With All-Star rosters announced earlier this morning, today will begin a 10-day stretch looking at the top All-Star performances in Dodgers history. Once per day, today through the day of this year's All-Star Game, Tuesday, July 12, we will look back at great and/or memorable moments by Dodgers in the midsummer classic. We begin with Mike Piazza.
By 1996, Mike Piazza was a bonafide superstar, a catcher who was among the very best hitters in baseball. Piazza made the All-Star team as a reserve as a rookie in 1993, then was voted to start in 1994 and 1995. He tried his hand at the home run derby twice, in 1993 and 1994, but didn't hit a single home run in either contest. In the game itself, Piazza started with one hit in his first seven at-bats, but hit a home run off Kenny Rogers in his final at-bat in the 1995 game in Arlington.
Piazza began the 1996 season on fire, and by the All-Star break was hitting .363/.432/.623 with 24 home runs and 63 RBI. Piazza was once again voted to start at catcher for the National League, the third of nine straight times he was elected to start the All-Star Game, and one of 12 All-Star nods in his career. What made this game special for Piazza was that it was in his hometown in Philadelphia.
Leading off the bottom of the second inning against Charles Nagy of the Indians, Piazza tattooed a ball into the seats in left field -- not the norm for Piazza, who was known for his prodigous opposite field power -- his second straight All-Star at-bat with a home run. Piazza also hit an RBI double off Chuck Finley in the third inning, pushing the lead to 4-0 in a game the National League would win 6-0 (try and remember, there was a time when the National League winning the All-Star game was not a total shock).
Piazza took home the All-Star MVP award in his hometown, with his father in the stands, at Veterans Stadium, the park Piazza used to attend as a child. Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times covered that 1996 game, and captured Piazza's reaction after the game:
I'm running out of words to describe all this. It really hit me when I caught Mike Schmidt's [honorary] first pitch. I grew up watching him from the seats behind third base, dreaming of emulating him as a major league player. To have him write on the [ceremonial] ball, 'wishing you the best . . . . I think you're the best,' and then to hit a home run and become the MVP is just indescribable.
Piazza would play in seven more All-Star games in his career, collecting two hits in 14 at-bats, plus a walk. But his brightest All-Star moment came as a Dodger, in 1996.