Unless you were a diehard baseball fan in 1998, or have a penchant for absorbing random pieces of baseball trivia, Mike Piazza’s stint with the Marlins has been long forgotten. And for good reason: Pizza only played five games with the club after coming over from the Dodgers on this day 22 years ago. The Marlins flipped him to the Mets just eight days later.
The Piazza trades were emblematic of the way the Marlins were run and, frankly, have continued to be run. The club won the 1997 World Series, defeating the Indians in seven games. Most teams would try to keep that winning nucleus together, but the Marlins had a fire sale. During the offseason, they traded away Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Devon White, Jeff Conine, Kevin Brown, and Al Leiter, among others. Unsurprisingly, the Marlins were in last place with a 13-28 record on May 14, 1998. Not even Piazza in his prime could help turn the Marlins around. The front office had every intention of trading him rather than building a winning ballclub around him.
In exchange for Piazza and third baseman Todd Zeile, the Marlins gave up Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barrios. The seven players combined for $109.3 million in salaries, $83 million of which was assumed by the Dodgers as the Marlins continued to slash payroll.
Of the five games in which Piazza played for the Marlins, four were losses. He hit .278 with just one extra-base hit (a triple) in 19 trips to the plate. The Marlins found a trade partner in the Mets on May 22, sending Piazza to New York in exchange for outfielder Preston Wilson, and two left-handed minor league pitchers in Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz. Goetz never made it to the majors. Yarnall had a cup of coffee in 1999 and 2000, but it wasn’t with the Marlins. Wilson posted a solid .806 OPS over parts of five seasons with the Marlins, but he too was traded, going to the Rockies after the 2002 season.
Piazza went to the Mets and the rest, as they say, was history. He spent eight productive years there, hitting 220 of his 427 career home runs. With Piazza in tow, the Mets made it to the NLCS in 1999 but lost in six games to the Braves. In 2000, the Mets lost the World Series to the Yankees in five games. While Piazza wasn’t productive in the 1999 postseason, he was on fire in 2000, drilling six doubles and four home runs while driving in eight runs over 62 plate appearances.
Despite Piazza’s incredible playoff performance at the turn of the millennium, his most iconic moment came in 2001. New York was the victim of a terrorist attack on September 11. Commissioner Bud Selig called for all games to be postponed for six days. Upon returning, the Mets finished out their road trip with a three-game sweep of the Pirates, then returned home for the first time since the tragedy. The Mets hosted the Braves on September 21. They couldn’t find much offense against starter Jason Marquis, who allowed a lone run over six innings of work. Steve Reed and Mike Remlinger combined for a scoreless seventh.
In the eighth inning, against right-hander Steve Karsay, Edgardo Alfonzo drew a one-out walk to bring up Piazza. After taking a first-pitch strike, Piazza jumped on an outside fastball, hitting a majestic go-ahead two-run home run to left-center field. Fans in attendance, many of whom were wearing NYPD and FDNY hats in remembrance of those who lost their lives 10 days prior, went wild. In the bottom half of the ninth, closer Armando Benitez worked around a leadoff single by Javy Lopez by striking out B.J. Surhoff, then getting Keith Lockhart to ground into a game-ending double play.
Piazza and the Mets wouldn’t have anything else to write home about. Piazza went to the Padres as a free agent in 2006, then played for the A’s in ’07 before calling it quits. He earned his place in the Hall of Fame in 2016 alongside Ken Griffey Jr., earning 83 percent of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility.
It’s impossible to say if things would’ve panned out similarly if Piazza had remained with the Marlins and signed a contract extension. But he certainly wasn’t the first or last future Hall of Famer the club shipped off somewhere else.