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On This Date in Sports May 5, 2004: Piazza Power

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Mike Piazza of the New York Mets becomes the all-time leader in home runs as a catcher, hitting his 352nd home run while catching. The record home run tops the mark previously held by Carlton Fisk. Piazza's record-breaking home run comes against Jerome Williams of the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Shea Stadium. The Mets would win the game 8-2. Mike Piazza would hit 396 home runs as a catcher and 427 overall in a Hall of Fame career.

Mike Piazza was born on September 4, 1968, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The son of an auto dealer named Vince Piazza, who had been a childhood friend of Tom Lasorda. Growing up close to baseball, Mike Piazza had his own hitting cage in his backyard. As a favor, Mike Piazza was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB draft. A long shot at making the majors as the 1,390th player, Piazza, who had played first base at Miami-Dade Community College, learned to play catcher in the Dodgers' Dominican Baseball camp. 

Over the next four years, as Mike Piazza learned to play catcher, his power bat began to grab the attention of baseball scouts. When Piazza made his debut at the end of the 1992 season, he had become one of the Dodgers' top prospects. In 1993, Mike Piazza was named Rookie of the Year, hitting .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBI. Piazza quickly became a perennial All-Star, winning the All-Star Game MVP in his hometown Philadelphia in 1996. 

After finishing second in MVP voting in 1996 and 1997, Mike Piazza entered his sixth season looking for a big contract with the Dodgers. However, there had been an ownership change in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers expected Piazza to give them a hometown discount. Piazza refused and was ready to become a free agent when he was sent to the Florida Marlins in a stunning deal six weeks into the season. One week later, Mike Piazza was traded to the New York Mets. 

The New York Mets had been a downtrodden team for most of the 1990s. Following the 1986 World Series, the Mets made a series of bad moves and suffered six consecutive losing seasons. At the same time, the Yankees were becoming a dynasty. Fearing the Mets were losing the town, Mets owner Nelson Doubleday insisted that the Mets acquire Piazza. After some early struggles, Mike Piazza had the Mets in the race for the Wild Card in 1998. He would sign a seven-year deal with the Mets worth $91 million.

With the Mets, Mike Piazza continued to be an All-Star as he led the team to the NLCS in 1999 and the World Series in 2000. In 2001, ten days after the 9/11 attacks, Mike Piazza hit a dramatic home run in the first game played in New York after the attacks. Piazza would remain with the Mets until 2005, finishing his career with the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics. He would become the second Mets player in the Hall of Fame in 2016.