The Piazza column at Flushing University today generated some conversation, mainly because not everyone believes he deserves to have his number retired. I think I'm generally pretty picky when it comes to retiring numbers. It's not something that I would suggest lightly, but I truly believe that Piazza stands out in a way no Met position player has ever done and deserves special recognition for it. Even though she disagreed with my column, I thought one poster put it very well when she listed her criteria for a retired number:
* IF Piazza had been a longer-term Met;
* IF they had won a championship with him;
* IF Piazza hadn't been such an insular and basically one-dimensional player;
* IF Piazza had done something more to win the heart of the greater New York community than hit that post-9/11 home run.
I agree that eight years is not a particularly long time to play with one team, but the Mets have a history of shuttling players in and out of uniform. That's part of the reason why more managers have had their numbers retired than players. (Neither Stengel nor Hodges should've had their number retired, by the way. It's almost insulting to see their numbers hang on the wall and not see #31.)
I'm not a big believer in the "championship" argument, because a championship is never about one player. It's a team accomplishment, not an individual one, and it should have neither a positive nor a negative effect on a player's fitness for a retired number. Mariano Rivera deserves to have his number retired for being the greatest closer in baseball history. Derek Jeter deserves it for being Paul Molitor while successfully duping the New York press and Yankee fans into believing he's some kind of clutch god, someone who's really half-man and half-Ultimate Winner. I wouldn't retire either of their numbers for being on the Yankees when they won a bunch of championships.
It's a little unfair to call Piazza "one-dimensional" when an argument can be made that the one dimension made him one of the five best right-handed hitters in baseball history. (Shocking? Try naming four better, then consider he played the most physically demanding position in the game.) His one dimension made him a baseball immortal, so I can really complain that he didn't ALSO steal 20 bases a year or through out 40 percent of base stealers.
The last point is the one that's most open to interpretation. Some would argue (like me) that Piazza had won the city's heart long before the post-9/11 home run and that simply became the defining moment of his career. Others would say he never lived up to expectations and deserves no special merit. That's a subjective argument, so all I can say is that in my mind, Piazza has done more than enough to get his number retired.