NEW YORK -- They looked natural together, sitting behind a podium Thursday, joking about their brief encounters during Hall of Fame careers. Ken Griffey Jr. slid his Cooperstown cap backward for his signature look, then quipped that Mike Piazza spent more of his career wearing a backward cap than he did. Piazza jokingly criticized himself for all his bad pitch calls that turned into Griffey homers.
It was with that sort of conviviality that Griffey and Piazza enjoyed their first full day as Cooperstown electees, though it's worth noting this type of banter could have happened much sooner. Griffey was very nearly a Met, before nixing a trade that would have sent him to New York late in 1999.
The story goes like this: Griffey and the Mariners determined after 11 seasons that, for various reasons, it was time to part ways, and so rather than lose him to free agency, the team put its superstar player on the block. The Mets were interested, kicking around potential deals involving players such as Armando Benitez, Jay Payton, Octavio Dotel and Roger Cedeno. By December, they had a framework in place that the Mariners presented to Griffey, who promptly used his no-trade clause to veto it.
"They only gave me 15 minutes to make a decision," Griffey said on Thursday. "They said we need an answer, it was 11:45 at night, they said we need an answer by 12 -- which is 9 o'clock Pacific Time -- because we're going to dinner. I said, 'All right, you made it easy for me.' I'm not going to wake my wife up and call everybody and try to make a life decision in 15 minutes. It was like, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"
"Unfortunately, I allowed myself to think about our lineup with him in it," then-assistant general manager Jim Duquette said. "I think in any of these deals, you always wonder if he's willing to accept it. But we were a good team and we were on the rise."
That team included Piazza, who arrived in New York the previous season and signed a seven-year contract extension immediately after it. Duquette envisioned a lineup with Edgardo Alfonzo batting second, Griffey third and Piazza fourth -- two Hall of Famers and an All-Star.
Piazza, who was sitting next to Griffey when he recounted the proposed trade, didn't even know how close Griffey came to being his teammate, and at first thought that Griffey was talking about a deal to the Yankees before Griffey corrected him.
"Well, I would have had to hit behind him," Piazza said Thursday, "because he wouldn't have wanted me plugging up the bases for him."
Ultimately, that never happened, though the Mets wound up making the World Series in 2000 even without Griffey.
"We would have had two future Hall of Famers together," Duquette said. "It was really, I think, going to be an incredible offensive team."