Piazza's career leaves lasting Hall of Fame memories

I've always felt that it's better to go out on your own terms, rather than to be pushed out the door.

This was the partial scenario facing Major League catcher Mike Piazza, who was hanging around waiting for a free-agent deal but after weeks of no solid leads, decided to retire after 16 seasons.

Piazza leaves the game with 427 home runs (39th all-time), 352 homers as a catcher, which ranks No. 1 in MLB history, a .308 lifetime batting average and 12 All-Star appearances.

Ever since he stepped on the scene as the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 with the Dodgers, Piazza has been crushing baseballs out of the park and has given opposing pitchers fits with his talents.

Unlike most power hitters, especially catchers, Piazza was able to beat you with a single or double just as easily as he could with a three-run shot over the wall.

I enjoyed watching him play with the Dodgers, but I became a huge Piazza fan practically overnight on May 22, 1998 when he was acquired by New York from the Florida Marlins.

This deal made the Mets an instant contender and a thorn in the side of the Braves, who were the cream of the crop in the N.L. East.

There was an instant love affair between Mets fans and Piazza, who was deemed as the savior of a franchise looking to return to respectability after almost 10 years of being an irrelevant organization.

Piazza was the centerpiece of the club and partook in several magical moments that will forever live, not only in the hearts of New Yorkers, but of anyone who is a true fan of baseball.

In Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS versus Atlanta, with New York down 3-2 in the series and facing elimination, Piazza belted a two-run shot off future Hall of Famer John Smoltz in the top of the seventh to cap off a dramatic rally to even the score at 7-7.

Piazza returned in 2000 to hit .324 with 38 homers and 113 RBI to lead New York to its first trip to the World Series since 1986.

To the rest of the world, it was one big bore, but for those within the tri-state area, the 2000 Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets was like baseball nirvana.

Who could forget Game 2 at Yankee Stadium when a crazed Roger Clemens tossed a sheared bat in his direction as he ran toward first base?

Both men had a history, which included Clemens beaning Piazza in the head earlier that season.

Piazza had owned Clemens throughout his career and it appeared as if the pitcher experienced an alleged case of 'roid rage' in the front of the world following this incident.

While his record-breaking home run by a catcher on May 5, 2004 is an automatic snapshot highlight, I, nor will any New Yorker ever forget his eighth-inning blast off Atlanta reliever Steve Karsay on Sept. 21, 2001 in the first professional sporting event held in New York City since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

He carried the somber heart of a city on his shoulders as he trotted around the bases that needed a distraction from the horrific scenes of the falling World Trade Center towers.

Thanks Mike for the many memories and gallons of gasoline I used to fuel my arguments in favor of the Mets.

See you in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 2013 with my hat and jersey on to celebrate your Hall of Fame status.

Rory Sharrock is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at rsharrock@news-daily.com