Mike Piazza’s career began as a long shot, but he quickly established himself as an offensive powerhouse and someone who deserved to be discussed along with the best players in the game. He was a catcher with over-the-fence power, hitting the most home runs ever by a player at that position. He carved a name for himself over the course of a 16-year career that included extended stints with the Dodgers and Mets, as well as brief stays with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics.
Here are a few top moments from a career that brought him to the doorstep of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sept. 1, 1992: 3-for-3 in major league debut
The player the Dodgers took in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft -- as a favor to his godfather -- made his major league debut as a September call-up, going 3-for-3 with a double at Wrigley Field. The double in his first official at-bat (he was walked in the second inning) was the first of 344 he hit.
Did you know? No Dodgers player has had three hits in a debut since Piazza did it 24 years ago.
Sept. 12, 1992: First career home run
Piazza’s first career home run -- and the only one of his first-year September stint -- came at Dodger Stadium against the rival Giants. The 23-year-old hit a 1-0 Steve Reed pitch to right-center for a three-run home run. In a neat coincidence, 10 years later, Reed and Piazza were teammates for two months, when a deadline deal sent Reed to Flushing, Queens.
The game story in the Los Angeles Daily News described the moment before the home run, beginning as such: “Mike Piazza -- rookie, doe-eyed and minding his own darned business in the on-deck circle Saturday night -- watched silently as catcher Kirt Manwaring trotted past him to the screen.”
Did you know? That day was significant for another reason. It's the first time that Piazza caught a shutout -- this one thrown by Pedro Astacio.
Sept. 14, 1993: 30th HR -- first career 30-HR season
In his third multihomer game of the season, the rookie notched home runs 29 and 30 to post his first career 30-homer season. He totaled 37 career multi-home run games, including 35 at catcher -- the most by any catcher in history (Hall of Famer Gary Carter ranks second with 27). The 30-homer mark became a familiar one for Piazza: He reached 30 home runs nine times and posted single-digit home run totals twice (1992: one; 2007: eight).
Did you know? Piazza's nine 30-homer seasons are by far the most for a player whose primary position was catcher. The next two players on that list -- Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella -- have four each.
Oct. 3, 1993: Two HR to keep Giants from division title
In the final game of his rookie season, Piazza homered twice, helping his team trounce the 103-win Giants 12-1 and keep them out of the postseason. The homers were numbers 34 and 35 on the season. With the 34th, he broke Steve Garvey’s single-season team record since the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles. Piazza broke his L.A. record twice, in 1996 and 1997, before Gary Sheffield hit 43 in 2000 to wrest it from Piazza’s grasp.
The game story in the Los Angeles Times referred to Piazza as “like the Giants, a long shot before this season to even be playing in a game that would decide a division title.”
Did you know? Entering the day, Piazza had hit only one home run in 12 games against the Giants that season.
Oct. 3, 1995: Homers in first career postseason game
Piazza made his postseason debut in October 1995, after a year in which he hit .346 with 32 home runs, had an OPS of 1.006 and made his third straight All-Star Game (a streak that reached six). What did he do for his first of 32 career postseason games? He hit a sixth-inning solo home run, becoming, as the Elias Sports Bureau noted, the fourth catcher to homer in his postseason debut.
Did you know? Piazza's six postseason home runs as a catcher rank sixth-most all time. Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada lead with 11.
July 9, 1996: All-Star Game MVP in Philadelphia
In his fourth All-Star Game, Piazza earned MVP honors, going 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a solo home run as the National League won 6-0. The exhibition was a homecoming for Piazza, who grew up a Phillies fan in Norristown, Pennsylvania, 35 minutes from Veterans Stadium.
Did you know? Piazza was the first NL catcher to win All-Star Game MVP honors since Gary Carter in 1984. Both Carter and Piazza were traded to the Mets in the years after their All-Star Game exploits.
May 23, 1998: New York Mets debut
Traded twice in May 1998, Piazza’s final landing spot was in Flushing -- after a five-game stint with the Marlins. The new acquisition made his debut batting third and catching Al Leiter against the Brewers at Shea Stadium. Piazza made sure his presence was felt quickly at Shea, knocking a two-out RBI double in the fifth inning for his first hit and RBI with the Mets. He went on to record 1,028 regular-season hits and 655 RBIs in eight seasons for the Mets.
Did you know? Piazza ranks second in Mets history in games caught with 829. Jerry Grote ranks first with 1,176.
June 1, 1998: First Mets home run
The first of 220 regular-season home runs Piazza hit with the Mets came in the eighth inning off the Pirates’ Jason Schmidt. His total with the Mets ranks third, behind Darryl Strawberry (252) and David Wright (235).
Did you know?The next-most home runs hit by a Mets player from the 1998 to 2005 seasons are 102 by Edgardo Alfonzo.
Sept. 21, 2001: Go-ahead HR in first NYC-area game since 9/11
In likely his most iconic and most replayed moment, Piazza lifted his team -- and the spirits of many New Yorkers -- to victory in dramatic fashion 10 days after the tragic events of Sept. 11. The Mets entered the bottom of the eighth trailing the division rival Braves 2-1 in the first sporting event played in New York after the attacks. With a runner aboard, Piazza hit an 0-1 pitch to the right of the Pepsi Picnic Area to give the Mets the lead.
May 5, 2004: Most HR as a catcher all time
Piazza holds the record for most home runs at catcher (396) and for a player whose primary position was catcher (427, his career total). Piazza broke the former record when he passed Carlton Fisk’s mark of 351 behind the plate. Piazza hit No. 352 as a catcher off the Giants’ Jerome Williams in the first inning at Shea Stadium.
Did you know? Piazza's value can be shown in his finishing in the top 10 of the MVP voting seven times, tied with Yogi Berra for the most by a catcher.
Oct. 2, 2005: Final game with Mets
Though he went on to play 209 more games over two seasons with the Padres and A’s, Piazza’s final game with the Mets signified the end of an era -- for a player who spent eight years in the orange and blue. He went 0-for-3 in his Shea Stadium swan song but was greeted with a standing ovation for practically every move he made.
Did you know? Piazza is the second Hall of Famer to be inducted with a Mets cap, joining Tom Seaver.
Mark Simon also contributed to this post.