Piazza On Clemens: "I'm Glad I'm Still Alive"

Mike Piazza reflected on his life, career and, yes, his run-ins with Roger Clemens

Zach Gelb
March 26, 2020 - 12:25 pm
Mike Piazza Roger Clemens Mets Yankees

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Mike Piazza dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday for an all-encompassing interview about his life and career, among other topics. 

And yes, he was asked about his run-ins with Roger Clemens.

Believe it or not, it’s been almost 20 years since Clemens beaned Piazza in the head.

“Not to sound sort of flippant about it, but I’m glad I’m still alive,” Piazza said on The Zach Gelb Show. “I tell people all the time when I first saw it, it could have killed me. So I was happy I got my head down and I was able to get the ball off the helmet. But it’s still one of those situations that was unfortunate all around. It was, to me, a stain obviously on my career and I’m sure for him. He probably would want to take it back. I can’t speak for him. He’s never really talked about it, so it’s tough for me to comment on how he feels about it.”

The beaning occurred July 8, 2000. Three months later, the Mets and Yankees squared off in the Subway Series. In Game 2, Piazza hit a broken-bat foul ball against Clemens, and you probably remember what happened next: Clemens hurled a piece of Piazza’s bat back in his direction.

The Yankees won the game, 6-5, and the series, 4-1. Three of their four wins came by one run.

“We blew some opportunities in the World Series and probably missed a chance to be the world champions,” Piazza said. “But you’ve got to take your hats off to the Yankees. They had great teams and we had epic battles and great games that fans today still remember.”

While Piazza’s run-ins with Clemens are the stuff of legend, his altercations with Guillermo Mota, which came in 2002 and 2003, aren’t far behind. 

“That was one of the few times where I became unglued, really,” Piazza said of the 2003 incident. “He had beaned me the year before. It was like 3-0. He put it right in my back and I kind of looked at him, and he gave me this expression. I thought he was going to go, ‘Hey, I’m having a bad day. I can’t find the plate.’ But he gave me a weird sort of look, and I remembered it. So I just started fuming. . . . I went up to him and I was like, ‘Hey, you got a problem with me?’ Next thing I knew, I had my hands around his neck.’ 

“And then the next year, I’ll never forget it,” Piazza continued. “I was like, ‘He’s going to drill me here, and then I’m going to go out and get him.’ And he did, and I did. That was a pretty good brawl, too. . . . That’s one of the few moments I think I was completely out of my mind.”

Piazza, though, may have gotten the last laugh. After all, he’s a Hall of Famer and considered by many the best hitting catcher of all time.

Not bad for a 62nd-round pick who didn’t even make varsity as a high school sophomore.

“I think it’s learning from adversity and learning from frustration and learning from failure,” Piazza said, explaining his success. “Not making the varsity team at 10th grade . . . the athletics in that region were strong. I was blessed to have great competition, but I had setbacks. I always tried to be a good team guy. I remember throwing batting practice when I had a cast on my left and because I tore a ligament in my hand, and my coach was like, ‘Can you help out the team?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was a catcher, so I throw pretty nice four-seamers for the guys to hit. So I always tried to stay positive. 

“I tell people all the time, your attitude [is so important],” Piazza continued. “I saw so many guys that were so much more talented than me. They could run, they could throw, they could hit – and they just either didn’t have a great attitude, they had personal issues, they couldn’t quite focus and get it done, or they didn’t have the confidence – and it’s a shame. Some of these guys were blessed with talent. Look at me. Look at my situation. I just kept going like a drill bit. I just keep going and going and finally I broke through. I was in the right place at the right time, and I was ready.”

Piazza, 51, is keeping busy in retirement. He is a part of several businesses, but would he ever consider managing in the big leagues? After all, he has coached Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic and is slated to manage the squad in 2021.

“To be a manager in this day and age, it’s a lot of bandwidth,” he said. “My situation with Italy makes it easy for me to get in and get out. I’ve coached for them. I played for Italy in the first Classic. . . . So, managing in the big leagues, it’s a whole different animal. It’s a full-time job. I never say never. This is fun for me to keep my toe in the game and keep current and learn all the new things, but here’s a lot you have to learn. The game has changed. I’ve been retired well over 10 years now, and it’s definitely something that you have to stay current. So we’ll see what happens, but I’m excited about this project.”