Piazza played 'impactful' role on '06 Padres

HOF catcher hit 22 HRs for San Diego's division-winning club

Piazza played 'impactful' role on '06 Padres

WASHINGTON -- While Mike Piazza is most often associated for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, Padres third base coach Glenn Hoffman still has fond memories of Piazza's one year in San Diego.

"That bat in the middle of the lineup helped us out tremendously to win the division in '06," Hoffman said hours before Piazza was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. "Just to see the way the ball still jumped off the bat, the home runs that he hit and then his presence of being around other players was very impactful. [Manager Bruce] Bochy used him well."

Piazza signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with San Diego in January 2006, and finished second on the team with 22 home runs while hitting .283/.342/.501. Although he would turn 38 that September, Piazza started 99 games behind the plate, hit cleanup 107 times and appeared in 126 games overall.

"He was huge," Hoffman said. "We had some young catchers at the time, Josh Bard [among them], and he helped them all. It was invaluable just the presence of him in the lineup. He had been there; he had done that. The years in L.A., the years in New York, he just brought some leadership."

Highlights of Piazza's San Diego tenure included a home run in his first at-bat at Petco Park and a two-homer game and a curtain call from the visitor's dugout in his first series back at Shea Stadium. Along the way, he also launched his 400th career home run and picked up his 2,000th career hit.

Another memory came in the final game before the 2006 All-Star break. The Padres were seeking a sweep in Washington and a fifth straight win overall, as they rallied from a six-run deficit to tie the Nationals, 9-9, in the 9th inning at RFK Stadium.

That's when Piazza stepped up as a pinch-hitter after telling his teammates that he would hit a home run so they could pack up for the All-Star break. Piazza's solo blast off Chad Cordero stood as the difference in a 10-9 San Diego win.

"All I remember that day was it being so hot right before the All-Star break at the old stadium," Hoffman recalled, "and he hit it out of there. It wasn't easy to hit it out of that park, and he did."

Hoffman also saw Piazza's career come full circle, having worked with the catching prospect as a coach with the Dodgers' Single-A affiliate in Bakersfield in 1991.

"His determination and his work ethic were off the charts," Hoffman said of the Dodgers' 62nd-round Draft pick in 1988.

"One thing I remember about Mike, even at a young age, was the strength of his hands. The hand strength that he had when he developed into a man was probably the strongest I had ever seen. With the bat speed and just the grind that he did behind the dish, day in and day out, truly deserving of the Hall of Fame."

Piazza would play one more season with the Oakland Athletics in 2007 -- used exclusively as a designated hitter during an injury-plagued campaign -- but his 15th and final season as a catcher in the National League remains a lasting memory to those who were a part of it.

"To have him in '06 with the Padres was special because I had seen the hard work that Mike had put in," Hoffman said. "It was toward the end of his career and seeing the numbers he had put up, the dedication he had and the way he respected the game of baseball -- it was something."

Ben Raby is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.