PEORIA, Ariz. — A happy — and unapologetic — Mike Piazza was all smiles as he greeted a reporter Wednesday afternoon.
On field number 6 of the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex, Piazza, the hitting coach for Team Italy, was giving instructions to the team as it prepares to begin competition in next month’s World Baseball Classic.
The 44-year-old has been the center of controversy — especially in Los Angeles — since publication of his autobiography, “Longshot,” in which he criticizes another Dodger icon, announcer Vin Scully.
Piazza (along with co-author Lonnie Wheeler) wrote that during his 1998 contract negotiations with the Dodgers, the beloved Scully was “crushing” him on the air about his refusal to sign a $77-million-dollar deal with the team. Scully has denied doing anything intentionally to undermine the former catcher. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Piazza was portrayed as “softening” his stance about the Scully criticism, a premise he denies.
“I don’t back down at all,” Piazza said firmly. “It’s my story and I wrote it from my perspective about what I was going through at the time. I almost — to a fault — have been honest with the media. But people who are real people understand, get it, and realize it’s refreshing. You may not always like what someone has to say, but you have to appreciate the fact that they’re saying it.
“It was never an attempt to be critical or call (Scully) out, and I think it’s important to know that for me, the book was coming from a good place, not from malice. This is what I went through.”
Piazza became introspective as he re-lived the events of the 18-month period that eventually led to his trade from the Dodgers to Florida on May 15, 1998, then eight days later to the New York Mets.
“That episode with the Dodgers was one of the most — no the most — difficult part of my career,” he explained. “It was one of the most trying times of my life. It was very difficult, just a very tough time.
“It was a transitional time for the team. The O’Malleys were selling the team and I didn’t have a long-term contract. I basically thought in my heart that I was going to be a Dodger for life, but it didn’t work out. There was a lot said and some mistakes made, and (in the book) I tried to take people step by step through the process. Try to keep it in historical perspective and understand that this is what I was feeling at the time.
“Mistakes were made, but it definitely wasn’t a boring time, so I tried to bring it into the light.”
Piazza did say that he has no lingering resentment against Scully about the comments he heard.
“Oh, absolutely not,” Piazza answered when asked if he had any personal animosity toward the Dodger broadcaster, who will enter his 64th year with the organization. “I love Vin and I’ve always loved him. I’ve moved on. Everybody asks ‘Have you still got bad feelings?’ No. I’ve gotten over it. It was not my intent to be overtly critical. But it’s the truth. That’s what I was feeling.
“Unfortunately, we live in a sound-bite society and when people pull things out of context, that’s when problems start. I think when you read it as a whole, it paints a more complete story.”
The final chapter in the future Hall of Famer’s Dodger career hasn’t been written yet, and may never be completed.
The Dodgers have asked Piazza to return for a bobblehead night and a few other festivities, and he’s turned them down each time. The healing process apparently still has a way to go before you see Piazza back at Dodger Stadium.
“The timing just isn’t right,” Piazza stated, “and timing is everything. If the timing isn’t there, it just isn’t going to work out. You have to be at a certain point in your life.
“So, with that said, I never say never. I met the new owner of the Dodgers, Mark Walter, at an event with Tommy (Lasorda) and he’s a very nice man. Of course, Tommy’s always in my ear about it. I just don’t know. They still have a lot to get their feet on the ground about; they have a lot of expectations and they spent a lot of money, so we’ll see where it goes.
“I went over to the camp the other day, and so many fans came up, said hi and said they were very supportive. So, as we move on in life, those old feelings fade away. So we’ll see.