Piazza, Mike

views updated

Mike Piazza


American baseball player

Although many people once believed that Mike Piazza was only in the big leagues due to his connection with Tommy Lasorda , he has certainly proven them wrong throughout his career. He has made a name for

himself in baseball with his remarkable batting, and has made an impact on the world, using his celebrity status. Baseball did not come easy for him, but he has always loved the game so much, he was willing to pay any price to get to the major leagues. He is known for his hot temper when it comes to his performance, but also has a reputation for his compassion and laid back attitude off the field. Although he has had a handful of altercations with other players, most players express only admiration for him and his ability on the field.

Batter Up

Mike Piazza grew up living and breathing baseball. His focus was fueled by his father's passion for the game. From an early age he began to practice his batting. In an interview with Sports Illustrated Piazza said, "I would come home from school, get a snack, watch cartoons then hit. Every spring I would see I was hitting the ball farther and farther." Piazza would act as a batboy when the Dodgers were in town, due to his father's connection with Tommy Lasorda. In his senior year at Phoenixville High School he broke the schools record for career home runs. It was obvious his practice was paying off. Although Piazza's stats were good, the talent scouts did not seem to find him remarkable. He was passed up for any opportunities to break into the major leagues. Fortunately, having Lasorda as a family friend proved to be invaluable. Lasorda arranged a spot for Piazza with the University of Miami Hurricanes. He did not do well in the single season he played with the Hurricanes and decided to transfer to Miami-Dade Community College. He was unable to play most of the season with the school due to a hand injury, so Lasorda once again stepped in to help Piazza out by influencing the Dodgers to draft the young Piazza, who was picked last in the 62nd round. When Piazza consistently blew the balls out of the ballpark for the Dodgers scouting director, Ben Wade, he knew they would find a place for him. Lasorda worked with Wade to come up with a way for Piazza to make it with the Dodgers. Wade finally agreed when Lasorda suggested that Piazza play the position of catcher. Wade was hooked, and offered Piazza a $15,000 signing bonus. Piazza gladly accepted the offer, remarking that he could have cared less about the money and would have paid for the opportunity.


1968Born September 4 in Norristown, Pennsylvania
1986Breaks Phoenixville High School's record for career home runs
1986Plays for the University of Miami Hurricanes
1987Transfers to Miami-Dade Community College
1988Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers
1989Plays his rookie season in Arizona on Dodger's instructional league team
1989Attends Campo Las Palamas in Dominican Republic to hone his catching skills
1991Catches full time with Class A Bakersfield
1992Plays his first major league game for the Dodgers
1993Hits the most home runs for a rookie catcher
1993Offered a three-year contract with the Dodgers
1995Suffers knee injury taking him out of the game
1995Becomes first Dodger to hit more than twenty home runs in each of first three seasons
1998Traded to the Florida Marlins
1998Traded to the New York Mets

Catcher if He Can

Piazza had never played the position of catcher, so in order to learn the position, he requested to be sent to Campos Las Palmas, which is the training camp for Latino recruits, in the Dominican Republic. The conditions at the training camp were not ideal, as Piazza was out of his element. He did not speak the language, and endured squalor living conditions. As usual, Piazza was willing to do anything to improve his game. He put up with a lot of razzing by teammates due to his association with Lasorda. Bob Nightengale with the Sporting News stated, "He still was considered Tommy's boy and clearly paid the price." Everything he battled was made worthwhile when he was catching full time for the Class A Bakersfield team, and was called up to play with the Dodgers for a game against the Chicago Cubs on September 1, 1992. He did not take this opportunity lightly, showing everyone what he had to offer. The next year with the Dodgers he hit thirty-five home runs, which was the most any rookie catcher had ever hit, influencing the decision to name him National League Rookie of the Year in 1993. It also resulted in a contract with the Dodgers for three years. The contract was for $4.2 million, which was a far cry from his original signing bonus of $15,000. He had finally made it in the big leagues. It was a proud moment, not only for him, but for his father, whose dream had come true. Piazza realized what a gift he had been given for the opportunity to play with the Dodgers and expressed, "I'll never take this game for granted, never. I have worked too hard to get here," when speaking with Bob Nightengale for the Sporting News. He went on to talk about his celebrity, saying, "I'm only known because of my success on the ballfield. Nobody knew who I was three years ago." He wanted to make it quite clear that although a favor was called in for him to have a chance, he worked for everything he had achieved.

In 1998 everything Piazza knew was about to change. He thought he would be playing for the Dodgers for the rest of his career. Little did he know that in the span of two weeks he would be traded twice. He was first traded to the Florida Marlins, then to the New York Mets. It is with the Mets that he remains, but it wasn't without a lot of hard work proving himself. In the Palm Beach Post Julius Whigham wrote, "He struggled to live up to high expectations in New York early on and heard about it." Piazza stated in the article, "I chose to embrace it and go with it and be accountable and not make excuses." John Franco, a pitcher for the Dodgers, believed he just had to acclimate to the New York state of mind. He said, "Once he got used to being around, the rest is history." Once Piazza settled in he not only was accepted into the Mets fan base, he was embraced. In The Record Pete Caldera explained that the "Mets can't bear to think of life without him."

Piazza is Everywhere

Piazza enjoyed his celebrity. His charm off the field landed him cameo appearances as well as several guest appearances on TV shows like Baywatch and Marriedwith Children. He has also been seen in commercials, notably several for Pert shampoo and 10-10-220. He is known and admired for his drive, as well as his attitude towards life in general. In 1995, he donated $100 for every home run he hit to a fund for all the Dodger Stadium employees who were not paid during the baseball strike.

Piazza was impacted by the September 11th attacks, and after visiting "ground zero" was so touched by the experience he wanted to do something to help. One of the firehouses, Ladder 3, found out about this and hooked him up with the Carroll family. Mike Carroll was a huge fan of Piazza, and was teaching his son Brendan to hit "like Piazza," according to an interview with the Carroll family in Sports Illustrated. Mike Carroll was one of the many New York Fire Fighters who lost his life in the World Trade Center on September 11th. The day before Thanksgiving that year Piazza met with Brendan and his mom, Nancy. Brendan was ecstatic to get to ask his father's favorite player questions about his life. During the barrage of questions Brendan asked if Piazza knew him and his dad were at the game where Roger Clemens hit him in the head with a pitch. It was at that point that Brendan broke down and cried. According to the article in Sports Illustrated Piazza did not move, but rubbed Brendan's shoulders saying, "You'll be alright, buddy, you'll be all-right." He then invited Brendan and his mother back to his place to hang out. He and Brendan played a video football game while Nancy looked on. Nancy noted that "Brendan is hanging out with Mike Piazza, in Mike Piazza's apartment, and Mike thinks it's the funniest thing in the world." She knew her husband Mike would have been ecstatic knowing that Brendan had this opportunity, because he knew what an outstanding person Piazza was. Piazza stated in an interview with Julius Whigham of the Palm Beach Post, "I enjoy the triumph of the human spirit. To see the inspiration of how you come through it through the challenges and pressures of life and death." It is obvious that Piazza lives this idea, and has truly made an impact on a little boy named Brendan.

Related Biography: Father Vince Piazza

Vince Piazza was a first generation American who became a millionaire. He believed that anything is possible when you put the effort into the job.

Vince dreamed for one of his boys to play in the major leagues. Mike expressed a passion for the game and Vince provided Mike with whatever was necessary for him to succeed. When Mike was passed over by several talent scouts, Vince called on his childhood friend, Tommy Lasorda. He knew that his son was not getting the attention he deserved. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Vince said, "it was me who gave Michael the tools, but it was Michael who used them." Vince knew that Mike's hard work had paid off when Mike joined the Dodgers in 1992, and later received the Most Valuable Player award for the 1996 All-Star game. In an interview for the Sporting News Vince expressed, "I prayed to the good Lord that he would make my son a big-league ballplayer, but who ever dreamed this? I mean, there's only two professional ballplayers that ever came out of Norristown, PA. One is the manager. The other is my son. And they're on the same ballclub."

Awards and Accomplishments

1986Broke record for career homeruns at Phoenixville High School
1993Hit the most home runs for a Major League rookie catcher
1993Named National League Rookie of the Year
1993-2002Awarded Silver Slugger award, honoring the best offensive players
1993-2002Elected to All Star team
1995Becomes first Dodger to hit more than twenty home runs in first three seasons
1996Named Major League All-Star MVP

Feet on the Ground

Piazza has every opportunity to become smug in his ability and celebrity, but he has never been one to flaunt it. He is known for having high expectations for himself, but only on a personal level, not in comparison to others. Besides Barry Bonds , he has received the most votes for MVP for the National League. With numbers like that, it's no wonder he is feared in the realm of baseball. Todd Pratt, who is Piazza's backup said, "I don't understand why anybody would pitch to him. He's that good," when questioned by Sports Illustrated. But through all the accolades, Piazza remains loyal to the game and realizes what a precious gift that has been handed to him. It is because of his respect for the game that he understands this lesson stating, "This game is humbling. It has a way of keeping your feet on the ground," in an interview with Gregory Schutta with The Record. Piazza remains at the top of his game and looks forward to many more years of playing the game he loves.

Career Statistics

LA: Los Angeles Dodgers; FLA: Florida Marlins; NYM: New York Mets.


Address: Mike Piazza, c/o New York Mets, 12301 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, NY 11368.



Newsmakers 1993. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.

Noble, Marty. Mike and the Mets. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing Inc., 1999.

Sports Stars. Series 1-4. UXL, 1994-98. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.


Bamberger, Michael. "Like so many other New York City Firefighters who died on September 11 Mike Carroll was a dedicated athlete and loyal teammate whose indomitable spirit led him to embrace his final heroic mission. His young son would find comfort in the company of Mike Piazza." Sports Illustrated (December 24, 2001): 106.

Bamberger, Michael. "Baseball: playin' the Dodger blues in the course of a few traumatic days, Mike Piazza's world turned upside downand SI was there when he heard the news that his L.A. days were over." Sports Illustrated (May 25, 1998): 32.

Caldera, Pete. "Iron Mike: Piazza shows true grit." Record (Bergen County, NJ) (August 29, 2000): S05.

Jacobson, Steve. "Comfortable Piazza a giant in Big Town." Newsday (July 2, 2000): C07.

Nightengale, Bob. "Piazza's attitude and discipline keep him on top." Sporting News (April 24, 1995): 38.

Plaschke, Bill. "The man in the gold mask." Sporting News (March 16, 1998): 9.

Schutta, Gregory. "Piazza awes teammates." Record (Bergen County, NJ) (July 3, 2000): S03.

Shenolikar, Sachin, and Schwartz, Alan. "Pudge Vs. Piazza see how two of baseball's toughest characters stack up." Sports Illustrated For Kids (July 3, 2000): 42.

Verducci, Tom. "Catch this! Mike Piazza isn't just the best-hitting backstop of all time. He's also the leading man on baseball's hottest team." Sports Illustrated (August 21, 2000): 38.

Whigham, Julius. "The man behind the mask: from Valley Forge to New York, Mike Piazza knows his history." Palm Beach Post (February 21, 2001): 1C.


baseball-reference.com. http://www.baseball-reference.com/p/piazzomi01.shtml (November 17, 2002).

"Bonds, Piazza win 10th Silver Slugger awards." Associated Press http://foxsports.com/content/view?contentId=741946 (November 11, 2002).

ESPN. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?statsId=4928 (November 17, 2002).

FOXSports. http://foxsports.com/content/view?dcontentId=603032 (November 11, 2002).

"Piazza reacts to Butler's comments by saying he leads in his own way." AP Press Online (March 3, 1998): 38.

Sketch by Barbra J Smerz