The Refractor Set Hits a Milestone with Mike Piazza

It’s always great to be pleasantly surprised by someone’s abilities. Mike Piazza fills that role, coming at it from several approaches. The often told story of his rise to the majors is one of part of the tale: Piazza was passed over 1,389 times in the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft before being selected in the 62nd round. Five years later he was on his way to claiming the National League Rookie of the Year and staking his claim to be baseball’s best hitting catcher since Josh Gibson.

Piazza gets a lot of flack for his family connections. Piazza’s father, Vince, selected Dodger legend and personal friend Tommy Lasorda as godfather to his children. After spending tremendous amounts of time and energy training Mike, Vince called in a favor from Lasorda to ask him to draft his son. Lasorda complied, getting Piazza signed despite earlier objections from staff that saw him playing first base. Mike spent several years reinventing himself as a catcher, an opportunity that would not have happened without patronage from Lasorda. It’s the kind of advocacy you hope to give to anyone just trying to prove their worth, but the rarity of extending such an opportunity makes it something special. The fact that Piazza got this support through family rubbed a lot of early watchers the wrong way.

The best way to combat this feeling is to not disappoint those who put their reputation on the line. Piazza may be the best example of this working out. His rookie season saw him club 35 HRs with a .318 batting average and 7.4 WAR (Mike Trout put up 6.1 WAR last year).

Piazza performed well throughout his career. Only Tony Gwynn had a higher batting average in the 1990s than Piazza’s .328. Piazza set the single season record for hits by a catcher in 1997 (199) and still holds the mark for most home runs hit while in the lineup at that position (396 of a career 427). Remarkably, he has the fewest triples (8) or any member of the Hall of Fame but managed to hit one of them during his two week, five game stint with the Florida Marlins in 1998.

The Absolutely Most Interesting Mike Piazza Card

Have you ever wondered how card manufacturers obtain player signatures for cards slated for release as certified autographs? These cards are often boxed up and mailed directly to players with instructions for signing and a check for their troubles.

Topps made a mistake when preparing Piazza cards for a 2014 autographed insert set. The card manufacturer looked up the address of Mike Piazza, but apparently did not fully verify if this was Mike Piazza the baseball player or another guy with the same name and presumably good hair. The “other” Mike apparently decided to sign all the stickers Topps sent him and I assume endorse a check which was conveniently made out to the same name as his personal bank account. Topps received these autographed “Mike Piazza” items, affixed them to cards, and sent them out to collectors in the wild. The result is a series of autographed Piazza cards bearing a signature that looks nothing like that of the Mets’ catcher.

Achievement Unlocked: 50% Set Completion

This Mike Piazza card takes my in-progress 1993 Finest Refractor set to the 50% completion mark. I found the card at an extremely attractive price due to its being in near mint condition and residing in a PSA 7 slab. I was ecstatic just to have this card, one that is the toughest of his early career to come across. It has always been in high demand, making getting one a tall order in any condition.

Piazza was not originally slated to be part of the 1993 Finest set, but was added at the last moment after fans took notice of the rookie attacking National League pitching.

The near mint card stayed in my collection until late last year, at which point I found another collector emptying out his complete set. That collector had a mint condition example available and kept pricing in line with where they had changed hands prior to the pandemic card boom. With the upgrade in hand, I set my previous copy free on eBay where it was picked up by another collector.

Piazza was not originally slated to be part of the 1993 Finest set, but was added at the last moment after fans took notice of the rookie attacking National League pitching. The pictures used on both the front and back were taken during the in-progress 1993 season, as evidenced by the #52 patch on Piazza’s left shoulder. All Dodger uniforms that year were affixed with this patch in honor of Tim Crews, a former Los Angeles player who died in a boating accident during that year’s Spring Training.