Mike Piazza will be inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame during a special ceremony on Sunday, July 24 at 1:30 p.m. ET.
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Last year, after it was announced that Piazza recieved enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame, I watched a good hour of his highlights preparing for a post about his career. I intended for it to be about his impact on Mets fans and our experience at Shea Stadium. But, in watching him hit, I found myself again mesmerized by how amazing he was in a batter's box.
It's easy to be bogged down in the world surrounding us as Mets fans, i.e., payroll, stats, results, etc. However, I also love the art of baseball. I love the act of hitting and fielding and throwing and the beauty and genius behind it all. This is why I adore Spring Training. And, after watching those clips in the middle of the night, I was reminded of how Piazza painted us the perfect portrait of a powerful right-handed hitter.
He was literally the best right-handed hitter I ever watched. He is the textbook definition of what a young kid should be trying to do when in the box. His head never moves. He is locked in on the ball the entire time it's in flight. His face never turns, never tips, never throws him off balance. It's like some weird film trick, where his head is isolated and the rest of the image moves. However, it's not fake, it's physical discipline and mental focus at a world-class level.
Similarly, his hands are motionless for such a long time. He lets the ball get so deep in the strike zone, waiting so long to make his move that it often looks like he's hitting it out of the catcher's mitt. And yet, because he could generate so much power in his wrists, in his torque, he could drive the ball the other way, 400 feet over the wall.
If this wasn't impressive enough, it's important to remember he hit like this after doing roughly 300 squats a night catching behind the plate. The guy was up and down, up and down, over and over again -- before the game, after the game, during the game, between innings, all while calling pitches, researching opposing hitters, taking foul balls off the hand, chest and face, and living in the dirt. And, despite the beating, he played all nine innings, because he was always his team's best hitter, needed for a final at-bat in a clutch spot.
It's also important to note that he is still underrated as a catcher. He wasn't great, but he isn't as bad as people like to make him out to be. Sure, he wasn't the best at throwing runners out trying to steal bases. However, given his size, it's easy to see why. But he was well above average at framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. Also, starting pitchers threw better to him than his backup catchers, which is probably why they all praised him so much during their time together.
Lastly, and maybe most important, I don't think people realize how hard he worked to keep up his level of performance. There is an old timer I love talking with in St. Lucie who has been working security at the facility since Piazza was training there. He loves to talk about how Mike would get to the ballpark before he would some days and how he was the only active, healthy major league player he can remember getting there early enough to hit before the minor leaguers. I love this story, because it speaks to how much effort Piazza had to put in to being the player that he was.
Thank you, Mike. Thank you for the hard work, artistry and incredible moments. It was an honor getting to watch you play, it was a thrill being able to hang with you a bit this past spring training, and I'm proud that you'll go in to the Hall of Fame representing the Mets.