mets finished the season with 88 wins, missing the playoffs by just a single game.
Following his first season in Queens, Piazza entered free agency for the first time in his career. However, after his stellar debut season, the Mets were quick to re-sign him to a seven-year, $91 million deal, keeping Mike in New York through the 2005 season.
Piazza went on to have plenty of memorable moments in orange and blue. He was selected to the All-Star game six times as a Met, won four Silver Slugger Awards, and he was instrumental in leading New York back to the postseason in 1999 and to the World Series in 2000.
Arguably his biggest moment was the Mets September 21, 2001, game against the Atlanta Braves, the first ball game in New York after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. Piazza hit an eighth inning two-run home run to give the Mets the lead. The game’s result was nice, but the Mets and Mike Piazza provided a temporary getaway for New Yorkers and a small dose of medicine that helped a city begin to heal.
By the end of his career following the 2007 season, Piazza had cemented his legacy as one of the all-time great catchers. In 2013, Piazza was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame. Three years later, in 2016, he was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame, the second player to wear the Mets cap on his plaque and had his number 31 retired by New York.
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Mike Piazza was a great player throughout his career, but once he came to New York, he was THE GUY and arguably has his most successful, and most impactful years of his career here.