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You gotta "Boolieve"

It has been a regular complaint of New York Yankees fans that Alex Rodriguez doesn't get enough meaningful RBI to justify his financial compensation.

Carlos Beltran has gotten booed (in Saturday's case, for lack of hustle running out a popup, rightfully so) for his lack of production in the first three months of what will be a long Flushing tenure.

New York is a city of great expectations, and those who fail to fulfill them immediately(read Bobby Bonilla, Roberto Alomar and Kaz Matsui) get swallowed up by the waves of negativity. Those who can survive the initial barrage tend to do alright.

Beltran's situation reminds me a little bit of what it was like for one of his current teammates, Mike Piazza, after he was traded to the Mets in May, 1998.

In Piazza's first 27 games as a Met, he had hits in 22, and was batting .364. However, he only managed three home runs and 10 RBI and was not producing in big spots at the rate at which fans thought he should. The result of this was that any time Piazza made an out, he heard boos. Sometimes they were soft, like the ones that Beltran has been getting. Sometimes they were very loud.

On August 3, Piazza woke up with a .330 batting average, and Rob Parker's column in Newsday penned a column in support of the free agent to be. "One day Mets fans will wake up, and the abuse will stop" was his lead.

The next day, the Mets began a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants. New York had blown a 5-1 lead against the Dodgers (despite a Piazza home run) the day before, missing a chance to gain ground in the wild-card race. I was among those in the crowd of 32,000-plus and I remember a strong sense of frustration that night. It warmed over a bit after the Mets rallied from four runs down to take a 6-4 lead entering the ninth inning, but than it boiled over too a booing chorus when the Giants tied the score off John Franco.

The Mets loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, with none other than Piazza coming up. Surely he would come through here, win the game, and revel in the cheers that would forever be his.

It didn't happen. Piazza took a mighty swing (if I remember right) and hit a weak ground ball. The Giants got a force play at the plate. An unhappy throng let their displeasure be known, in full force.

The good news for the Mets was that after Brian McRae also grounded out, Lenny Harris got the Mets a walk-off win, patiently walking on a 3-2 pitch from Jose Mesa. That didn't stick out in my mind though. The booing did.

Now Piazza could easily have wilted and succumbed to the jeering, but he didn't. After the series with San Francisco concluded, the Mets went on the road and Piazza went on a tear. He hit .378 with 13 home runs and 48 RBI in his last 47 games, keeping the Mets in the wild-card race until the team wasted away its hopes with a five-game losing streak in the final week.

After the season ended, there were a lot of questions as to whether Piazza would re-sign with the Mets, or pack his bags for a friendlier environment. Those were answered, surprisingly quickly, at the end of October, when Piazza signed a seven-year contract.

At the press conference announcing his signing, the boos were the subject of one query. Piazza handled it deftly. He understood the impatience of the New York fan and knew that with time, things would turn out alright.

"I might as well get booed by the best, If I'm going to get booed by anyone" he told the media.

Piazza's days as a super-productive hitter are over, but I'd still say he's handled his time in New York just fine overall, wouldn't you?

The Truly Metsane know...That since Piazza became a Met, no player on the team has more walk-off hits than he does (4).


Richard Simon said…
There would have been no thrills in Shea Stadium in 1999 and 2000 and even in 2001 if not for Mike.
He is obviously and painfully on the downside of his career now, but he gave us a lot of baseball joy.
seaveggie said…
Great post (and what a great blog!) about perhaps the greatest everyday Met to wear the uniform (even if he has to be a Republican). Mike's been an A+ guy these years and has so many clutch hits and terrific moments. He'll be missed.

Now, while it wouldn't have been a walk-off moment, but rather a "stay in the game with a tie" moment, I only wish he could have had a few more bites of breakfast for Game 5 of the 2000 world series, a final out that in some alternative universe ties the game with a blast over the center field fence.

Kermit said…
I think one of the reasons that Piazza got a lot of the boos was because people were really ambivalent his replacing Todd Hundley. At the time, Hundley was a beloved player for Mets fans and was sidelined due to his elbow surgery. I remember lots of late night FAN debates about whether we should even sign Piazza and a lot of the callers simply felt loyal to Todd. Todd, who was a career Met, had been a real superstar the previous two seasons having hit a combined 71 homeruns. Going with Piazza proved to be the right choice but had Hundley not been in the mix, I am convinced that Mike would have gotten nothing but cheers.

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