NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 9: Former New York Mets catcher and Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, talks with Jacob … [+]
Landing a franchise player is a little bit random. The Mariners and Braves had to be bad enough to “deserve” the No. I choose the seasons just before Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones were approved for the design. Five teams passed Derek Jeter on before the 1992 Yankees selected him. Twenty-one teams took someone who was not Mike Trout with them before he was selected by the Angels in 2009.
For the Mets, creating legendary players was less about random quirks and more about meeting a random tourist.
It was twice as likely that Tom Seaver, who originally signed with the Braves but was classified as a free agent for technical reasons, would end up with someone else – the Indians or Phillies – as with the Mets, when Commissioner William Eckert chose a name David Wright, the only Mets star to complete his entire career on the team, was selected on a draft pick the Mets received in compensation after Mike Hampton signed with the Rockies as a free agent. Jacob deGrom, who has a chance to surpass Wright’s feat, was a ninth round draft pick who didn’t reach the majors until he was nearly 26 and passed off as someone with a Seaver-esque pursuit of perfection and intolerance for fools Most of the first two years of his long-term business looked like the less fortunate partner in an arranged marriage.
But no Mets icon was spotted as by accident as Mike Piazza, who still seems puzzled by the sequence of events in 1998 that brought him to New York and convinced him to stay.
“When I surrendered somehow, I think, for lack of a better word, that I should be here and that I had to see through this, then I felt like this is something I wanted to do,” Piazza said during a zoom -Call on Monday afternoon.
Not the most romantic backstory, is it? But Piazza’s status as the Mets’ most visible ambassador and intergenerational representative, as well as the sight of him making his annual visit to spring training – albeit later and for a shorter period than usual due to the pandemic – served as a reminder that he was about to disconnect could be to an era where Mets icons are actually cultivated rather than stumbling upon.
The January 7th acquisition of Francisco Lindor was the biggest deal and risk the Mets have made since the blockbuster on the piazza. Lindor, who turned 27 in November, registered a WAR of 28.7 per Baseball-Reference.com. More than four modern day shortstops in the Hall of Fame – Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, and Alan Trammell – have all registered at the age of 26 Seasons.
Like Piazza a generation ago, Lindor was acquired months before his planned free agent appointment, with the conclusion that the Mets had better re-sign him and make the risk they had taken worthwhile by bringing a bushel of potential customers to a rebuilt one Send franchise companies.
Lindor set an opening day deadline to carry out an extension, but less than a week before the Mets are due to play the Nationals, there doesn’t seem to be the nervous energy verging on panic that the piazza has in its first four months surrounded with the team.
Some of this is a by-product of the calendar. Acquired in the off-season, Lindor was able to relax in his new environment during spring training, though one happened during a pandemic.
“Seems like he has such a good head on his shoulders,” said Piazza. “My only advice to him is to just go out and play. We always said when I played: play players, train coaches, manage managers, write writers. You just do your job and try not to get too wrapped up. I think we are all human, so we all want to know where we will be (and want to be in control of our destiny). “
The piazza landed on May 22, 1998 after several months of chaos with the Mets. First, his relationship with the Dodgers had to be irreparably damaged before the Dodgers sold him to the rebuilt Marlins, not to one of the many teams that could have used a Hall of Fame tied catcher.
Piazza spent seven days with the Marlins, a period of time during which Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon called WFAN’s “Mike and the Mad Dog” to explain that the team was not interested in taking over Piazza – the Mets were awaiting the return of All-Star Todd Hundley Shortly after Tommy John had surgery – before his co-owner and fierce rival Nelson Doubleday called to say the Mets should actually get the piazza. The public mood was decidedly on Doubleday’s side, and with the Wilpons obsessed with winning the daily news cycle, Piazza became a met.
On Piazza’s first day with the Mets, he had to catch the grunting, demonstrative climber doing pitch count climbing and cut the fastball thrower Al Leiter. From there it didn’t get much easier for Piazza, who was booed when he barely hit .200 in the first two months with the Mets with bishops in goal position. Piazza got so grumpy and withdrawn that teammates and executives alike were convinced he would leave as a free agent.
After guiding the Mets within the lashes of a wildcard berth, Piazza surrendered to his fate and signed a seven-year contract days before he would have given the free hand in October 1998. This confirmed the Mets’ decision to act for him and set up a championship bout window for the franchise.
Almost a quarter of a century later, the inability to sign Lindor won’t be a damned indictment of the Mets’ willingness to make big purchases, nor the top-heavy all-or-nothing nature of their short-term plans. In just a few months under Steve Cohen, the Mets have proven themselves aggressive – almost stupid when it comes to chasing Trevor Bauer – as they tried to build a team that would match the market in which they play.
While pre-arbitration stars Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil’s contract renewals weren’t the greatest moves in good faith, Cohen’s apparent willingness to spend a fraction of his billions on maintaining the Mets roster holds the Mets’ opportunity no longer have to carefully choose which of their native players to keep once they hit the big money years.
If the next Mets symbol isn’t Lindor, it might be Alonso, McNeil, Michael Conforto. Brandon Nimmo or Dominic Smith are following in the footsteps of Wright and, it seems, deGrom.
Or maybe the Mets now have at least half as many franchise symbols on their roster as they have in the past 59 seasons.
“If so, he’ll be here,” said Piazza, linking to an era when the Mets had to hope a franchise player landed in their rounds and decided it was a fate.