Long Shotby Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 baseball draft as a “courtesy pick.” The Dodgers never expected him to play for them—or anyone else. Mike had other ideas. Overcoming his detractors, he became the National League rookie of the year in 1993, broke the record for season batting average by a catcher, holds the record for career home runs at his position, and was selected as an All Star twelve times.
Mike was groomed for baseball success by his ambitious, self-made father in Pennsylvania, a classic father-son American-dream story. With the Dodgers, Piazza established himself as baseball’s premier offensive catcher; but the team never seemed willing to recognize him as the franchise player he was. He joined the Mets and led them to the memorable 2000 World Series with their cross-town rivals, the Yankees. Mike tells the story behind his dramatic confrontation with Roger Clemens in that series. He addresses the steroid controversy that hovered around him and Major League Baseball during his time and provides valuable perspective on the subject. Mike also addresses the rumors of being gay and describes the thrill of his game-winning home run on September 21, 2001, the first baseball game played in New York after the 9/11 tragedy. Along the way, he tells terrific stories about teammates and rivals that baseball fans will devour.
Long Shot is written with insight, candor, humor, and charm. It’s surprising and inspiring, one of the great sports autobiographies.
"Mr. Piazza has had one of the stranger and more inspiring careers in baseball history. . . . [Long Shot] explain[s] how this non-prospect blossomed into a legendary hitter."
"Beloved Mets catcher Mike Piazza comes out swinging in a new memoir—confronting rumors about being gay and taking steroids, detailing his romantic home runs and finally setting the score with his hated rival, Roger Clemens."
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Read an Excerpt
Including Pudge Rodriguez, who was dressed for work in his Detroit Tigers uniform, the greatest living catchers were all gathered around, unmasked, on the grass of Shea Stadium. From the podium, where my stomach tumbled inside the Mets jersey that I had now worn longer than any other, the Cooperstown collection was lined up on my right. Yogi Berra. Gary Carter. Johnny Bench, the greatest of them all. And Carlton Fisk, whose home run record for catchers I had broken the month before, which was the official reason that these illustrious ballplayers—these idols of mine, these legends—were doing Queens on a Friday night in 2004.
I preferred, however, to think of the occasion as a celebration of catching. Frankly, that was the only way I could think of it without being embarrassed; without giving off an unseemly vibe that basically said, hey, thanks so much to all you guys for showing up at my party even though I just left your asses in the dust. I couldn’t stand the thought of coming across that way to those four. Especially Johnny Bench. As far as I was concerned, and still am, Johnny Bench was the perfect catcher, custom-made for the position. I, on the other hand, had become a catcher only because the scouts had seen me play first base.
Sixteen years after I’d gladly, though not so smoothly or easily, made the switch, the cycle was doubling back on itself. Having seen enough of me as a catcher, the Mets were in the process of moving me to first. It was a difficult time for me, because, for one, I could sense that it signaled the start of my slow fade from the game. What’s more, I had come to embrace the catcher’s role in a way that, at least in the minds of my persistent doubters and critics, was never returned with the same level of fervor. As a positionless prospect who scarcely interested even the team that finally drafted me, catching had been my lifeline to professional baseball—to this very evening, which I never could have imagined—and I was reluctant to let it go. To tell the truth, I was afraid of making a fool of myself.
It was a moment in my career on which a swarm of emotions had roosted, and it made me wish that Roy Campanella were alive and with us. Early on, when my path to Los Angeles was potholed with confusion, politics, and petty conflict, Campy, from his wheelchair in Vero Beach, Florida, was the one who got my head right. Back then, I hadn’t realized what he meant to me. By the time I did, I was an all-star and he was gone. I surely could have used his benevolent counsel in the months leading up to my 352nd home run as a catcher, when detractors who included even a former teammate or two charged me with overextending my stay behind the plate in order to break the record (which I ultimately left at 396).
That, I think, was the main reason I wanted to understate the special night. If it appeared in any fashion that I was making a big thing out of passing Fisk, it would, for those who saw it that way, convict me of a selfish preoccupation with a personal accomplishment. Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, had gone beyond the call of duty to put the event together, and had assured me that it would stay small. At one point, as the crowd buzzed and the dignitaries settled in and my brow beaded up, I muttered to Jeff, “So much for a small ceremony.” General Motors, the sponsor, gave me a Chevy truck. (Maybe that’s why my dad, a Honda and Acura dealer, was wiping away tears up in our private box.) Todd Zeile and Braden Looper had graciously mobilized my teammates, and, on their behalf, John Franco presented me with a Cartier watch and a six-liter bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, 1989, which will remain unopened until there’s a proper occasion that I can share with a hundred or so wine-loving friends. Maybe when the first of our daughters gets married.
Meanwhile, the irony of the evening—and, to me, its greatest gratification—was that, in this starry tribute to catching (as I persisted in classifying it), the center of attention was the guy who, for the longest time, only my father believed in. The guy whose minor-league managers practically refused to put behind the plate. The guy being moved to first base in his thirteenth big-league season. The guy whose defensive work the cabdriver had been bitching about on Bench’s ride to the ballpark.
But Bench understood. So did Fisk. “This is a special occasion for us catchers,” he explained to the media. “Only we as catchers can fully appreciate what it takes to go behind the plate every day and also put some offensive numbers on the board.”
Fisk had kindly called me on the night I broke his record, then issued a statement saying that he’d hoped I’d be the one to do it. That had made my week; my year. “I’m blessed,” I told reporters. “I’ve lived a dream.”
I also mentioned that I might write a book someday.
Meet the Author
Mike Piazza grew up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and was chosen by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixty-second round of the 1988 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He was National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and was a twelve-time All-Star selection. He holds the record for most home runs by a catcher (396) and held the record for highest batting average in a season by a catcher (.362) until it was recently broken. He lives with his family in Miami Beach, Florida.
Lonnie Wheeler’s numerous books include collaborations on the autobiographies of Hank Aaron (I Had a Hammer), Bob Gibson (Stranger to the Game), Mike Piazza (Long Shot), a baseball dialogue between Gibson and Reggie Jackson (Sixty Feet, Six Inches), and reflections on a summer at Wrigley Field (Bleachers). The author of Intangiball: The Subtle Things That Win Baseball Games, he lives in New Richmond, Ohio.
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With a heavy emphasis (of course) on baseball details, this book gives many Insights into Mike Piazza and how he views the phases of his life in that game. Having been a Met fan since the 1969 World Series, I have great appreciation for those wonderful years when Piazza was in NY and gave us much to cheer about. The writing was polished and professional, yet still gave the impression of being personal and in Piazza's own words. I enjoyed reading about his successes, regrets, and growth as a player and as a person.
Chapter Nineteen, one of the most moving chapters of any book I have read. The essence of New York, The Met's, the fans, the patriotism. Thank you Mike for sharing with your many loyal fans. We miss you!
Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good) Review: Baseball fans have heard the story: 62nd round draft pick, who was chosen by a well-known major league manager as a favor to the player’s father. Worked his way up to the big leagues where he became one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Mike Piazza shares his thoughts on these topics and a lot more in this memoir of his life and career that was fun to read, and at the same time it evoked a lot of reaction for his comments and viewpoints on many issues and people that affected him personally. The first impression I had when reading this book, no matter at what point in his life or career he was describing, was that he was being himself and honest. It didn’t seem to matter to him if someone would be upset or offended by his comments; he wrote what he felt about the topic. This was especially telling when he talked about his bitter contract negotiations and subsequent trade from the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He blamed many others for the situation, including broadcaster Vin Scully, a beloved icon in Los Angeles. He blamed the Dodgers’ ownership, fans, and anyone else that he could except himself. He had the on-field statistics to back him up for his position in the negotiations, but even to this day, it doesn’t seem that he fully understood why some people would not look upon this situation favorably. While this was the most notable example of Piazza being critical about others, it wasn’t the only one. When he ended up in New York playing for the Mets he was critical of many of their moves as well. Whether the reader believes the criticism is justified or not, Piazza’s style of writing and the items he chooses to discuss can rub many readers the wrong way. However, it is also obvious that he is being honest with his opinion and because of that I thought the book was one to enjoy, even if the reader disagrees or will react with anger to some of the comments. The tone he sets also comes across as defensive, especially when addressing topics such as performance enhancing drugs, the feud between himself and Roger Clemens and the aforementioned departure from Los Angeles. Whether he was explaining why he was taking “andro” (a legal substance at the time and the one that was famously found in Mark McGuire’s locker in 1998), telling why he would not react differently to Clemens beaning him and then throwing a broken bat piece at him in the World Series, or even when trying to explain the rumors in New York that he was a homosexual, he comes across as overly defensive. He is honest, he doesn’t pull punches, but it felt like he was trying too hard to win over the reader’s mind. That wasn’t necessary in my opinion. The honesty was refreshing – that was all that was needed. Some of his stories can be quite touching. One in which I thought was really good was also my favorite one in the book and that was when Ted Williams came to his house and watched Piazza takes some cuts in the backyard. Williams, who always had a keen eye for hitting, felt that Piazza would be a great hitter someday. That prediction did turn out to be true. So given all this, I still felt the book was an enjoyable read even if by the end of it, the aura he left in my mind of his career was a little tarnished because of his attitudes. That doesn’t take away his on-field accomplishments, nor does it take away from my opinion of the book, which certainly is one to read if you are interested in learning more about him. It was an enjoyable and entertaining read, and one that will surely leaving you wanting to talk about it with anyone else who read it or follows baseball. Did I skim? No. Pace of the book: It reads fairly quickly as Piazza takes the reader throughout all the important events and stories of his life and career, from childhood to the end of his playing career. There isn’t a lot after that except for his opinion on a few baseball topics in the epilogue. Do I recommend? Fans of Piazza and the Mets will enjoy this book. Dodger fans may not take kindly to some of his remarks, however. If the reader was not a fan of Piazza or looks poorly upon any player who is controversial, this is not a book for him or her. Otherwise, I do recommend it to all baseball fans, regardless of team loyalty. Book Format Read: Hardcover
During Mike Piazza’s years with the Mets (1998-2005), I loved the guy. I was a HUGE Piazza fan, so much so that at one point, I was seriously considering getting a tattoo of his uniform number, 31. The beanball that Roger Clemens threw at him in 2000, which cost Piazza an appearance in the All-Star Game that year, and the Subway Series that year—during which Clemens inexplicably threw a bat shard at Piazza, claiming he thought it was the ball—roused my indignation. I still believe that Clemens is the biggest jerk to ever don a major league uniform. But I never thought I would consider Piazza to be a kind of a jerk—until I read his autobiography. He calls the book “Long Shot,” and in the epilogue, he mentions his fervent hope that his story will serve as an inspiration to his readers. He spends much of the book, however, whining and complaining about how unfair he was treated throughout his major league career, and he misses no opportunity to demonize everyone who (in his perception) slighted him in the least. His father loom over Piazza’s story—indeed, he dominates the guy’s life—so comprehensively that it’s impossible to conceive of Piazza’s career if his father hadn’t been there to pave the way (and in some cases bully people) for Piazza’s opportunities. Tommy Lasorda—although he is not literally Piazza’s godfather—played that role for him, negotiating opportunities for Piazza and making sure that he got what he wanted. But Lasorda, along with many other teammates and acquaintances of Piazza’s, didn’t even attend the guy’s wedding. As Piazza admits, despite his seventeen years in the majors, only two of his teammates chose to attend his wedding. He also admits to being a “brat” for almost the entire time he was in the majors. Throughout this book, he asserts that he wasn’t a good teammate and that he was fairly selfish—and he recites his achievements at random moments, citing the length of certain homeruns and rattling off statistics that admittedly put him among the game’s elites. But Piazza doesn’t seem to understand that the way to make yourself look good in your autobiography is not to simply brag about your numbers and enumerate your various accomplishments—and you certainly don’t impress anyone by repeatedly expressing your bitterness over never being named MVP or claiming that you’re the target of some widespread conspiracy among Latino players. I learned a lot about Piazza the man—his fondness for heavy metal music, his abstinence during much of his young adulthood, his devotion to his Catholic faith, and his conservative political beliefs (which should not have come as a surprise to me—did I really think that a multi-millionaire who held a press conference to proclaim his heterosexuality would be a liberal?). Ultimately, Piazza comes across as a disgruntled brat, despite his claim, in the email that announced his retirement, that he was grateful for his amazing journey through the big leagues. Before I read the book, I was a huge Piazza fan. My fanaticism is considerably tempered now. I will be forever grateful that he played the majority of his career with the Mets, and I will cherish all of the great memories he created on the diamond. But Piazza the man? Not so much.
As much as I like Mike Piazza his book is hard to read cause it's badly written.