From the archives: New Hall of Famer Mike Piazza
Posted on July 19, 2016
Mike Piazza of the Albuquerque Dukes bats against the Calgary Cannons in Calgary, Canada in July of 1992. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
Former Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets great Mike Piazza will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York on Sunday afternoon. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a big league ballplayer, and it will surely be a day Piazza, his family, friends, Dodgers, and Mets fans will never forget. I will be watching the ceremony on television as I love viewing anything Hall of Fame related, and I enjoy hearing what guys like Piazza have to say in their speeches. Piazza’s career spanned from 1993 through the 2007 season, but I first shot him when he was playing for the Albuquerque Dukes, the Dodgers AAA farm club, in 1992. I was on assignment for Upper Deck in Calgary, Canada, shooting a series between the Dukes and the Calgary Cannons (the Seattle Mariners AAA club) photographing top prospects for the upcoming minor league set. It was the first time I had ever been out of the United States, and it was to shoot minor league baseball! Piazza was on my list of Dodger hopefuls to shoot. Little did I know that 24 years later he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame! I thought it would be fun to take a look through my searchable online archive containing almost 90,000 baseball images dating back to 1987 and see what came back when I typed in “Mike Piazza.” Let’s take a look!
All of the above images of Piazza playing for the Dodgers were shot on Fujichrome color slide film, on assignment for Sports Illustrated. My favorite memory of the pictures you see above shot on a dark and rainy day at Candlestick Park in 1996 is that I was on a special assignment that day shooting for SI and my assistant was a young kid who was studying photojournalism at San Jose State: my friend Corey Rich. Corey has gone on to become one of the most recognized adventure and outdoor lifestyle visual storytellers in the world. Corey is quite simply a rock star who is one of the most successful people I know, and one of the nicest. However, 20 years ago he was just a kid carrying my shit, including the Canon 1200mm lens, at a baseball game. Man have times changed!
Because I am a San Francisco Giants fan when I think of Mike Piazza I think of him as a Dodger first, absolutely killing the Giants. He was such an amazing hitter with incredible power- especially when he went the other way. I can still see him hammering home runs over the right field fence at Candlestick Park to beat the Giants. Of course, I will never forget how he helped eliminate the Giants from a postseason berth on the final day of the 1993 season at Dodger Stadium, when as a rookie he clubbed two home runs to embarrass the Giants 12-1. That was one of the most disappointing games I have ever watched on television as a Giants fan. Piazza was at his best, finishing his rookie campaign with 35 homers, 112 RBI, and a .318 batting average. That is a crazy year for any position player, and this guy was a CATCHER! Look out baseball. Mike Piazza had arrived and he was about to change the game.
Piazza was traded to the Mets in 1998 and after that I did not get the chance to see him nearly as much as when he was playing in Los Angeles. He became a bigger national figure while playing his home games at Shea Stadium, and will go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap on his head, but to me it always seemed weird not seeing him wearing Dodger blue.
Piazza ended his playing days in 2006 and 2007 playing on the west coast with the Padres and A’s, so I was able to shoot him more those final two seasons than I had his his entire career prior. Unfortunately, by then he was pretty much done, especially by the time he was wearing the green and gold. By the time he finished playing he had crazy offensive numbers for a catcher, and was a no-doubt Hall of Famer. If he could get past the whispers of PEDs. There was always talk surrounding the Dodgers 62nd round pick in the 1988 amateur draft. How does a kid come out of nowhere like that and become such a monster? Well, all we can look at for sure is the way he played and the numbers he put up, and they were pretty amazing.
Congrats to Mike Piazza on this huge honor. It is becoming more and more cool for me to see guys who I have shot, especially way back in the minor leagues, getting elected into the Hall of Fame. It is even cooler when I have some nice old pictures of them on chrome in my archive!