You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 2004, Mike Piazza became the all-time leading home run hitter for a catcher, with 352.
Two years later, Piazza, in the second-to-last season of his career, signed with the Padres. He took a hand-strength test that is required of all new Padres players. He destroyed the team record. Manager Bruce Bochy said, "It was like Herman Munster had joined our team.''
Those incredibly strong hands were his greatest strength, the biggest reason Piazza became the greatest hitting catcher in major league history. That is amazing considering he was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, mostly as a favor because Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was a childhood friend of Piazza's dad, Vince. Mel Didier, who scouted and signed Piazza, said he called Piazza, then a teenager, on Christmas Day, and was told by Piazza's mom, "Mike is hitting in the batting cage in the backyard.''
All that hitting paid off. Piazza's seasons with the Dodgers were stunning, especially for a catcher: From 1994 to 1998, he hit .339. He is one of the three greatest Mets of all time and he played only seven years for them. He hit 427 homers in his career. There have been only 18 seasons in major league history in which a primary catcher has hit 35 homers. Piazza has six of them.
The biggest of the 427 homers was, of course, the one he hit in the first game at Shea Stadium, and the first game played in New York after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The Mets did so much to help with the healing, and the recovery, after 9/11. The Mets were trailing the Braves 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Piazza hit a two-run homer off Steve Karsay. The Mets won the game. It was one of the most emotional home runs ever hit.
"There were dogs at the ballpark at 6 a.m. sniffing lockers for bombs,'' then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "There were guys with semi-automatics on the top of the stadium. Just before the game, first responders and EMT guys were in right field, in uniforms, doing the chorus line kick together ... it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Liza Minnelli sang 'New York, New York.' There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The tears were tears of uncertainty and fear. And then Mike gets up and takes the most spectacular swing that anyone has ever taken. And all those tears became tears of joy.''
Other baseball notes from May 5
In 1978, Pete Rose recorded his 3,000th hit. "After I got my 3,000th hit,'' Cal Ripken said, "Pete Rose called and told me, 'Only 1,256 more, and you'll catch me.'"
In 1975, the A's released sprinter Herb Washington. He played in 105 games in his career, all with Oakland, and he never went to the plate -- he scored 33 runs, and stole 31 bases in 48 attempts.
In 1971, catcher Mike Redmond was born. He is one of the best, funniest guys ever to play the game. More than once, when his struggling team needed a lift or a laugh, he took batting practice (indoors) wearing only socks, shoes and batting gloves.
In 1956, infielder Ron Oester was born. He was a good player, but he didn't walk much. He once said, "If I wanted to walk, I would have been a f---ing postman!''
In 2018, Craig Kimbrel recorded his 300th save. His ball took off in the strike zone. During one BP session against Kimbrel, teammate Matt Diaz said, "His first pitch came in thigh-high, and I thought, 'Hey thanks, Craig, for grooving one.' But by the time the pitch got to the plate, the ball was up around my neck. The ball does rise no matter what anyone tells you. Sister Rose was a great [high school] physics teacher and a really sweet lady, but she never faced Craig Kimbrel.''