Mets remember Piazza as fearsome

Mets remember Piazza as fearsome

ATLANTA -- Whatever baseball-induced insomnia afflicted Terry Mulholland over the years undoubtedly diminished following his retirement from the game after the 2006 season. And if there have been sleepless nights since then, they too may be gone, if only because Mike Piazza now has joined Mulholland in retirement. Indeed, the journeyman reliever and all his pitching brethren can turn off the alarm. Piazza's bat, as feared as any in the game from 1993-2002, officially is in mothballs.

The player widely regarded as the best hitting catcher of all time and the best hitter in the history of the Mets franchise, stepped away from the game on Tuesday, nearly 10 years to the day after he became a member of the Mets, leaving a legacy of scorched line drives and home runs that imperiled fans no matter where they were seated.

The step wasn't unexpected; Piazza hadn't swung a bat for any team since his final game with the A's last season. Just the same, pitchers who stood 60-feet, six-inches from one of the fiercest swings in history can relax now. He's not coming back. His home run total will remain at 427, his career batting average will remain at .308.

"Mike was scary," Mets reliever Billy Wagner said on Tuesday, almost flinching at the thought of one his fastballs colliding with Piazza's energized swing. "He was a batter you couldn't make a mistake to. A game changer."

Of course, it wasn't only mistakes that Piazza significantly re-routed. He hit pitchers' best stuff over buildings. Or, on other occasions, he hit line drives that threatened the well-being of outfield walls, not to mention outfielders. It was one of those which Piazza hit off Mulholland in 2000 that the pitcher said was sure to deny him REM sleep.

He had thrown Piazza "not a bad pitch" in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Mets-Braves game on June 30. That the home run delivered the final three runs in a 10-run rally, producing an 11-8 Mets victory, was enough to fill the memories of anyone who witnessed or cared about the game's outcomes.

That the pulled laser beam nearly moved the left-field wall was what struck Mulholland and created an indelible memory.

"I may see that one in my sleep for the rest of my life," the pitcher said the following day. "I didn't know a baseball could be hit that hard."

Piazza pulled the pitch and hit it so hard it didn't have time hook. It barely stayed fair and crashed into the wall in left.

"We thought Mike broke Shea Stadium," Robin Ventura would say.

"He could hit them as hard as anyone," Wagner said on Tuesday after learning of Piazza's decision. "The one thing you always thought of when he came up was how hard he hit it. He got me a few times. He was a great hitter, not just for a catcher."

Wagner joined the Mets in 2006, the first year after Piazza's Mets tenure, so he never has known him as a teammate.

"But you knew when he was in the park," said Wagner. "You could hear him take BP. There are about six or seven guys in my time you could hear the difference when they stepped into the cage -- Mike, [Gary] Sheffield, Mo [Moises Alou], Big Mac [Mark McGwire], [Barry] Bonds."

David Wright knew Piazza as a teammate and benefited from their brief time together.

"He taught me how to handle myself in the clubhouse, on the field and in New York and helped make me into the ballplayer I want to be -- how to be a professional, how to be a leader," said Wright. "I was privileged to play with him."

Mets manager Willie Randolph noted that Tuesday was "the end of a Hall of Fame career" and called Piazza "one of the premier power hitters of his era. He always was a great competitor."

Mets owner Fed Wilpon issued this statement: "On behalf of everyone at the Mets, we salute Mike for his Hall of Fame-caliber accomplishments in our game and with our team. Mike electrified New York City and energized our franchise after we acquired him in 1998. He was an integral part of our 2000 National League Championship club. Mike played the game with passion, class and heart -- symbolic of our city. We wish Mike, his wife, Alicia, and daughter Nicoletta all health and happiness as he begins a new chapter in his life."

It was Wilpon, who in 1998, likened Piazza's potential for popularity in the New York market to what developed for Joe DiMaggio.

Tom Glavine, Piazza's Mets teammate for three seasons, offered these words Tuesday: "Mike was either feast or famine against me. It seemed like he either pulled me real well or that I'd catch him at the right time and get him out. He certainly did his share of damage against our [Braves] teams as a whole."

"[He's] the best offensive catcher I've ever seen," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. "The guy could flat out rake to all fields. For a while, he was considered the best right-handed hitter in the game. You didn't want to see him come up with the game on the line because usually he was going to hurt you."

Fellow catcher Brian McCann said, "He is the best hitting catcher of all-time. If I'm half the offensive catcher that he was, I'll have a very successful career. He did a lot of great things for the catcher's position."

And one more fellow catcher, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, put in words the fear opponents experienced when Piazza batted: "I used to hate to see him come to Colorado, because I thought he hit a grand slam every series we played against him. He's going to go down as one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time. I'm not taking anything away from his catching, but he was a force, day in and day out in the lineup. He played every day, driving in over 100 runs every year, it seemed like. He was a force."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.