As with most Dodger fans of the 1990's Mike Piazza was one of if not my favorite player on the team. I still liked Eric Karros a lot who also was Mike's best friend while on the team. Mike's tenure with the Dodgers was cut prematurely and I would say most of that was the fault of the ownership at the time. This autobiography with help by Lonnie Wheeler sheds light on that topic and a lot of others that people have always wanted answers to.
Mike talks about his unique climb from learning his trade in his basement at home to not being good enough to play on a major college team to reinventing himself as a catcher. The Dodgers took a flyer on Mike mostly to Tommy's Lasorda's persistence. More or less it was a favor and the Dodgers never thought Mike would amount to much. Once under contract which was a process of its own, Mike had to deal with the constant roadblocks and the non belief of Dodger management through the minor league system. If Tommy was not with the Dodgers Mike probably would have never seen the majors with the Dodgers and possibly anyone. By the time he made it to the big show he had a chip on his shoulder and it showed when he played. It was deserved as he brought so much to the team that drafted him but when it came time to pay him what he was worth they played head games with him. He touches upon what he thought was Vin Scully persuading the general public to turn against him but it is not as bad as other people have stated though it does come off as a little petty on his part.
You have this young man in his early twenties, living in a high end beach community and is the star of the team who also happens to be Italian. That is not a knock against Italians but they have the reputation of having "fiery" blood in their veins. I personally think that helped his drive to achieve what he wanted to do. If he was brought up any other way by his parents, who stood by his every step up the baseball ladder and helped him through the hard times, or had less drive I don't think we would be ready about the story of Mike Piazza the baseball player. That chip that helped him be at the top of this game in Los Angeles also helped him out of the city as well. Though he deserved the money he fought back when he felt he was attacked in someway. He had his supporters but there were more people that he didn't see eye to eye with.
The Dodgers have always had a great history with international players and while Mike was on the team the starting pitchers were from five distinct and different cultures. Japan, Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic and the U.S.A. That is one heck of a crock pot of personalities and as a catcher he had to deal with each one of them. For the most part he got along with all them but while on the team and through his career he also had a riffs with baseball players that came from a Latin descent. He respected their talents but obviously the cultural differences created a gap between them.
Once the contact negotiations deteriorated the new Dodger ownership traded Mike to the Florida Marlins who promptly traded him to the New York Mets. He always felt that it was never about the money but a lack of respect by the team for him. As evident as the Dodgers paid Kevin Brown that off season the money that Mike was asking for. Mike was in his prime and while Kevin was a good pitcher he was closer to the twilight of his career. It would take til the past couple of years that the Dodgers have had a cornerstone player that they could build the team around. The Dodgers did right this time by locking up Matt Kemp in his prime to a great contact that is well deserved. One that should have been preceded by a contract to Mike Piazza.
His adjustment to New York was rocky to say the least in the beginning and at the end of the first half season he played there he was unsure if he would stay. There were even rumors of him coming back to the Dodgers. In the end he decided to sign his long term contract with the Mets and proceeded to give them their moneys worth those first few years topped off by a World Series appearance against the New York Yankees. That series was showcased by the non Mike Piazza/Roger Clemens fight. In hindsight Mike believes he was being attacked as there was a history between the two with Roger beaning him in the head earlier in the year and now his was apparently throwing a broken bat at him. Though they never came to blows there was always tension between the two. In an odd twist he was thrown at by multiple Latin players in the following years that he went after and their response was why didn't he attacked Roger like he was doing them. More evidence that he felt that Latin players just did not like him much.
9/11 like most people in America change Mike and his life. Prior to that year his career with Mets was statistically great as he accomplished a lot for himself. 9/11 occurred and rocked us all to our core and he looked at life differently and his on field play was just not up to his expectations after that fateful day. The first game played in New York city was highlighted by his winning home run and that connected him with the city forever. The years that followed in New York though were not so good. While still very good for less talented players it was far below what he normally produced and what was expected by him and the team. He played out his contract amongst tension with the club on how he was being treated and used but honored his obligations to them nonetheless. As his career was closing with New York the fans cheered him more and more and even though he knew he wasn't coming back it forged a bond with him that continues to this day.
He played a couple more years in San Diego and Oakland and even made the playoffs one more time but his best years were behind him and he knew it. What helped him accept that his playing days were coming to an end was him meeting and marrying his soul mate Alicia. She has been the rock that has calmed his soul and given him two wonderful kids. He played his last year in Oakland and he knew it was basically the end and if this happened a few years earlier it would have been harder but having his family now helped him realize that there was more to life than baseball.
He retired as the greatest hitting catcher in the history of baseball. He still holds records to this day. His one main regret was that he didn't stop and "smell the roses". He played and played and never let himself enjoy the game he grew up playing for fun. It took its toll on him. He and I both believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame even though he is tainted by the steroid era that he played in even though he states he never took an illegal drug and never tested positive for anything. If he ever makes it in he wants to go in as a Met. Even though the Dodgers gave him his chance it was New York that he had the strongest bond with. I think if he stayed with the Dodgers he would have won a World Series with them but New York was where he needed to be and that is where God placed him to accomplish what he did.
A great player with a hot blooded temper changed the way we looked at offensive minded catchers and this book is a great read of a young man who once couldn't get a chance to even suit up to play in a minor league game because the manager didn't like him to producing a Hall of Fame quality career. He showed if you put your mind to it you can overcome almost anything but at the same time if you go through life thinking everyone is against you, you will never truly enjoy life as you will always be on guard or defensive. I wish as a Dodger fan he would have made his Hall of Fame career here but I am happy I got to see him play and that he achieved what he did even though it was not in blue.