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Dodgers don't remember Mike
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05/13/2002 08:33 am ET 
Dodgers don't remember Mike
Players don't have fans' passion for Piazza party
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com

L.A. fans need no reminder that Mike Piazza is a former Dodger. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
LOS ANGELES -- The New York Mets are coming to town, which to any Dodger fan over the age of 4 is the same as saying Mike Piazza is coming to town.

Fan passion will fill the talk-radio airwaves this week over what many consider the most ill-conceived trade in Dodger history. But that passion is not shared in the Los Angeles clubhouse, where Piazza is a feared opposing hitter and catcher to run on. And he certainly doesn't stir the emotions the way a more recent alum, Gary Sheffield, does.

Why not?

The answer can be found in the number of current Dodgers who have been with the organization since the trade. That number is one.

"That's amazing. Absolutely amazing," said Eric Karros, who is the one. "I never ever thought or realized there's been that much turnover here."

That, and then some. It'll be four years Wednesday since the Dodgers sent Piazza and third baseman Todd Zeile to Florida for a five-player package that included outfielders Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla and catcher Charles Johnson. Piazza was dealt to the Mets seven days later.

The Dodgers are on their fourth field manager and fifth general manager since the deal (sixth GM if you include studio exec Chase Carey, who swung the Piazza deal). In fact, pretty much everybody in the organization who was even marginally impacted when the future Hall of Famer was dealt is gone.

    Mike Piazza   /   C
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 215
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
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Mets site
To the newcomers, Piazza doesn't represent anything Dodger.

"I've never known him as anything but a very good opponent, and it's always been that way no matter what uniform I was wearing," said manager Jim Tracy. "When I see him, I see somebody I don't want to beat us in a big at-bat. I don't see a former Dodger."

When Sheffield hit two home runs last week against the Dodgers, the recency of his Los Angeles tenure and controversy surrounding it could be felt throughout the clubhouse. But Karros said anyone around long enough knows the Piazza trade had an impact unlike any before or since.

All-Star ballot "You can't compare Sheff to Mike," said Karros, who shared a Manhattan Beach townhome with Piazza. "This is apples and oranges. What the two meant to the city, to the club, there's no comparison. Mike's had a greater impact on Los Angeles and the Dodgers than anybody I can think of.

"But the point is well taken. The people in here [the Dodger clubhouse] cannot identify with it, even a lot of people in the front office. That's how much things have changed.

"But I know how the fans feel. The Piazza trade will always strike a cord, just because of the type of player he was and all the things he meant to Los Angeles, and the way it took place, it just created an emotional response."

    Eric Karros   /   1B
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 216
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
A's site
Karros, however, said the Piazza trade drove home to him how fickle the fans can be. Less than two months before the trade, a dispute between Piazza's agent and the Dodger front office turned so unnecessarily nasty that the catcher unwisely popped off on Opening Day. Some fans -- and club executives -- never forgave him.

"It's ironic that a lot of them were booing him right up until he left," Karros said. "I'll never forget the day after the trade. Charles Johnson was walking in from the bullpen and each section rose and cheered him. One day after Mike left and they were cheering the new guy -- Mike couldn't get out of there fast enough for some of them. But as time passed, people's feelings changed about the trade."

After running through Johnson and Todd Hundley, the Dodgers have emerged with a pretty valuable home-grown catcher in Paul Lo Duca, who has the highest current batting average among regulars (.299) and is second on the team with 17 RBIs. Piazza is struggling (for him), batting .252 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs.

And the two teams? Both are in third place as this series opens. The Dodgers will try to turn Dodger Stadium into a home-field advantage, after playing only .500 ball there so far. The Mets have lost seven of their last eight and were 1-5 on the recently concluded homestand. This starts a three-city, 10-game trip for them.

The Dodgers, who have lost three of their last four, send Odalis Perez (4-1) to the mound in the first game against Shawn Estes (1-4), who is 3-7 lifetime against Los Angeles.

Ken Gurnick covers the Dodgers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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