Michael Joseph Piazza (born September 4, 1968 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, USA) is a U.S. Major League Baseball player. He is generally recognized as the top-hitting catcher of all time. He is a ten time All-Star. On May 5, 2004, Piazza surpassed Carlton Fisk for most home runs by a catcher with the 352nd of his career.
Mike grew up for the first few years of his life in a small house in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The house was barely big enough to have Mike's entire family inside. His family consisted of his two parents, Vince and Veronica Piazza, and his brothers Vince Jr., Danny, Tony and Tommy. In the backyard was where Mike's earliest baseball memories took place. There was a large enclosed batting cage made of wood, with a net inside. Vince had bought it with some extra lumber. On one side of the cage was a pitching machine. Mike would load this with some old tattered baseballs, then he would go to the other side and hit them. This was Mike's second home; he spend every bit of his spare time here. Even in the winter, Mike would be in the cage, after shoveling snow out and heating the baseballs on the stove inside of his house, and wear gloves while hitting.
Vince Piazza was childhood friends with Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda. Whenever the Dodgers were in town and playing the Phillies, Mike would be inside the clubhouse and the dugout, during the game. When Mike was nine years old, he joined his first little league team, the A's. Mike's coach, Abdul Ford-Bey tought him and his teammates the fundamentals of the game. The next year, Mike was on a team called the Cardinals where the coach made him play catcher. Mike did NOT like catching, ironically. He actually wanted to be a pitcher. A few years later, when he was thirteen, Mike led his team to the semi-finals in the playoffs, and hit the game winning home run. Then Mike had some more luck go his way. One day when he was thirteen, while Mike was busy hitting in his batting cage, his father came in and gave him some good news. He told Mike that whenever the Dodgers were in town, Mike could be the batboy and meet the players. He spent several years at this position, and became friends with some of the players.
Vince Piazza sold and bought land and cars until Mike was 13. He then bought a computer company and became very wealthy as a result of the investment. The Piazza family moved a few miles away, to a huge house on a large piece of land, with a golf couse to one side. A ground level basement held a brand new batting cage for Mike. Using this brand new pitching machine, Mike could practice hitting not only fastballs, but curveballs and even knuckleballs. Mike became interested in Heavy Metal music, and played electric guitar and drums from time to time. The high school Mike went to had a baseball team called the Phantoms. Their coach, John "Doc" Kennedy knew he would try out for the team, remembering from him from little league. He asked Mike if he would consider playing catcher, as the team needed one. Piazza told the coach that he would prefer playing first base for the time being. Unfortunately for Mike, the varsity team already had a first baseman, so he ended up spending his tenth grade year playing for the junior varsity team. When Mike was a junior he made the varsity team, he finished that year with twelve home runs, breaking a record, and led the whole team in every hitting category. He was voted most valuable player. As a senior, Mike batted almost .600 for the Phantoms, but the season ended with a loss in the district semifinals.
Major League career
Piazza was the very last player drafted (in the 62nd round) of the 1988 draft. It is believed that the pick was partly a favor on the part of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who is godfather to one of Piazza's brothers and, like Piazza, grew up in Norristown. Piazza swore he'd learn to catch if he was drafted. Piazza's major league debut came with the Dodgers in 1992, when he appeared in 21 games. He then won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1993.
Piazza's best season was arguably 1997, a year when he finished second in MVP voting. He hit .362, with 40 home runs and 124 runs batted in, an on base percentage of .431 and a slugging percentage of .638.
He played for the Dodgers until a trade to the Florida Marlins in the middle of the 1998 season. Piazza and Todd Zeile went to the Marlins, in return for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenreich. One week later Piazza was traded from the Marlins to the New York Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz.
To ease the stress on his deteriorating knees, Piazza began to split his time between catching and playing first base during the 2004 season, an experiment which was abandoned before the end of the season. Although recognized as a great hitter, Piazza is often viewed as a defensive liability no matter what position he's playing, and it's presumed that he would be a good fit for an American League team, where a full-time role as a designated hitter could extend his career while reducing the risk of serious injuries. Piazza played what was probably his final game with the Mets on October 2, 2005, and filed for free agency after the season.
During the 2005 season, Mike Piazza is the 9th highest paid MLB player at $16,071,429.
- Piazza appeared on the September 23, 2004 episode of the NBC television program The Apprentice. He was paid $20,000 for a half-hour of work pitching a vanilla-mint flavored Crest toothpaste.
- On January 29, 2005, at an evening wedding at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Miami with 120 guests that included former Mets pitcher Al Leiter and Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, Piazza married his girlfriend of two years, Alicia Rickter, a Playboy model formerly of the TV show Baywatch.
- Mike was the subject—and source—of a hoax involving the movie Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox. Mike alleged in an interview with New York Sports Express that he had played the boyfriend of the beautiful blonde (whom Fox eventually sleeps with). It worked so well that it even fooled the Internet Movie Database who listed him as playing the part of Mick McAlister (in fact, played by Mark Arnold). IMDb went so far as to display a picture of Piazza.
- Popular indie folk singers Belle & Sebastian wrote a song called "Piazza, New York Catcher," which appears on their album Dear Catastrophe Waitress. The song references a 2002 article in the New York Post which implied that Piazza was gay (which he denied emphatically).