Piazza was a late-round draft selection, the 1,390th overall player taken, by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was not expected to ever reach Dodger Stadium much less become the team’s marquee player. In his rookie year Piazza smashed 35 home runs while driving in 112 runs and batting .318 to easily win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. In this excerpt from LONG SHOT, Piazza details his adjustment to Los Angeles and his sudden fame.
EXCERPT: There’s no disputing that California changed me. I loved growing up in Phoenixville and I give it credit for my drive, work ethic, and value system; but after I’d been in Los Angeles long enough to get the hang of it, I was thinking, well, let’s see, I’ve got the beach, I’ve got Hollywood, I’ve got Sunset Strip . . . I don’t think I’ll be going back to Sal’s or Nardi’s anytime soon. I guess that’s how your mind works when you’re twenty-four and the good life is coming at you in waves.
I have to say that California style was not something I came by naturally. I had to step it up. One of the girls I dated said I dressed like a redneck. I wouldn’t have minded, except that I was feeling the need to be more like what I thought I was supposed to be like, now that I had sand in my shoes, money in my pocket, and press at my locker. At one point, I was talking to a friend back home about my first season in the big leagues and he said, “I don’t care about that. Have you slept with Pamela Anderson?” That was an epiphany for me. Is this really what guys expect out of me? And yeah, I was influenced by that. Maybe if I’d been more confident outside of baseball, maybe if I’d been more social in high school, maybe if I’d have completed college, maybe if everybody outside my family (or so it seemed) hadn’t doubted me from the time I was seventeen years old, I wouldn’t have cared what people expected of me. But I cared. I cared deeply. A couple of decades later, with the advantage of perspective, my best advice would be to shut out all the noise and make your own personal choices; to seek after what you think is important, not some shallow, superficial, popular concept of status and satisfaction. Young men are being taught and tantalized by the wrong things. I certainly was. I was sold the whole bill of goods. I wanted to be the rock star.
Thankfully, Eric was there to help me with the particulars, like clothes. Eric actually had a clothes guy. Everybody had a clothes guy—not to mention a car guy and an electronics guy and a pay-my-bills guy. I could hold my own with cars and electronics, but I needed some sartorial expertise in a big way. The Dodgers didn’t allow us to wear jeans on the road; always a suit and tie. Not only that, but the players had this thing going where they’d all try to outdo each other on the plane, as far as looking good. I had no suits and no chance. So Eric introduced me to the clothes guy whom Hershiser had introduced him to, Alex of Best Dressed by Alex. He made me three suits, two sport coats, and some slacks, and I wrote him a check for around thirty-two hundred dollars. My hand was actually shaking as I cut that check. But I knew I had to step it up. I was severely style-challenged. A few people seemed to think I acquired some, soon enough, but that was only because there were professionals around to see to it. Even when I was in New York, playing for the Mets, the famous designer Joseph Abboud told one of my teammates, Robin Ventura, that “we need to get Piazza into some of our clothes. He dresses like a monkey.”
In that respect, Manhattan Beach was my refuge. I didn’t have to dress up to sit in the sand or have a beer at Harry O’s. And it didn’t take long to become well stocked in casual wear. The president of Quiksilver, Bob McKnight, was a huge sports fan, and he’d invite me, Eric, and Raul Mondesi to his warehouse in Huntington Beach and say, “Pick out what you want. Go crazy.” We’d load up on T‑shirts, shorts, sunglasses, flannels, hats, whatever. I once brought along a friend named Eddie Braun who was a stuntman. Eddie called it “the rape-and-pillage store.” We also got a lot of gear from No Fear. I was all set.
I did take a stab at style by picking up a Jaguar convertible as a loaner car. I thought I was becoming a big deal, but the first time I heard somebody yell “Hey, Mike!” at a stoplight, I took the car back. I suddenly realized I didn’t like being a big deal, if that’s what this was. To put it another way: I didn’t care for the demands of the spotlight. For one thing, I didn’t like people calling my hotel room—usually when I was still trying to sleep on the morning of a ball game. Often, it was media. Once, though, when I was in New York for a TV appearance, a woman I knew from Los Angeles called thirty-four hotels to find me. That’s when I started checking in under an alias. My favorite was Hugo Boss.
LONG SHOT was released in trade paperback this month from Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS. This excerpt was reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright © 2013 by Catch 31, Inc. For more information on this or other newly released books, please visit our website: www.simonandschuster.com