MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Piazza's proud pop watches son's call to Hall

Lifelong friends with Lasorda, Vince helped jumpstart catcher's career

Piazza's proud pop watches son's call to Hall

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Vince Piazza said on Sunday morning that he was very tough on his son, Mike, as a kid and budding baseball player growing up in Norristown, Pa.

"It made him tough mentally. I really believe that," Vince told MLB.com at the famous Otesaga Hotel. "As I look back, maybe that wasn't the best way of going about it, but here we are today."

The elder Piazza is 87 years old now and walking with a cane. His son was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, along with Ken Griffey Jr., and Vince was in the forefront of the sun-drenched crowd as Mike gave his speech on the stage at the Clark Sports Center.

"He's a man deeply devoted to his family, and after suffering a major stroke a few years ago, [he's] stronger-willed than ever," Mike said about his dad in the speech.

Asked if this was the proudest day of his long life, Vince Piazza couldn't answer the question.

For half an hour, Vince was telling stories about his son and how he got to this point. At that moment, he stopped talking and had to fight back the tears. He didn't cry. He's as tough as his son. That's where Mike gets it.

Catching his breath, Vince then continued telling stories.

Mike was the second of five sons in the Piazza family: Vincent Jr., Mike, Danny, Tony and Tommy. The others went to work in their dad's car sales business, and they remain in and around Norristown. Vince has four grandkids.

"They're all good kids," Vince said about his sons. "Thank God. No problems, no drugs. I'm proud of all of them."

Tommy Lasorda, a lifelong friend of Vince Piazza's, is the man responsible for Mike being picked in the 62nd round of the 1988 Draft when Lasorda was manager of the Dodgers. On Sunday, Mike became the latest Draft pick ever to be inducted in the Hall.

Hall-time great: Piazza joins elite

Lasorda and Vince Piazza have known each other their entire lives, as Lasorda also grew up in Norristown. Vince remembers watching Lasorda pitch on the local fields long before the left-hander was signed by the Phillies out of Norristown High School as an amateur free agent prior to the 1945 season.

That was more than 70 years ago.

The Brooklyn Dodgers plucked Lasorda from the Phillies in the 1948 Minor League Draft, and that is where the long road for the Piazza family really began. Lasorda, also a Hall of Famer, is still with the Dodgers as a special advisor to the chairman.

Mike was born on Sept. 4, 1968, and Lasorda didn't take over as the Dodgers' manager until 1977. By then, the relationship between Piazza's father and Lasorda had continued to flourish.

Lasorda is not Mike's uncle nor his godfather, Vince Piazza said. But that is in name only. Lasorda took care of the younger Piazza is if he were his own son.

"Tommy, you've always been in my corner," Piazza said during his speech. "[He] was always there for me like a guardian angel."

Piazza on Lasorda's influence

Here's how it happened:

Ed Liberatore was a scout for the Dodgers all those years, following Mike Piazza's growth through Phoenixville High School and college at both junior and senior levels in Miami. Liberatore didn't think Piazza had the stuff to make it in the Major Leagues.

Piazza was a first baseman in those days.

"And not a very good one at that," Vince recalled.

By 1988, Vince demanded that his son go out in the backyard of the family home and learn how to catch. When he took that to the local fields, Mike wasn't a much better catcher than first baseman.

Still, when the Dodgers came to town for a three-game series against the Phillies that May, Vince Piazza called Lasorda and asked him if he could work out his son behind the plate at Veterans Stadium.

Lasorda agreed.

Vince recalled taking him to the ballpark and watching Joe Ferguson place Mike under his wing. Ferguson, then a coach with the team, was an outfielder converted to catcher, and Vince watched Fergy take Mike through the paces.

At the end of the workout, Vince asked Ferguson whether he thought his son was capable of catching in the Major Leagues.

Ferguson's answer was an unequivocal, "Yes!"

Let's allow Vince to take it from there.

"I ran up to Tommy's office and who's sitting there, but Ed Liberatore," Vince said. "I told Tommy what Joe Ferguson had told me. Liberatore said, 'You're kidding. He can't even play first base.' Tommy got up from behind his desk and started pointing his finger at me. 'If you're lying, I'll never listen to you again.'"

Vince assured Lasorda that he was telling the truth. With that, Lasorda picked up the phone and called Ben Wade, then the Dodgers' director of scouting.

"I want you to do me a favor," Lasorda told Wade. "I want you to draft Mike Piazza."

And that was that.

"I ran back out on to the field to tell Mike," Vince said. "And here's Liberatore right behind me. He taps me on the shoulder and [says], 'Please let me.' We called Mike off the field and he told him, 'You're going to be a Dodger.' Mike started crying like a baby."

And that's how it came about that Piazza was selected in the 1988 Draft with the 1,390th pick.

On Sunday, Piazza saved accolades to his family for the end of his 30-minute speech. Calling his father a proud Italian immigrant, he addressed him in his native language.

"My father's faith in me often was greater than my own and is the single greatest factor in me being inducted in this Hall of Fame," Piazza said. "We made it, Dad. The race is over. Now it's time to smell the roses."

Piazza couldn't hold back the tears. Ultimately, neither could his dad.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.