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The New York Mets’ refusal to retire jersey numbers is nothing new, considering they’ve only retired three players in their 49-year history (besides the universally retired 42 worn by Jackie Robinson). Of the three players, only one was a player: Tom Seaver. To the Mets defense, their history isn’t exactly loaded with superstars. The shortlist of potential retirees is Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, and Mike Piazza.
Piazza is responsible for one of the greatest moments in Mets, and New York sports in general, history. In the bottom of the eighth inning, during the first game played in New York post 9/11, Piazza hit a two-run, go-ahead homer to defeat the rival Braves. It’s a moment I’m sure many Mets fans, myself included, cannot watch without getting emotional. Piazza had led a Mets team to a World Series appearance, but this was his defining moment, his NY moment.
With Sunday being the 10th anniversary of September 11, let’s take a look back at one of the greatest players in Mets history.
In theory because a player isn’t homegrown, he is somehow less popular than homegrown players. Two of the most popular players in Mets history, Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez, were both acquired via a trade. I would argue that Piazza is the most beloved Met of all-time; certainly in the last 20 years. Piazza has been extremely vocal about wanting to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Met. He embraced and genuinely loved playing for the Mets.
He only played 972 games, over eight seasons, with the Mets. Despite only playing eight seasons, Piazza ranks fourth in Mets history in batting average (.296), second in home runs (220), third in runs batted in (655), first in slugging% (.542), and second in the increasingly popular OPS (.915). Piazza ranks in the top 10 in every important hitting category besides stolen bases and triples; no one’s going to mistaken Piazza for a gazelle. From 1999 to 2002, his first four full seasons with the Mets before the injury plagued ’03 campaign, Piazza averaged almost 37 HRs, over 107 RBIs, while batting over .300. The numbers he put up those four seasons are unmatched by anyone in Mets history.
For any Mets fan born after 1986, there were really two magical seasons: 2000 and 2006. The difference between the Piazza-led 2000 team and the Beltran/Delgado/Reyes/Wright-led 2006 team was that nobody expected the 2000 team to compete for a title. The 2006 Mets were widely regarded as one of the best teams in the league, certainly the best in the National League. Piazza led a group of mainly misfits, outcasts, and bit players to an NL pennant and a World Series in which they lost 4-1, but lost those four games by a combined total of five runs. 2000 was a thrill ride, watching to see if a group of underdogs could win the World Series. 2006 was about being disappointed in a team that should have won.
If for nothing else, it gives the younger generation of Mets fans something to cheer after the collapses on ’07 and ’08, mediocrity of the past three years, 9/11, and the whole Dolan-Madoff disaster; but more importantly to pay tribute to the greatest hitter to ever don a Mets uniform.