In more ways than one, Francona follows Dick Williams’ HOF path

When the Indians visited the Yankees in August,  I headed to the Bronx in hopes of interviewing Indians skipper Terry Francona, who managed the Red Sox when I covered the team from 2004 through 2007 (thanks, 2013 Red Sox, for negating my claim to fame: No titles in 86 years for the Red Sox prior to my arrival and none since I left).

The Indians, who took over first place in the AL Central for good in mid-June, were in obvious “go for it” mode after acquiring Andrew Miller from the Yankees, so I wanted to ask Francona about the possibility he was following the Hall of Fame path set by his first major league manager, Dick Williams.

Alas, I couldn’t find a home for the story before or during the playoffs, which is a shame, because Francona proved me prescient for once. Regardless of how the Indians fare against the Cubs in the World Series, which begins tonight, Francona is headed for the Hall of Fame. And he cemented his candidacy by using Miller in a way that would have made Williams proud–usage that Francona foretold during a press conference the day before we chatted in his office. 

It was fun to tie together the threads connecting Francona and Williams, so I wrote the story anyway. Hope you enjoy it.

Terry Francona, seated on a podium in a conference room at Yankee Stadium the afternoon of Aug. 5, grinned when he was asked what the acquisition of Andrew Miller from the Yankees could do for the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

“I could probably tell you more in a couple months, when it’s over,” Francona said.

It’s not over yet, but Miller’s already provided the answer. Miller has struck out 21 batters over 11 2/3 scoreless innings this month in leading to the Indians, who have not won the World Series since 1948, to the World Series, where they will face the Chicago Cubs, whose title drought, you might have heard, stretches back to 1908.

With his uncommonly aggressive usage of Miller, Francona has also answered in the affirmative another question he was more reluctant to answer the first weekend of August: Is he headed for the Hall of Fame?

“I don’t ever think about those things,” Francona said in his office Aug. 6. “I know I’m lucky. I got put in some really good situations. There’s some really good players, there’s some really smart people running the teams. I caught some of the good fortune.”

That good fortune in Boston — where Francona managed the Red Sox to World Series crowns in 2004 and 2007 — vaulted him into the Hall of Fame conversation years ago. Ten managers have won at least three World Series — nine Hall of Famers and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy. In addition, 27 of the 30 Hall of Fame-eligible managers who have won at least three pennants are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Even accounting for the fiery fashion in which his Red Sox tenure ended following the 2011 season, Francona could have parlayed his resume into another opportunity in a big market, where that good fortune is, ahem, Theo-retically easier to find: Three weeks after Francona left Boston, his general manager, Theo Epstein, bolted for the Cubs with a year left on his contract.

Instead, after spending 2012 recharging as an analyst for ESPN, Francona joined the Indians, the third team in a hard-luck, three-sport town whose championship drought was not afforded the lyrical melodrama that accompanied the title pursuits of the Red Sox and Cubs.

Nor are the small-market Indians, whose payroll annually ranks among the bottom third in baseball, afforded the resources of a Boston or Chicago team. But Francona, who was aware of the restraints under which the Indians operated after spending a season in the Cleveland front office in 2001, enjoyed the challenge of winning with far fewer dollars to spend — and far fewer distractions to manage.

“A couple of people actually said ‘Well, we thought you’d cherry pick,’” Francona said. “I’m not sure I like that term. But my answer was ‘I did.’ This was where I wanted to come.

“I said ‘Hey, I’m coming for the right reasons, I’m not going to go to pasture.’ I know it can be harder here. But I want to come to a place where — maybe because of the way things ended in Boston — when we win, it will be so fulfilling, because we do have some challenges here.”

Once he set upon the less-traveled road, Francona followed in the footsteps of his first major league manager, Dick Williams, who reached the World Series as a rookie manager with the Red Sox in 1967 and piloted the Oakland Athletics to consecutive championships in 1972 and 1973 before he ended his career with a quartet of expansion-era teams—the California Angels, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners—that had never made the playoffs prior to his arrival.

Under Williams, the Expos were eliminated from the NL East race in the final week of the season in both 1979 and 1980, when they finished second behind the eventual World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively. Williams was fired in September 1981, just a couple weeks after Francona made his major league debut and a month before the Expos made the playoffs for the first time. Three years later, Williams sealed his Cooperstown candidacy by leading the Padres to the World Series.

“He could see the game, man,” Francona said of Williams.

So can Francona, especially in the playoffs. Only two managers in the League Championship Series era have won five of their first six postseason series: Williams and Francona, who actually won six of his first seven playoff series.

Francona, who was aggressive with closers Keith Foulke in 2004 and Jonathan Papelbon in 2007, has utilized Miller like Williams used Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers during the Athletics’ World Series runs. Fingers entered a game in every inning between the fifth and 11th in 1972 and 1973. Miller has entered a game in every inning between the fifth and ninth this month.

Most outside observers believed Miller, the reigning American League fireman of the year, would supplant Cody Allen as the Indians’ closer upon being acquired July 31. But in Miller — whom Francona in August dubbed “ … a guy that’s willing to pitch at the most opportune time of the game” — Francona could finally employ a bullpen the way he wanted.

“When I came here, Cody Allen was that guy—we used him probably from two outs in the sixth up until the ninth and we leveraged him wherever we could.” Francona said. “And it’s tremendous. But then through success, you earn that closer’s role, which I understand, and he deserves it. But then it’s hard to find somebody to replace that. So now, with (Bryan) Shaw, Andrew (and) Cody, we’ll kind of pitch them whenever it makes sense.

“They’re all three on board with that, so it should help. I don’t think there’s going to be much confusion.”

Nor is there any confusion about where Francona is headed. Cooperstown might not be on his mind, but it’s his destination.

“What I truly care about is just trying to be the best manager I can, for the players here and the organization,” Francona said. “I’ve felt like that since I was in A-ball managing. If I took care of the players and the organization first, my situation would always take care of itself.

“And you look up 30 years later and I’m still doing this, so it works.”

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Six Days At Shea: November 1999 Mets Inside Pitch

Back in the final days of the 20th century, dinosaurs roamed the Earth and teams had official monthly publications in which features were written for a far-flung audience that was not able to absorb the news as it happened. “Six Days At Shea” was written with those non-New Yorkers in mind, the Mets fans who knew their favorite team had completed a stunning comeback from the edge of elimination but might not have known about the accompanying details and color.

As a 26-year-old reporter and not-so-closeted Mets fan who was starting to work a clubhouse for the first time, it was a blast writing about this in real time. The Mets have not clinched a playoff berth on the final weekend of the season since 1999, so I thought it’d be fun to look back as the 2016 Mets–who looked as finished with six weeks to go as the 1999 team did with three days left–close in on a wild card bid.

Sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction.

If you were a Hollywood scriptwriter, you could not have sold to anyone the story of the 1999 Mets, a story full of melodrama (coaches getting fired), cheesy storylines (team fights back from two extended losing streaks) unlikely plot twist near the end (team controls fate but doesn’t know where it’s going) and sappy ending (team makes the playoffs on the final day of the year).

“This is awesome, isn’t it?”

Actor Kurt Russell grinned from ear-to-ear as he sat in the batting cage adjacent to the Mets’ clubhouse. It was Sunday afternoon, Oct. 3., and the Mets needed a win over the Pirates to force, at worst, a one-game playoff for the NL wild card with the Reds the next day.

The reality of the Mets’ amazing run to the playoffs—the club was five days removed from a seven-game losing streak and two days removed from a two-game deficit with three to play—had captivated everyone, including Russell, the baseball-loving uncle of Mets pinch-hitter Matt Franco.

“This is so rare: Guys who play for years and years don’t have a moment like this,” Russell says. “The immediacy, not knowing what’s gonna happen next. It’s just great to be a part of it, whether it’s as a player or as a fan. You want it to work out, but you just don’t know.”

It worked out for the Mets, who beat the Pirates on Sunday and then beat the Reds, 5-0, in Cincinnati on Monday to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1988. Those who were at Shea Stadium for the final six days of the regular season won’t soon forget the events which transpired.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 28: The tone is optimistic before the game. On WFAN, Mets GM Steve Phillips talks about how the club still controls its own destiny: Win the final six and the Mets are in no matter what the Reds or Astros do.

But the optimism is gone by the end of the first inning. Venerable veteran Orel Hershiser gets only one out—on a sacrifice fly—before he is lifted for Octavio Dotel. The Mets are down by four runs after one inning and eventually lose, 9-2.

Frustrations boil over in the seventh, when reliever Dennis Cook takes umbrage with the strike zone of replacement umpire Alfonso Marquez. The two have a heated argument and the bills of their caps touch.

“It was just a difference of opinion,” Cook says after the game.

“They’re in a spot now where things just aren’t quite going their way,” says Tom Glavine, the winning pitcher tonight for the Braves. “That’s what happens when you get into a rut. Things that were going your way most of the year aren’t. And the bad thing about what they’re going through is they’re running out of time to recover from it.”

No kidding: The Mets have dropped two games in back of the Reds and Astros with five to play. The Mets’ margin for error has slipped from thin to razor slim.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 29: Except for Al Leiter, who is cranking up Bruce Springsteen tunes as he gets ready for tonight’s start, the clubhouse is quiet before the game. The Mets know they have their work cut out of them: Not only do they have to make up a two-game deficit with five to play, but they must begin doing so against the greatest pitcher of this generation, Greg Maddux.

Ventura is asked if shaking a losing streak is kind of like shaking the flu. He grins. “Yeah, exactly, that’s a pretty good example,” he says. “I think you can’t get it out of there before it’s time. As bad as you want it to go, if it was always that easy, it wouldn’t be happening.”

The Mets’ fever finally breaks. The Braves take a 2-1 lead into the fourth, but the Mets open the inning with six straight singles off Maddux. Then John Olerud blows the game open with a grand slam home run to give the Mets a stunning 8-2 lead. Leiter is dominant the rest of the way and the Mets win, 9-2.

It’s the first time the Mets have experienced the joy of victory in 10 days, but enthusiasm is muted. “There’s a little relief, but then you realize it’s one game and you’ve got to come back to win tomorrow,” Ventura says. “We’ve got four games left and we need to win them all.”

“We still have to go out and do it tomorrow,” Bobby Valentine says. “There’s no real magic even though we feel like we’re due some good things. I think we have at least a week of good things coming.”

THURSDAY, SEPT. 30: The good things don’t happen tonight as the Braves take a 4-3 victory in 11 draining innings. The game is a microcosm of the Mets season: The Mets were down and they come back. The Mets are down and they come back. The Mets have some moments of brilliance which make you believe something special is about to happen.

The most brilliant moments occur in the eighth inning. In the top of the frame, the Braves load the bases with none out and a 3-2 lead. But Pat Mahomes gets Andruw Jones to ground to Ventura, who touches third and throws home to Mike Piazza, who tags Chipper Jones for the second out. Ozzie Guillen flies out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the frame, Edgardo Alfonzo hits a solo homer with two outs to tie the score. “Fonzie hit the home run and Pat got out of the jam with the double play ball to third,” Olerud says. “Those were big plays, and turned in those situations keep you in ballgames. I thought those were good signs.”

It’s also a good sign when Armando Benitez throws two shutout innings, but Brian Jordan leads off the top of the 11th with a triple and scores on Andruw Jones’ sacrifice fly. The Mets go down meekly against Terry Mulholland in the bottom of the 11th and fall two games in back of the Reds and Astros with three to play.

“I think knowing you have the last at-bat, you go to the eighth, ninth, 10th and think there’s a shot, but we just didn’t do it,” Ventura says. “You gotta keep playing hard, no matter what, and hope for one of them [the Reds or Astros] to lose and we’ve gotta run it out.”

FRIDAY, OCT. 1: It seems as if New York has given up on the Mets. There’s only about 20,000 people in the stands at game time and the pre-game radio talk centered on what the Mets will do next year.

But Kenny Rogers is brilliant on the mound as he strikes out a career-high 10 and he enters the eighth with a 2-0 lead thanks to homers by Ventura and Piazza. But Rogers departs with runners on first and third and John Franco eventually allows the tying hit to Warren Morris.

Then, with the bases loaded and two outs, Franco falls behind 3-0 on Adrian Brown. With the season on the line, Franco comes back and fires three straight strikes to punch Brown out. Franco leaps off the mound and races into the dugout.

Finally, in the bottom of the 11th, the Mets load the bases against Scott Sauerbeck and Ventura delivers the winning hit. He rounds first with the rest of the Mets in celebratory pursuit—symbolic because Ventura has been the Mets’ leader all year—and leaps into the arms of Piazza at second.

“I think everybody looks for the worst instead of hoping for the best,” says Mahomes, who earns the win with two scoreless innings. “My mom called me today and she says ‘I still think y’all gonna make it’ and I still think we’re gonna make it. Until we’re eliminated I still believe we’re gonna make it. All we can do is handle what happens at Shea, we can’t handle what happens at the Astrodome or County Stadium.”

The Mets learn during the game that the Dodgers have beaten Houston and that the Reds have blown a 3-0 lead against Milwaukee. The team sticks around the clubhouse to watch the final innings of the Reds-Brewers game and rejoices when Ron Belliard delivers the game-winning hit for Milwaukee in the bottom of the 10th.

“Believe it!” Rogers shouts in joy. “Somebody’s doing CPR to us, bro! She’s breathing! Clear! She’s got a pulse! Got a flipping pulse!”

One down, two to play.

SATURDAY, OCT. 2: The Mets know before the game that the Reds have lost again to the Brewers, which means as long as the Mets win their final two games they will be assured of no worse than a playoff game in Cincinnati on Monday. The mood is considerably lighter today.

“It’s amazing how much perspective can change,” Phillips says. “Everyone was asking me [Friday] what I was planning to do on Monday, as if we weren’t going to be [in the playoffs] and I’d have nothing else to do. Now people are saying we can go to the playoffs without a playoff game. It’s amazing.”

Not nearly as amazing as Rick Reed’s performance. Reed, who has been injured and/or ineffective much of the year, allows just three hits, no walks, strikes out a career-high 12 and delivers a two-run single to lead the Mets past the Pirates 7-0.

Reed calls his performance the best of his career and no one’s arguing. “Unbelievable,” Bobby Jones says. “He was throwing everything for strikes and working both sides of the plate. That’s the pitcher’s dream, to throw a great game and also drive in a couple too. It was a lot of fun to watch.”

The Mets, left for dead just a night earlier, control their own destiny going into game No. 162. Amazing indeed.

“Obviously, [chances] were not good unless you win and another two teams play well, and when you have three games to go and you’re relying on other teams to lose you’re just getting luck, really,” Ventura says. “I’ve never been through this, where you go down to the last [weekend] two out and all of a sudden things just start getting crazy.”

SUNDAY, OCT. 3: The Mets are brimming with confidence hours before the first pitch. “If somebody would have told me ‘Hey, you’ve gotta play one game for all the marbles.’ I’d say ‘Bring it on,’ especially with this team,” Turk Wendell says.

The Shea Stadium crowd is electric, more than one person says the pre-game atmosphere rivals that of a World Series and it seems as if everyone assumes the Mets’ worst-case scenario will include a game in Cincinnati on Monday.

“Let’s not count our chickens,” Leiter says. “[Pittsburgh starter] Kris Benson stuck it up our butts last time, he’s a good young pitcher and obviously we’re gonna have to scratch some runs against a good pitcher. So let’s worry about that.”

Hershiser allows the first batter he faces to score but shuts the Pirates down through 5.1 innings. Cook and Mahomes get out of the sixth, Wendell throws 2.2 shutout innings and Benitez gets the last out of the ninth.

But Benson is tough, just as Leiter predicted, and he allows only one run through seven. But with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Melvin Mora singles and goes to third on Alfonzo’s single. Olerud is intentionally walked to bring up Piazza and set the stage for the Hollywood ending everyone wants to see.

But there’s a twist ending as the first pitch from ex-Met Brad Clontz skips away from Joe Oliver and Mora races home with the winning run. The Mets storm the field, Shea Stadium goes crazy and “L.A. Woman” blasts out of the loudspeakers.

The Mets are alive and well.

“A lot has happened in the last 72 hours,” Wendell says with a grin.

“How do you temper your words?” Valentine asks. “You don’t really know everything to say here.”

Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon comes in and he and Valentine share an emotional embrace. “We’ve got another game,” Valentine says.

“A few more,” Wilpon says. “A few more, Bobby.”

Kurt Russell is nowhere to be found in the celebratory din of the Mets clubhouse. But you’ve got to figure he was on a phone somewhere, telling his agent that this story of a baseball team full of melodrama, hackneyed stories and out-of-nowhere twist endings, would really make for a great movie.

Mets score 10 in the 8th to beat the Braves: NYSports.net, 6/30/00

Please forgive the overwrought, third-rate Mike Lupica stylings in this story. It was 16 years ago, back when I was still a not-very-closeted Mets fan, and I like to think I’d write this column in a better and more efficient manner today.

But this game was wild–the craziest regular season baseball game I think I’ve ever seen–and said overwrought prose provides a pretty good glimpse into what the stunning win meant to the Mets and their fans. Plus I looked prescient declaring Piazza would have his number retired by the Mets and that the Mets would finally topple the Braves in the National League. So there. (Coming soon: Many other stories in which I was proven wrong)

 

The last out of the Mets’ 45th win of the season had just landed in Jay Payton’s glove when the musical strains of victory began roaring out of the Shea Stadium loudspeakers.

But tonight’s 11-8 win over the Braves was special—so special that old familiar standby “L.A. Woman” just wouldn’t do. Instead, the Wallflowers cover of the David Bowie song “Heroes” vibrated in the din of delirium which enveloped Shea Stadium.

We can beat them

Forever and ever

Oh we can be heroes

Just for one day

Just for one day? Not likely.

The Mets made instant history Friday night. Their 10-run eighth inning — in which they scored nine times with two outs — tied the all-time club mark for runs scored in an inning, while the comeback from a seven-run deficit ranks as the second-biggest comeback in team history.

Yet the impact of the unbelievable comeback win over the Braves will be felt for a lot more than one day — months at least, and quite possibly forever.

The idea that the Mets could finally surpass the Braves as the NL’s best team ceased to be improbable long ago. Now, it seems like their destiny. After Friday night, anything at all seems possible.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, to be honest with you,” Todd Zeile said afterward. “I’ve been a part of big innings, but not nine runs with two outs in the eighth inning against that team. I mean, c’mon, That doesn’t happen.”

But it did. When Derek Bell stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the eighth, fans had already begun to depart, the Braves were already calling in the mop-up crew and the writers in the press box had already written their stories—the ones about how the Braves still owned the Mets, the ones about how the Mets committed the same mistakes and suffered the same lapses in luck every year against the Braves and how the Mets were eternal losers, occasionally displaying flashes of brilliance yet always coming up short when it mattered most against the Braves.

“This probably made a lot of people rewrite their story,” Bobby Valentine said.

Rewriting a story is nothing compared to the history the Mets rewrote Friday night The Mets went a long way towards exorcising their tomahawk demons in the eighth inning, and they did it on a night when the Braves couldn’t wait to revel in the Mets’ continued torture.

That’s why Brian Jordan, despised by the Mets for his show-off schtick during last year’s NLCS, did a little Deion Sanders sideways dance as he crossed home plate after his three-run homer gave the Braves an 8-1 lead in the top of the eighth. That’s why the Braves sent out Don Wengert, the poster boy for mop-up men everywhere, to start the bottom of the eighth.

Wengert had two outs and had allowed one run when he gave up back-to-back singles to Todd Zeile and Jay Payton. In came Kerry Lightenberg, who warmed up as the DiamondVision played the Rudy clip in which Dan Devine tells his Notre Dame players that “No one comes into our house and pushes us around!”

It all sounded a little hokey, but at that moment, the Mets, who had been intimidated for the better part of three seasons by the Braves’ vaunted pitching staff, finally stood up for themselves at the plate.

First Benny Agbayani drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Then Mark Johnson checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch to bring home Zeile and make the score 8-4. Then Melvin Mora checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch and Payton walked home to make it 8-5.

“We had a game-and-a-half without really good at-bats,” Valentine said. “We had some frustrating at-bats, we swung at some pitches out of the zone early (in the game). And then in the eighth inning, people decided to bear down and give their best, and their best was good enough.”

Lightenberg, who had walked just eight batters in 25 2/3 innings before Friday night, departed as Bobby Cox called on Terry Mulholland. Lightenberg sat in the dugout near tears and Mulholland, 48 hours removed from an 8 1/3-inning stint against the Expos, warmed up on the mound, and it was quite apparent this was no ordinary regular season game. It felt like last Oct. 17 all over again, with Shea Stadium quaking and Braves pitchers unable to throw strikes and the Mets threatening to break through against the Braves once and for all.

Bell strode to the plate and he, too, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch for the Mets’ fourth consecutive walk. Agbayani scored to make it 8-6 and the stunning loss of control by Team Cool, Calm and Collected was now complete.

“It wasn’t like four balls and walk, it was 3-and-2, foul ball, tough pitch, ball four,” Zeile said. “It was some hard-fought at-bats to go with it, so you’ve got to credit the guys on this team in those situations for not getting overanxious, not trying to do too much with one swing and having the patience to take the walk and just keep it chugging along one at a time.”

Edgardo Alfonzo then stayed alive at 0-2 by barely fouling off a pitch before he laced a single past a diving Keith Lockhart at third base. Pinch-runner Joe McEwing and Mora scored to tie the game at 8-8, and it absolutely felt like Oct. 17 all over again as Shea Stadium rocked and swayed with the joy of 50,000 people.

The Braves had pulled out all the stops and yet the Mets still kept coming. Cox wasn’t going to dip into the bullpen so Mulholland, just like Kevin McGlinchy with Robin Ventura before him, remained out there for the punishment which no doubt awaited him in the form of Mike Piazza.

“Mike gets in certain situations and you can feel that all of a sudden that the pitcher’s the one that’s in trouble and Mike’s not going up defensively,” Zeile said. “When Mike walked to the plate, I think everybody knew that if he didn’t get a hit, it was gonna be something hit hard.”

It was hit hard. Piazza took the first pitch he saw from Mulholland and with one lightning-quick swing of the bat pulled it down the left field line. It might still be going if it didn’t bounce off the fence with the Mets’ retired numbers, a wall Piazza will join someday because of home runs like that.

Piazza jumped and pumped his fist when the ball bounced back on to the field. His three-run homer whipped Shea Stadium into a joyous frenzy and made what was impossible an hour earlier inevitable—the Mets were going to win this game, and appropriately enough, the Mets’ best player had delivered the final swift and brutal blow of the night, the blow which might very well have knocked the Braves out for good.

The Mets sidestepped the possibility that Friday’s win might be the turning point in this rivalry, but unlike last year, when the Braves were stunned by the Mets’ comeback in Game Five of the NLCS but needed to win only one of the next two games at Turner Field to eliminate the Mets, the Braves now have half a season to wonder how it all went wrong on a Friday night in June, to wonder why their best shots don’t even seem to faze the Mets anymore.

Half a season to wonder how the tormentors turned into the tormented. Half a season for the Braves to worry that the Mets’ latest heroic run will last a lot more than one day.

“I don’t know how good I can be,” Valentine said when asked to evaluate what the Mets’ comeback meant. “It happened really quickly…I’m not even gonna try and compare it (to other comebacks). It was terrific.”

At 10:35 p.m., Wally Joyner’s fly ball landed in Payton’s glove—the last gasp of the night for the Braves, maybe the beginning of the last gasp in their dominating run and quite likely the first gasp of something special for the Mets. As the victorious strains of “Heroes” filled the air, the DiamondVision displayed the Mets’ celebratory scene—an instant homage to an instant classic which will be remembered forever.

Mike Piazza Q&A for Mets Magazine: 7/9/00 (Pt 2)

Finally had time to finish cleaning up the Piazza interview from July 9, 2000, the day after Roger Clemens beaned him because he’s Roger Clemens. Piazza provided a pretty interesting glimpse into his philosophies and how he managed to maintain a grip on reality despite being on a Hall of Fame track. Hope you enjoy it.

On trying to remain grounded:

I’ve always tried to hold on to that simplicity in some way, shape or form. And I always will. I’ve always believed in humility, but also realizing there’s a lot of things that I’ve worked hard and there are some things I’m going to spoil (on) myself. But those are things that mean a lot to me. I just don’t go overboard on things. I think moderation is still the key to life, no matter how fortunate you are, and realizing that there’s those priorities you should have. You keep your life simple, you keep your priorities simple and life has a way of blessing you in those regards. And I’ve been fortunate, like I’ve said. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. Yeah, I could have whatever, do whatever, do what I want to do. Ten cars, three boats, do those things make you happy? No. But on the same note, if I want to go Hawaii, if I want to go on a trip—you have to keep it in perspective.

On how his family helps him keep perspective:

How hard my father’s worked and how hard he still works and how hard my brothers work. For me, the things that make us happy are when we’re together at the house having a barbecue, drinking a few beers, throwing a stake on the grill and just joking and laughing and talking about ‘Do you remember that time’ (and) so on and so forth. That’s the coolest thing about it. I think the problem is when people try to buy that. You can’t do it. They try to buy it through sports cars or jet rides, trips, this, that the other thing. Like I said, you’ve got to balance it. You’ve always got to hold on to the things that are most simple and so true. For me, you know what, I remember as a kid going to a concert. I still love going to concerts. I love them. I think they’re awesome. The one thing that is kind of a little ironic for me—I really like to go and unwind and I’ve seen so many people surprised when they see me at a concert, how much fun I have. I jump around, I sing the songs and they’re almost like it’s weird when you see someone else doing it. You don’t think about it, but when I do it, it’s kind of funny. And at times I’ve been a little uncomfortable, but I said to myself, you know what, I’m not going to stop that from letting me have a good time.

Having these friends as musicians is the coolest thing as well, because I have so much love for music. And people always say (what are your) regrets in life? It’s so funny, when you think about regrets, you think about decisions that you should or shouldn’t have made. I’m like, damn, I wish i was born with a musical talent. I wish I could lay guitar like Eddie Van Halen. I’m sure he practiced very hard, but you can’t tell me that this guy was not blessed with some sort of weird talent. It’s one thing to go learn three chords, but it’s another to play “Eruption.” It’s funny, because even Zakk (Wylde) told me he took three or four guitar lessons, next thing you know, he was good. That’s what I mean. Same thing, whether that be opera singers, actors, actresses, ballplayers, talented track and field athletes, so on and so forth.

Want to hear something really funny? When I got home last night after getting beaned, I have an acoustic guitar that Garth Brooks gave me from spring training. And I went over and played it. I said ‘You know what? That hit in the head still didn’t make me a classical guitarist. You ever hear that story where people get hit in the head and something happens and next thing you know they have this weird ability that they never had? Nah, I still can’t play guitar. Nothing is more frustrating for me than when I pick up a guitar and I just can’t even play three chord progressions. Because I have this, like, bad manual dexterity. I’ll go ‘crang, crang, CLINK.’ But I’m not complaining. It’s not a complaint, trust me.

On being a celebrity in the 21st century:

I’ve said many time before: I understand the way the media is today. And there’s so many outlets for information. There’s so much coverage and 24-hour sports stations. When I was a kid, you had channel 3, 6, 9. Public TV was 12 and you had two channels of UHF—channel 17 and channel 29. Channel 57, I think, was public access. And half those channels went off at midnight. They played the national anthem and then fuzz the whole night. And it’s weird just how the world has changed in that regard. It’s like information is instant. And especially with periodicals, i.e. newspapers. Just writing about the game is not enough. You have to dig, in a good way and in bad ways sometimes. You have to get something more inside of the game. And to me, again, you can argue is it great, is it good, is it bad? There’s a million ways you can argue it. And the thing for me—it’s not good, it’s not bad. Sometimes, as an athlete or even as a person in the public eye, you just want to disappear. And sometimes that doesn’t allow you to do that. Like I’ve said, it’s a matter of just being as accommodating as you can, but realizing you can’t please everybody. You just can’t. You’re going to go nuts.

You just have to accept it, for lack of a better word. Man, you’ve just got to accept it. For me, it’s like, you know what, when I order food, sometimes, it comes with something I don’t like. ‘Take it back, I don’t want the onions.’ ‘You can’t do that with this. It comes with everything. You can’t send it back.’ ‘You know what, I don’t want the onions, I don’t want the sauce. I don’t want this, I don’t want that.’ It’s like, boom, there it is in front of you and you’ve got to eat it. Do you know what I mean? And not in a bad way. As long as you accept that going in, then you laugh about it. You have to. Anytime you can inject humor into something, that’s what it’s all about. I’ve always used a few rules of thumb. Number one, don’t feel sorry for yourself and don’t try to get other people to feel sorry for you, because you know what, it’s just not going to work. It’s just not going to work. Number two is you can’t take yourself too seriously. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. I don’t really feel like what I’m doing is like rocket science or curing cancer. I’m a baseball player. I’m just going to do the best I can. Let’s not lose perspective on what it is. It’s baseball, it’s not life or death. And unfortunately, with maybe the money today or whatever the reason, maybe they want to make it this life or death saga. It’s not.

You just have to be like a duck and let it roll off your back. Everybody out there has this image of how they want you to be and how they want you to handle yourself and whatever that may be, what they want you to say, the way they want you to act and it’s like, you’ve got to do what makes yourself happy. It’s so funny. And I can’t do that. I’ve got to be myself.

I don’t even know what I’m going to say at times. I love to debate. I’ve actually been swayed on a lot of issues as well, so I always keep an open mind. It’s not like my opinions are set in stone. That’s another thing, too. Some people, (it’s) almost like you can’t change their mind. That’s another thing that is a little bit frustrating for me.

And if you say something, you can’t say ‘You know what? I changed my mind.’ Its funny, because, hey, something happens in a debate. I’ve been swayed on a lot of things, whether that be politics or religion or whatever you want to talk about. I think that’s the problem today. If you say something, it’s like people want to hold that as (your) word. Say, you know what, I changed my mind on that. You never hear that anymore. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?

The first musicians he met as a player:

I remember in ’93, a couple of the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out to the (Dodger) Stadium and I met them. (Anthony) Kiedis and Chad Smith. I met this group Slayer I’ve always been a huge fan of. I went to their private rehearsal that they had set up in a garage, in a soundproof facility where they rehearsed before they went on tour. It’s kind of cool. I guess when musicians started finding out I was a big fan of hard rock, we started exchanging gifts. I’d exchange jerseys with guys. John Bush is a good friend of mine, guys from Anthrax. Got to know all these guys and that’s what I love—the fact that I’m doing what I do is giving me an opportunity to meet (people) off the field. That and a kickass stereo (laughs) is cool. My one toy is high-end stereo equipment.

On liking metal despite it being uncool at the moment:

I’m going to do what I love to do. I just remember hearing my first AC/DC song and I never grew out of it. It was 7th or 8th grade and I never grew out of it. I’m going to be 32 years old and I still love listening to old Ratt songs. I think that’s fun, I think that’s exciting and I enjoy it. It’s music I like and I enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to other types of music. I’ve seen Pavarotti in concert and I thought it was very exciting. Seen orchestras—very, very cool. Now, I’m not going to go out and buy the entire classical collection of Bach or whatever. But I can appreciate the music. I have appreciation for any type of singing (and) hearing a beautiful voice, whether that be Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey or Luther Vandross or Barry White. I’m not the biggest fan of these artists, but I respect what they do.

Mike Piazza Q&A for Mets Magazine: 7/9/00 (Pt 1)

About to head out to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, so there won’t be much of a preamble here, except to say this interview for the Mets’ game program was very long, very interesting and took place the day after Roger Clemens proved what a punk he really was. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the themes Piazza mentioned here appear in his HOF speech. Part two tomorrow.

 

How he became a ballplayer: 

I started typically, like most kids. I think I was five years old. I got a Wiffle ball set for Christmas. My Dad started pitching to me in the backyard and eventually graduated to hard ball and bat. And I just took to it quickly. Most kids—obviously, you see a lot of kids today, especially kids of major leaguers, that turn out to be pretty good hitters early on. But for my Dad, not having much professional or organized baseball experience, I took to it pretty well. I think when I was seven, I was capable of playing with the eight- and nine-year-olds, but obviously waited a year until I was eight. And then when I was eight, I played with a minor league instructional league team. I pitched and I played third. And then when I was nine, I turned out to be one of the better (players). I got this little trophy. Still at home. When I was 10, I turned out to be the first draft pick for the major league Little League team and ended up having a pretty good Little League career. Starting hitting home runs when I was 12, went to Babe Ruth, was an All-Star from 11 on up. Did a lot of pitching as well as hitting, believe it or not. When Iw as 12, I actually caught a little bit, But because I guess I hit so well, and because of the position—I really didn’t enjoy it at the time, catching in Little League is not the most prestigious position to play. Right field (was). I played shortstop and I played third base and pitched. I remember actually I was a very good prospect as a pitcher when I got into high school and I was pitching when I was into ninth or 10 grade and then obviously just started hitting so well that pitching kind of went on the back burner. But when I pitched, I was a bat boy with the Dodgers through my Dad’s relationship with Tommy. I actually threw for Tommy and Ron Perranowski, who was the pitching coach at the time. They thought I had a real good chance of being a prospect as a pitcher (at) about 13 or 14. And then when I got to be 15 or 16, I gradually gave up pitching.

On his supportive family:

As I’ve said many times, I think my Dad believed in me sometimes more than I believed in myself and was always there—not only from a support, from a standpoint as a family (member), but as a friend as well. Really had some good baseball skills, teaching skills. I think the biggest thing, too, about being a teacher is knowing when to listen. And he always tried to get me the best instructors. Obviously, Ted Williams, when he was in town, he figured, obviously, you want to be the best, you learn from the best. And then through his relationship with Tommy other scouts, other teams—he’s good friends with Chuck Tanner, he’s just as close with Chuck Tanner as he was with Tommy. Just a lot of baseball people, a lot of scouts in the area. So he was very much adamant at getting me the most experience that I could get and the most instruction that I could get. And like I said, when I got into high school and then eventually went to the University of Miami for my freshman year, which Tommy thought and my Dad thought would be a great school to play at. My career kind of came to a screeching halt.

To be quite honest, when you play in Pennsylvania, I had like 17 games my senior year. Those (Miami) kids are playing 40 and 50 games and so on and so forth. I just wasn’t ready I was probably better off going to a JUCO right off the bat, which eventually is what I did do. I was there my freshman year. Great program, just was not ready for it. And I think, again, I’ve always been one to try and take a positive out of a negative. And the positive was humility. I was a little bit cocky coming out of high school. I felt like I was just going to go to college and be a starter and All-American and then two years in the minor leagues and then go right to the big leagues. That sort of humility, it caused me to work harder and I feel it taught me a lot about handling the pressure—not pressure, but just the expectations and what I’m going through today. Often what I said when I was drafted in the 60th round or whatever, it gave me an opportunity to look from the outside in and to work unobstructed and to kind of build my own expectations.

Turning point:

Turning point for me was after I went to sign with the Dodgers. I’ve always been a very marginal prospect, even when I was really good, because I didn’t really have a true position. I couldn’t run that fast. I didn’t have the pure tools that scouts were looking for. I had a decent arm and so on and so forth, but it wasn’t like it was lighting up the scouting reports.. I was playing first base and outfield. There wasn’t really a true position that I had And again, just on pure ability alone, I was a very marginal prospect. And then, when I was given the opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, they saw me in a workout, I did really very well at and they saw some ability as far as power and having a good swing and things like that and obviously gave me an opportunity to play. Then I kind of bounced around, I did OK right off the bat. Basically my first year in baseball, I was on the All-Star team in the Northwest League. I was just breaking out, I felt like, and then they gave me the opportunity to play everyday at Bakersfield and that’s when I hit 29 home runs.

I was in instructional league, then went to short-season A, then two years in A-ball, then next year I was in Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. I think, to be as completely (and) as objective as I ca be about my career, I think the turning point for me was when I went to Mexico and played winter ball after my ’91 season in Bakersfield. Because I went to play winter ball and didn’t play that much right off the bat. Actually I wasn’t catching. What happened was I was working out at catching, it wasn’t like I was subjected to the physical demands of catching. I caught everyday in the bullpen and I was working out and throwing. But our first baseman got hurt, broke his ankle. Guy who was a good prospect with San Diego. And I got to play first base everyday and hit everyday. Struggled for, like, three weeks. I didn’t hit a thing. And then just one day, it clicked and I ended up hitting like .340 with 16 home runs. So it was like that And then when I came to big league camp, I got protected on the roster that year. Obviously, there was an expansion draft at that time, so they felt the need to protect me, which was good. Timing-wise, everything worked out very well. So then, when I went to spring training in ’92, I hit like three home runs, (including a) grand slam. Just really accelerated. Went Double-A, Triple-A, big leagues that year.

On how playing in Mexico helped him:

The Mexican pitchers are extremely crafting. What they lack in pure physical velocity, they make up for with cunning. Breaking balls, changeups, splits. I remember a couple really good relievers that threw hard as well. To me, if you’re a guy who’s kind of struggling with your progress, I think winter ball is the ultimate litmus test. And you owe it to yourself. At that time I wanted to do everything possible to exhaust every option to try and get to the big leagues. And I feel that winter ball experience in Mexico—again, I haven’t played in the other leagues, I’m sure they’re great. Mexico, for me, really accelerated my progress and gave me confidence. And then when I came to spring training (the) next year and I played in Double-A, it was mostly all the guys I played with the year before in A-ball and I knew I was ahead of them. So it gave me confidence as well.

And I had a great manager down there, a guy who caught for the Mets a little bit. His name is (Frank) Estrada. He caught like, maybe two months in the big leagues. He was a catcher who had very limited physical ability but was a very good catcher, defensively. Just a good guy. Very patient with me. Very kind and congenial and worked with me a lot on my catching. So it was a good thing.

It was such a cool time, you know, because of the guys that I played with and the fun that we had and the trips we had. We really made it a good time. It was a very innocent time and a lot of fun. The Mexican players, they’re all good guys. It really was a tremendous experience.

On his family helping him in the minors:

They were great. Brothers come visit, hang out with you. My father would come by, flip (him) a hundred bucks every now and then. Just spending money, stuff like that. Mom always putting cookies and food in the mail. No matter what happens, I have a great family to fall back on. So it has a way of alleviating pressure on yourself and (reducing) anxiety. It just has a way of really relaxing you and allowing you to go out and play well. Whereas I saw a lot of guys in the minor leagues who had the wife, the kid, the U-Haul, who really felt the pressure to put food on the table. That’s a lot of pressure when you have a family at that time. So I always made it, in my mind, that I was going to establish myself in the major leagues first before I ever got married and had a family.

On missing winter ball:

Absolutely. There’s no question. Those days (he’ll) never see again And obviously they were horrible conditions. Oh yeah. The fields are muddy and in terrible shape and the bus rides—the shortest bus ride was nine hours in Mexico. And we bussed. We didn’t fly. We flew, I think, one trip. But as I’ve said, we held it together and it was fun and the guys really just came together. We made the playoffs. We didn’t go that far in the playoffs, but we had a good team. And like I said, from breaking down on the side of the road and going to a burrito stand on the side of the road and getting something to eat and drinking those huge pops and bottles, it was definitely a unique (experience)—it was something that builds character. It’s just not going to be repeated.

Mike Piazza hard rock article: Rouze.com

Like I said about Rouze.com: I could do whatever I wanted. So I wrote this story about Mike Piazza digging hard rock music, which was a decidedly uncool thing to do even for a superstar catcher. This was also written in the summer of 2000, by which point I’d occasionally listen to music in Piazza’s mini-office behind his locker in the cramped confines of Shea Stadium…as you’ll read here.

 

Mike Piazza was just a few days removed from a scary incident in which he suffered a nasty cut and a mild concussion after the Dodgers’ Gary Sheffield caught him in the face as he swung the bat. In the interim, Piazza had gone for a cat scan on his head, which left the entire Mets organization worried over the fate of its best player and the thirsty New York media corps itching to ask him just how he felt.

But Piazza’s mind was on something entirely different.

“Dude,” he says. “I can’t believe they’re trying to shove heavy metal music underground.”

Let’s get rid of the wise guys in the room right away: The tests on Piazza’s head showed no damage. There’s nothing wrong at all with Piazza, who is probably going to win the NL MVP award this year and, as a guy who is happiest when listening to the universally-lambasted music of his youth, would probably win the award honoring the yet is happiest when he’s listening to the universally-lambasted music of his youth.

“In high school I was a quasi-jock metal head guy, so I’d wear the concert T-shirts and I had the chain wallet and I’d go to the all the concerts and wear the shirts the next day,” Piazza says with a grin. “I’m gonna do what I love, and I just remember hearing my first AC/DC song and I never grew out of it. I’m going to be 32 years old and I still love listening to old Ratt songs.”

Piazza could easily surround himself with the hippest cats on Hollywood’s “A” list, but he leaves that chore to crosstown superstar Derek Jeter. Instead, Piazza has been a backstage staple at concerts since his rookie season in 1993, when he met members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers before the band’s show at Dodger Stadium.

Piazza’s list of musician buddies read like a who’s who of ’80s metal stalwarts and include members of Slayer, Ratt, Anthrax, Great White and L.A. Guns. One of his best friends is Zakk Wylde, the former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and the frontman for the Black Label Society.

Last season, Wylde played the national anthem before a Mets home game, and Piazza returned the favor by contributing what he calls “back-up yells” to the new Black Label Society record and by sporting a “BLS” hat during numerous public off-season appearances.

“When musicians started finding out I was a big fan of hard rock, we started exchanging gifts,” Piazza says. “I totally got to know all these guys.”

Of course, carrying the Mets to the playoffs hasn’t made Piazza immune from the pointed barbs of teammates who despise ’80s metal as much as the programmers at MTV. Earlier this season, Piazza was cranking L.A. Guns’ most recent record, “Shrinking Violet,” in a back room of the Mets’ clubhouse. Third baseman Robin Ventura walked in, cringed, and walked back out.

Star pitcher Al Leiter also strolled in and asked Piazza “Who’s this?” with a feigned sense of interest.

“L.A. Guns.”

“And I would know them why?” asked Leiter, a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan.

“Because they’re better and more popular than Springsteen, that’s why.”

Piazza’s favorite instrument to play is the drums, but he admits he’s much better at bashing opposing pitchers than either bashing the skins or shredding the guitar. In fact, poking fun at his musical talents provided one of the few humorous moments in the aftermath of the scary beaning Piazza suffered at the hands of the Yankees’ Roger Clemens on July 8.

The following afternoon. Piazza recalled how he went home after the incident and fiddled on the acoustic guitar. “You ever hear that story where people get hit in the head and something happens and next thing you know they have this weird ability that they never had?” Piazza said with a grin. “Nah, I still can’t play guitar. I just can’t play three-chord progressions because I have this bad manual dexterity. I’ll go ‘crang, clang, clink,’ but I’m not complaining.”

And why should he? His superstardom allows him to feel like a teenager everyday. Piazza says he refuses to fall to the preys of fame and “go overboard on things,” but he admits he’s glad his celebrity status affords him two things.

One is the “…opportunity to meet [musicians] off the field.” He pauses and laughs as he adds the other:

“That, and a kickass stereo.”

Mike Piazza Q&A for Rouze.com: 2000

For me, the good ol’ days consisted of a roughly year-long period from September 1999 through September 2000 in which I wrote full-time, and made full-time money, for a pair of fledgling dot com companies.

One was Rouze.com, which was founded by two of my best friends and former co-editors from the campus newspaper at Hofstra University. Despite years of experience with my rampant procrastination, they brought me aboard as their sports guy, and I had a blast. Whatever I wanted to do, I did, as long as it was under 750 words.

My other job was with an outfit called ACSSports.com, which produced NYSports.net as well as the official team websites for several Major League Baseball teams, including the Mets (this was the year before MLB.com became what it is today). So there was a lot of opportunity to write two stories from the same interview, which is what I did here in a Q&A with Mike Piazza that took place during the summer of 2000.

(Oh and as for what Rouze.com was: We called it a Playboy for the web, because in addition to punchy articles aimed at guys, it also carried, umm, revealing pictures of models. It remained a Playboy for the web until Playboy bought us up and closed us down. This would become a running theme in my career in the dot-com world, but I suppose that’s a story for another time)

 

It seems hard to believe now, with Mike Piazza as much a New York fixture as the Statue of Liberty, but there was a time two years ago when the Mets’ catcher didn’t seem long for the Big Apple. But he survived his turbulent free agent year in New York and won fans over with his gritty attitude and ability to smash the ball like few others. And as we found out recently, success and a big contract hasn’t changed Piazza, who remains as hungry as ever.

ROUZE: What’s the biggest reason for your success this year?

Mike Piazza: I think I’ve really just become very settled, very much into a routine here. I’m enjoying the team, my teammates, the city and just keeping things very, very enjoyable. I think the toughest year for me was ’98 only because of the [trades] and the uncertainty of my future. Once I put my name on that contract here, ever since then it’s been pretty routine in a good way.

One of the reasons why maybe I’ve done pretty well is the fact that I keep things extremely simple. I don’t think about hypotheticals, I don’t think about how I’m going to be perceived or classified or anything like that, I just go out and play ball everyday as hard as I can.

ROUZE: Your teammate, Todd Zeile, sees the criticisms of your defensive game as “nitpicking.” What do you think?

Piazza: That’s almost flattering in a way. You have to take it [as flattery] because there’s very few players in the history of the game where they’ll say “He did this, but he didn’t do that. He did that but he didn’t do this.” A lot of players, they just don’t care to do that, so in a way, you have to take it that way, even though at times it gets a little monotonous.

ROUZE: Why do you think the people of New York have come to appreciate the way you play the game? 

Piazza: I think it’s important to be your own worst critic. You can never be satisfied with yourself. If you go 2-for-3, you want to go 3-for-4. If you go 3-for-4, you want to go 4-for-5. That’s the attitude you have to have, and I think people sense that in me that I’m my own worst critic, so they respect that and they’re very fair in their criticism. You really find a lot more people are apt to be more understanding of the challenges of catching  if you don’t try to duck that criticism. I just go out, do the best I can and try to have fun and enjoy playing the game as well, because I think for me maybe the negative is I get too serious all the time. I understand it’s a serious business and stuff, but it’s still a game and you have to have fun.

ROUZE: Do you think people understand how hard you work?

Piazza: Yeah, I think one of the things I try to convey is I’ve always been one to play my hardest no matter what my off-field situation is. I mean, here I was [in ’98], playing without a contract and risking injury, with everything on the line, throwing it all to the wind and playing as hard as I could. That stuff for me has never been an issue, whether I’m in my rookie year making 100 grand or now in the second year of a seven-year contract, my attitude as never changed. I’ve always gone out and played as hard as I can [and] sacrificed my body. I’ve always been exempt from “Well, it’s his contract year, he’s playing harder,” or whatever. I’ve never felt that, it just doesn’t matter to me.

ROUZE: Do you ever worry that catching will eventually shorten your career?

Piazza: I don’t worry about it because you know what? Every time I step into my car, I know there’s a chance some idiot’s gonna hit me, some drunk guy’s gonna smash into me and kill me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t drive. Every time I get on a plane I know there’s a one-in-a-million chance that the plane could go down, but you still gotta fly. That’s just life. If you’re scared to die you’re scared to live, and if you’re scared to step out on a baseball field because you’re gonna get hurt then you’re doing the wrong thing.

Mike Piazza Interview: 7/18/98

When the Mets acquired Mike Piazza on May 22, 1998, I decided I was going to write a feature about him for New York Sportscene magazine. It was an easy pitch to make and get accepted, since I was the editor-in-chief (a reminder that 20-somethings who work for peanuts have always been tossed into the deep end of the pool to see if they can swim).

I knew it’d be tough to get an interview with Piazza, so I decided to use the one thing we had in common: An appreciation of hard rock music. The first time I ever approached him, I asked if it was true he was hoping to run a hard rock radio station upon retirement. That broke the ice and he agreed to the first of what would be many one-on-one interviews.

He went into greater detail in later interviews, a couple of which I’ll post between now and Mike Piazza weekend at Citi Field next week, but even in an introductory setting he offered more than the usual cliches to a mostly unfamiliar face. It probably helped this interview was conducted after a game in which he hit two homers.

Anyway, here you go. Hope you enjoy.

On emerging as an All-Star:

It’s a combination of things. The timing, got an opportunity and got some playing time. Sometimes things just sometimes have a way of working out. Sometimes they don’t. Fortunate I kept positive and, again, just got some breaks and took advantage of them.

Has it been a draining year?

That’s a pretty accurate statement, actually. It’s been tough at times and at times it’s been great. With that, you learn—I’m going to learn from this whole situation. Going to be a better player because of it. Things in life sometimes happen for a reason and adversity builds character. I’ve been very fortunate to end up with a good organization and they treat me very well. The fans have been great. I can’t complain. I’ve been very happy with the reception I’ve gotten and I will continue to work hard and hopefully things will work out.

Revisiting the end of his time in Los Angeles:

Of course, maybe the situation could have been handled different. But it’s already in the past and I don’t see any reason to get back into it. It’s just done. It’s done. It’s a done issue. And of course there’s definitely mistakes on both sides. It just wasn’t a very amicable situation and nothing gets done when, in those situations, you don’t have an ability to compromise. That’s obviously very, very destructive and that’s it. You have to move on. And I’m very happy that I’ve ended up with the Mets.

On proving doubters wrong:

That’s part of the game. Those are the ups and downs of the game. I never expected to come here and be like a white knight in shining armor—knight on a white horse? What’s the expression? Knight in shining armor? There you go (grins). I knew there would be tough times and there have been. It’s been frustrating at times and, again, you can do one of two things: You can get down on yourself and go through hell, or you can learn from it and try and stay positive. As long as you go out there and work hard and give 100 percent, things will eventually turn around, I feel. And if they don’t, it’s time to do something else.

On catching his breath after the series of trades:

Well, it was a unique situation. Very different than anything I’ve been involved in. I’m very very happy to have ended up here. Again, it was a different situation and something that at times was difficult. I made the most of it.

On learning about the disposability of players:

That’s unfortunately the nature of this. The business of baseball is sometimes very complicated. I think the most important thing, on a personal note, (is) you go through life, sort of keep your self-respect and stay positive, you can take a negative situation and make it positive. And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve never complained. Never said ‘Why me?’ or ‘Should have done this, should have done that.’ Things happen. You learn from them and you suck it up and you move on. I never looked at it as a negative. Always looked at it as a positive. You have to sometimes turn the page in life. Sometimes it’s difficult.

On potential contract talks and free agency becoming a distraction:

You sort of ignore it. Not necessarily (just the) contract, a lot of things going on. As far as personally, I would never say that was a problem. When I got on the field, I just feel that the situation, if it doesn’t teach you to be more focused, then you haven’t learned anything from it. Then it was a waste of time. So I think that’s a good thing about it.

On being in a situation in which people would be unhappy no matter where he signs:

You’ve got to accept it. That is the way life is. If you truly look in the mirror and talk with the people who truly love you for you, not because of what you represent, and you truly believe and you pray and you gain strength from within to make the right decision—a decision that you believe in, that’s the right decision, you know what I’m saying? There’s no wrong or right decisions in life. If you truly believe and you look within your heart and you believe that you made the right decision, that’s the right decision, you know what I mean? Then no one can criticize you because of that. And that’s the way I live my life. Something has been telling me to make these decisions, for whatever reason, I don’t know. But I’m very, very spiritual. Family is very close-knit with my loved ones. They’ve stood by for whatever reason. Everybody I know who loves me has stood by me, so how could you say I’ve made a wrong decision or a right decision? If you beat yourself up thinking about what you shouldn’t of or should of or could have done, then that’s wasted energy. The two most wasted emotions are regret and worry because both of them are out of your control. (If) it’s about something that’s already happened, (it) is regret. And worry is about something that hasn’t happened yet. So why would you spend the time needling yourself to death over stuff like that?

Any song that would sum up this season?

(Pauses) Something about twisting, winding roads. Gotta help me out here. Let me think of one. I’m like thinking of 10,000 songs here. I don’t know. You know what’s a good song, believe it or not, that’s not published a lot but it’s a hard rock song? “The Last Train Home” by Armored Saint. Its good. There’s some very good words to it.

Steve Phillips discusses the Mike Piazza trade: 5/29/98

My first steady freelancing gig in New York was with New York Mets Inside Pitch, the official newspaper of the Mets. I found out pretty quickly that then-general manager Steve Phillips had time for everyone, no matter how big or small the affiliation. He was an old-school front office type who believed constant accessibility to the news media helped sell tickets, while also allowing him to help shape the narrative on a daily basis. This of course was before teams figured out they could cut out the traditional gatekeeper, but that’s a tale for another time.

Anyway, I had an idea to do a “day-by-day” chronicling of the blockbuster trade for Mike Piazza, and Phillips ended up calling me on his way home from the office late on a Friday afternoon. He ended up providing a remarkably detailed account of how the trade went down. Hope you enjoy reading this–and thanks, all these years later, to Phillips for his time.

On the Piazza trade from the Dodgers:

He wasn’t really on the block. I think, from my understanding, it was a deal made at the ownership level. More ‘How are they going to swap money’ and if the Dodgers are going to take money. My read on it is if the Dodgers were going to take on money, they wanted Charles Johnson in the deal because they knew beyond this year they weren’t going to be able to re-sign Mike.

I heard rumors of the trade and actually had tracked down Dave Dombrowski, who said they were more than rumors, it was just pending Sheffield’s approval.

I could understand the trade from both sides’ perspectives. It was clear the Marlins just took Mike with the idea of turning him around and moving him somewhere else. I had talked to Dave that Friday morning and he had indicated that if it was appropriate, he would talk about moving Mike. He didn’t feel pressured to do it and rushed to do it because they were at the payroll they needed to get to for the year. They were going to get back, catch their breath, start considering things. A little surprised it moved as quick as it did within the next week.

On Piazza being dealt by the Marlins:

Really thought that it might go into July, towards the trading deadline. Heard rumbles it was going to be a little quicker. Teams started to move. I called Dave that following Wednesday night. Didn’t know how many teams were going to get in, had only heard or read what was out there. I don’t know what’s accurate and what’s not. With that, once we had made the decision that it was something we’d pursue, I called David late on Wednesday night to make a proposal.

On the Mets’ interest:

My initial reaction was not to pursue it because we had Todd (Hundley). We hoped and expected Todd to be back at some point and we are one of the few teams that can brag about having an offensive catcher. But we also weren’t quite sure when Todd would be back. He hasn’t had any setback. We still hope and expect he’ll be back. Initial reaction was not to trade prospects, which i knew was what the Marlins wanted. They weren’t going to take guys making any money. The initial reaction was not to do it. As I got through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, my talks and discussions with teams surrounding some of the other areas on our club, trying to improving upon, evolved in such a way that made me realize I might be able to improve our team without having to use the prospects that we had, that I was going to be able to swap out major league talent for major league talent and reconfigure our talent to another team and bring back some offense to help our club. As that became more apparent, it made a little easier to consider using prospects to duplicate a strength and give ourselves protection. It became more practical to use the prospects, even if you were duplicating strengths, because you were at least giving yourself protection and options for later.

We were out of town on the west coast, so it didn’t really reach a fevered pitch until Tuesday when we were back in New York. Off on Monday, it was my birthday, got in about five, six o’clock in the morning. I was home and still hadn’t changed my mind that it wasn’t the right thing for us to pursue. And even into Tuesday, went on the radio with the fellas Mike and the Mad Dog (pauses, chuckles). And even at that point, I had to defend the position about not pursuing it because you only have a limited number of resources and if you use those to duplicate strengths, how do you improve the rest of the club?

I can’t obviously describe all those internal meetings and discuss some of these other trades. I became a little more confident we’d be able to get something done. Pulled together a meeting of our baseball department on Wednesday, spoke with ownership, met again Wednesday afternoon with a little larger group, bringing in more of the baseball people and some of the business people to get their opinion about things Made the decision Wednesday night to move forward with it and called Dave Dombrowski to make that proposal.

I made my proposal Wednesday night. Dave told me he’d call me back Thursday morning. He had a day game Thursday. No call in the morning, I thought. well, all right, maybe he’s hung up by the game. I wasn’t hopeful that things were going to progress if I hadn’t gotten the call. Then I did get the call about mid-afternoon during their game. Dave said he hadn’t had enough time to sort through all the different things he needed to look at and that he would get back to me, one way or the other, Friday. And he did call back Friday, early afternoon.

Thursday night, I knew that the names I had proposed to him, he had some interest in in the past. I wasn’t sure whether they were appropriate for this deal, but you never know what to expect. When you don’t hear things, typically, no news is not good news in trade discussions. If you’re not getting feedback or back and forth discussion, it tends not to be a good sign. I was a little concerned, but didn’t know. But when he said they hadn’t sorted through things, that was a pretty good idea he had a lot of work to do. My sense was five or six different teams were involved and it would make sense he would have to sort through players and names and reports.

On the urgency to save the season with the trade (the Mets were 24-20 and ranked 28th in the majors in runs scored at the time of the deal):

Not really. I don’t know that the season would have slipped away. We had just gotten back Alfonzo and Gilkey in the lineup and I think, certainly, we felt we were going to get the offense going as it had been prior to their going out.

More on the timeline for the completion of the deal:

Friday, morning, early afternoon, (he was asked) have you heard anything, have you heard anything? But then he did call back Friday afternoon and made a proposal to me. He said he’d made a proposal and said if I was willing to accept it, we’d have a deal. We went back and forth about a number of things then made a proposal that closed the deal.

I would say it was about 2, 2:15 it got done and then we agreed on trying to set up a press conference for 4:30. Then started to track down players.

Jim Duquette, our minor league director, tracked down Preston (Wilson) and (Ed) Yarnell. I reached out to ownership to inform them we got the deal done. So Dave got ahold of Mike.

Was excited about it. Feel we immediately became a much better team and understood it would give the franchise and the owners the appropriate credibility in the fans’ eyes and in the team’s eyes.

Tried tracking down Todd, had some difficulty on his way to the ballpark. Did finally reach him in his car, I think I probably got him around 3:15. and 3:30, then the press conference I didn’t talk to Mike until 4:25, after the press conference.

On his post-trade feelings:

Obviously very excited about it. Very obvious questions to be asked, considering my previous statements about what I felt was the appropriate thing to do at the time  going back to Tuesday and my conversation with Todd previously So I knew there were some appropriate questions, and obvious questions.

Friday night was nice. It was a rewarding afternoon and obviously as well as the acquisition was received made it that much more rewarding.

Welcome to Floppy Disk Files

Hello there. My name is Jerry Beach and I’m a New York-based freelancer for The Sports Xchange wire service. However, Floppy Disk Files will largely be about my pre-TSX work. I’ve been in the business since 1990, when I received my first byline as a high school senior, and I began covering pro sports in New York in 1997. That means I’ve written A LOT of stories for A LOT of publications that have long ceased to exist.

Fortunately, I’m a hoarder, and I saved most of the work on floppy disks (a ha!). Last year for my birthday, my ever-patient wife bought me a floppy disk reader and I’ve begun to transfer the files to my computer. I’ll use this blog to republish some interviews and stories that have otherwise vanished into the ether. Hopefully you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed conducting/writing them.

Thanks for reading and feel free to drop me a line at jbeach73 AT gmail dot com.