While the New York Yankees may be the big name in Big Apple baseball, the New York Mets have their own rich history. The Queens club might only have two World Series titles, but they’ve seen more than their fair share of iconic players and colorful characters. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was no one bigger than Mike Piazza.
In the big leagues, Piazza belted 427 home runs, including one famous blast, and earned more than $120 million in salary. His career might not have ever gotten off the ground, however, if not for a favor from Tommy Lasorda.
Mike Piazza’s early baseball career
These days, most baseball fans remember Mike Piazza as the handlebar mustache-wearing catcher who hit an iconic post-9/11 home run. His Hall of Fame career, however, started in much different circumstances.
Mike’s father, Vince, dreamed of being a baseball player but walked away from the game to help provide for his family. Once he struck it rich in business, he ensured that one of his children would make it to the big leagues. That turned out to be Mike.
Piazza embraced the game; he spent hours hitting in a backyard batting cage, even impressing Ted Williams. Once he headed to college, however, he hit a snag. At the University of Miami, Piazza failed to hit his stride. After only getting nine at-bats during his entire freshman year, the first baseman left the program. He found some success at Miami-Dade North Community College, but hardly seemed destined for greatness.
A draft-day favor from Tommy Lasorda
It goes without saying that Miami-Dade North Community College isn’t a hotbed of Major League Baseball talent. Luckily, Mike Piazza had an ace up his sleeve: his dad was a childhood friend of Tommy Lasorda, who was managing the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lasorda convinced the team to use their final draft pick, 1,390th overall, to select Piazza. While it was more of a favor than anything else, Mike had other ideas. When the team eventually reached out to him, he asked for a tryout.
At that tryout, Piazza belted home run after home run. Lasorda floated the idea of moving the young first baseman behind the plate to take advantage of his bat; the club agreed to give him a shot and signed Mike to a contract with a $15,000 signing bonus.
Mike Piazza seized that opportunity and became a Hall of Famer
If not for Tommy Lasorda, Mike Piazza might not have gotten a chance with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Once his foot was in the door, however, the catcher made the best of his opportunity.
Piazza threw himself into his new position, even heading to the Dodgers’ Dominican Republic academy to sharpen his skills. Once his defense was strong enough to earn a place in the lineup, his bat was potent enough to keep him there.
In 1993, Piazza earned a full-time job with the Dodgers; he promptly earned the National League Rookie of the Year title, batting .318 and hitting 35 home runs. He spent seven full seasons in Los Angeles before being traded to the Marlins and flipped to the Mets. In New York, however, he became a blue-collar hero.
By the time he retired from baseball, Mike Piazza had spent 16 seasons in the big leagues, taking home more than $120 million; his career .308 batting average, 427 home runs, and 1,335 RBIs have since earned him a place in Cooperstown. And to think, it all started with favor from Tommy Lasorda.