Interviews

Mike Piazza: The M&F Interview

The greatest hitting catcher in MLB history is back in the spotlight with a new Norelco ad campaign. M&F caught up with Mike Piazza and talked about staying fit, his favorite memories, and the Hall of Fame voters who are holding out on him.

Mike Piazza: The Muscle & Fitness Interview

M&F: You had the autobiography that came out in 2013, but besides that, you haven’t been in the public eye a whole lot since retiring. I’m sure you’ve had other endorsement offers in that time, so why do the Norelco campaign?

Piazza: When you have a company like Philips Norelco, for me it was an automatic, only because of their reputation in the market place, and the kind of products they produce. But as far as the shaver 9000, I honestly am not just saying this, I was a traditional blade guy. I never thought I would find a razor that would actually convert me into an electric razor. But it’s not even a razor, it’s kind of like a Ferrari of electric razors. I was astounded because you go through life and you’re doing stuff and you don’t think much about it and when someone introduces a machine like this to you, with the contour detect technology, it stays on your face, it has V-Track precision blades, no pulling, you don’t feel like it’s abrasive and it has this clean system which dries and lubricates the blades, wet or dry... Just this morning I had it in the shower, it’s really amazing. 

M&F: The commercial you did for them is interesting for a couple of reasons. They’ve got you scrambling up rocks as a metaphor for how the shaver works—but is that something you really do now to stay in shape? Or is that just something you did for the commercial?

Piazza: Well, living in Florida, there’s not a lot of rocks, so I don’t get to run around like that. But I will say the commercial—we shot it in upstate New York—was a lot of fun and very challenging and I’m still sore from it. I’m still tweaking. I’ve always considered myself in decent shape. Even in my retirement, I’ve always prided myself in keeping in shape. Not game shape like when I played, but I am very active. I like to golf, and do things like that. Having three kids—an 8, a 5, and a 15 month old—you have to be in shape.

M&F: You look pretty lean in the commercial; that’s one thing the a lot of ex-athletes don’t handle well, that transition from a competitive everyday environment to retirement. Obviously the calorie needs for playing a pro sport versus retirement are drastic, so a lot of guys just gain a ton of weight. How did you handle that transition?

Piazza: How to handle the transition… uh, you didn’t really want to see me my first year or two after I retired, that’s why I kind of laid low. [Laughs] I was making that same mistake. I wasn’t egregiously overweight, but I did gain some pounds. I think it came down to me being on the beach, and I looked at myself in a bathing suit, I guess I was with my kids, and I said, “Whoa.” It was an eye opener in a way. Maybe, sometimes you go through life and you don’t do a lot of self-evaluation. Looking at pictures, I realized I needed to really discipline myself. For the last two to three years or so, I’ve really paid close attention to my diet. I lost about 12-15 pounds in the last year. And being realistic about it, I wasn’t doing crash diets, and I just altered my habits and I really starting paying attention.

One of the things I told people, you probably know, but for me, it was mostly about downsizing my dinner. I would eat a pound of pasta and then go to bed. You might as well just tape it to your waist. When I started doing “micro dinners,” like little salads, with quality stuff like almonds, a lot of water and skipping those huge dinners and desserts, I found the weight came off and it wasn’t like this crash diet. It was just common sense. And I also think we’re really conditioned in this country to have a massive breakfast of omelets, eggs, sausage, and pancakes. I’ve just started getting smart, like now, ill have half a cup of oatmeal. If I have a pancake, I’ll have one pancake. I won’t eat a freaking stack or pancakes with butter smacked on. I just try to be smart, and it’s a habit.

Getting into that isn’t overnight, and it’s obviously easier to gain weight than it is to lose weight when you’re at an age like me and you retire from a sport, but it’s just being smart. That’s the only way I can say it. Even wine and beer, you can have stuff like that. You don’t want to be counting every single little calorie, but on the same note you do have to be aware of what you putting in your body, and know when to splurge. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

M&F: As time goes by, does the ranking of different memories change for you at all? Is your favorite memory as a player different now than it was, say, five years ago? I know the 9/11 home run is a moment that always gets talked about, but the three-run homer you hit against the Braves in the summer of 2000 has to be up there; you guys were down about 8-2, and needed an 8-run 8th inning to win. The whole place was still packed because it was a fireworks night, and the building actually shook when you hit it.

Piazza:  Well yeah, that one was a lot of fun. It’s still fun to relive that moment, only because of the timing. Like you said, because the stadium was packed, and the energy was high and you can definitely taste the whole experience there. But you know as I look back, it’s amazing when you become a little bit more away from things you’re able to put it in into better perspective. And I can’t explain… but you understand it—it’s just the energy that was at Shea at certain times. With that said, there were definitely some tough times there. I mean, it’s not pleasant when you’re struggling. But when you’re doing well, it had a certain energy. You know, it was palpable. You could taste it.

I say all the time when people ask me about my memories: Yeah, you can say the 9/11 home run and that home run you mentioned. But for me, there was no other ball park that when we were down two runs and it was the 7th or 8th inning and we got a couple guys on, you can feel that trembling; people wanted it to happen, and they were very knowledgeable fans, they knew the deal. I’ve never really experienced that in any other ballpark. And even now that I’ve been retired and I’ve been to a few games on and off… Shea had that sort of energy that I can’t describe. The knowledge of the fans, and even their cynicism in a way, the frustration… like even when you struggled it made it that much better when you did well. I can’t describe it. There was nothing better than a walk off win at Shea. It was twice as good as winning anywhere else.

I mean, the place definitely had its shortcomings, but it is something I do miss. You miss it because when you’re going through it sometimes—the ups and downs, you take it for granted. And as beautiful is the new place is—I mean, let’s be honest I was there last year and it was amazing, the amenities and everything. Those things are great and I’m happy for the fans that they have a great ballpark to go watch a game in, but it’s always nice to look back at Shea, look fondly, kind of like an old relative that is no longer with you, you know? You just kind of smile.

M&F: Yeah, I have been to Citi Field a lot, and I have yet to feel that energy you’re talking about. You want to talk about frustration—when you see the franchise struggling like it has, what are your thoughts? Because there’s a fan sentiment that the Wilpons just don’t have the money to compete in free agency after the Bernie Madoff scandal. What are your thoughts on all of that?

Mike: Well I mean as a player, I’m just going to dwell on the positives. I think they have a lot of tremendous pitching—they’ve developed that. They’ve made some good trades. I played for Sandy Alderson for San Diego; I’ve always found him a very competent, capable, general manager—a good leader. Look, is there a perfect situation? There is no question everyone will have their personal views on what the team should do, but I personally don’t think they’re that far away. I would like to see them add another bat or two in that lineup, but I don’t think they’re far away. I really don’t.

I think that the offense situation will be addressed. David Wright obviously has to come back, hopefully he’s healthy the whole year. He is a big keystone in that lineup, he’s the big guy and you need to put good hitters around him, guys that can get on base and manufacture runs. I never enjoyed playing for a team that was so streaky offensively. The team that we were on, was one thing you can say is that we were able to manufacture runs when we weren’t swinging the bat that well. That does two things: 1) It allows you to win those games that you should win—one run games that will get you to the playoffs and beyond; and 2) It gives the pitching staff a break. It takes the burden off of them because they know that they’re going to get those games. You know when you win the 7-1, winning the 8-1 games, that’s great but those 1-0, 2-1 games are the ones you need to really prove that you can win and will give the pitching staff more confidence. So I’ve always wanted to do my job offensively for the pitching staff so that they felt more confident.

To be totally blunt with you Matt, they’re not that far away. They’re really not. Look at the way Travis D’arnaud has matured. We have to look forward. We can’t look back, and I think looking forward is more advantageous.

M&F: I hate to do this to you because I know you answer so many Hall of Fame questions, but I do have a Hall of Fame question: There’s no denying you’re the greatest hitting catcher of all time, and you’ve been eligible for two years and haven’t gotten in. The writers who are holding out on you—they don’t make any secret about why. They just say that they’re suspicious of anyone who was successful in the steroid era. Murray Chass says he would never vote for you because he thinks—just because he THINKS—you were on steroids. His only evidence is that he said he saw you had back acne in the locker room.  

Piazza: Ha! That’s kind of embarrassing, too. That’s gross! I was like, “Thanks a lot.” We’ve all had acne in our days…

M&F: I had back acne and I never touched steroids—which I wrote to him with a note that said, “Nice ‘journalism’ buddy.” But when you hear stuff like that, how do you feel? You’ve gone on the record and said in your book that you’ve never touched steroids. So do you get mad when you hear stuff like that? Do you get frustrated? Because these guys are the gatekeepers to a place where you deserve to be.

Piazza: Well, first off, I appreciate what you said, and I appreciate all the fans who have really stepped up and who have really supported me. Personally, I choose to dwell on that. I can’t go around and change or worry about when people have opinions like that. It’s fruitless and it’s a waste of energy. As a player there’s only so much you can do. I’m very proud of my career, and I’m very grateful for my career. I’m grateful for everything that it has given to me. And that’s what I choose to dwell on. I can’t worry about these things. I mean, I have a family, projects that I’m doing, you can only do so much and let the people who make those decisions just make those decisions.

There’s nothing I can do except to say “Look at my body of work. I’ll put it up against anybody.” And that’s it. That’s all I can do. There are logical people out there who can see and understand the big picture—what I’ve overcome. And not only what I’ve accomplished myself, but what other guys have accomplished, and see where it goes. At the end of the day I think you do need to have a certain amount of faith in the system. It is a leap of faith. It’s a process. And you do have to go, “Wait a minute: Joe DeMaggio had 3 ballots. Yogi Berra had 3 ballots." It’s not for me to say.

M&F: To wrap things up, what’s next after the Norelco campaign? You’ve dabbled in broadcasting. Would you like to get back into that? Is it something else?

Piazza: I don’t know‑you know I mean I’m in several business ventures, my family is been in the car business forever and I’ve helped them in the Philadelphia area. I love my freedom now. For the entire existence of my adult life, I worked and had tunnel vision for my career. I’ve always loved the game, I’ve had a great relationship with the Mets, I went to spring training last year, I’ve been coaching in Italy the last four years for Major League Baseball International, and the Italian national program.

I never say never, but I enjoy being around my kids so much that it’s tough for me to really take anything that will keep me away from them for an extended period of time. So we’ll see. I feel like at least I’m humble enough that if I needed to take a step back and reprove myself I would be able to do that; I don’t feel like I need to be a Major League manager tomorrow, which some guys have. I enjoy the grass roots part of the game. I’ve been coaching in Italy the last four years and, trust me, it has not been without frustration, but there’s also a lot of joy. I love the fact that I can connect with fans on social media. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I get so many great people that are so gracious and complimentary towards me and it’s an honor. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I will just always keep my ears open and be grateful.

Watch Piazza's new Norelco ad in the video below:

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