The “Crushing” 1998 Vin Scully/Mike Piazza Interview Isn’t That Crushing

Mike Piazza has written a new book in which he claims that Dodgers fans turned against him during his ill-fated contract negotiations in 1998 because Vin Scully asked him about it during a Spring Training interview.

“He wasn’t happy about it. And Scully’s voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles…The way the whole contract drama looked to them (the fans) — many of whom were taking their cue from Scully — was that, by setting a deadline and insisting on so much money, I was demonstrating a conspicuous lack of loyalty to the ball club. I understood that.”

As he started the season poorly at the plate, “Vin Scully was crushing me,” Piazza concluded.

The ‘crushing’ 1998 Scully interview on my alma mater KTLA is available online. Watching it, it can only be hoped that Mike hasn’t seen it, and had it (mis)interpreted for him by someone who has since been treated for paranoia or at least crippling – maybe the right word is crushing - tone deafness.

(C) KTLA

(C) KTLA

“We’re visiting with Mike Piazza, and I’m sure neither one of us would like to talk about it, and yet the millions of people out there watching are interested in it, it is a big story, so consequently we have to address it. And that is, you’re down here, playing out the last year of your contract, coming up hopefully for you will be a multi-year multi-million dollar contract. Is that on your mind?”

Crushing.

Piazza answered generically about trying not to think about it and being blessed with a great family and agent. Twice he said he hoped “it’d just take care of itself.” He went to nearly every cliche except ‘Employees Must Wash Hands.’

Then Scully went for the kill:

“Well to be honest, you know, the outsiders, myself and all the other fans, we pick up a newspaper: ‘Piazza issues an ultimatum,’ and you say ‘whoa! What is that all about?”

While branding himself just a fan, Scully has actually done something that a fair reporter does (and so it is rarely seen or heard or done). He offers Piazza the opportunity to say that the characterization as an “ultimatum” of the timeline he set for the Dodgers to sign him to a new deal – a very fair thing for Piazza to do with free agency seven months away – was inappropriate or incorrect.

Piazza will have none of it. He doesn’t criticize the reporting, he doesn’t criticize the Dodgers. He gives it the old c’est-la-vie: “We basically just made clear our intentions that for me, I mean, I made all along that I would love to work things out with the Dodgers. We didn’t mean it to be threatening, we didn’t mean it to – unfortunately it comes out that way sometimes – but again, I stated I would love to be a Dodger for my whole career and I hope we can work things out and again that remains to be seen. If for some reason I happen to be a free agent at the end of this year I hope the Dodgers are the number one team that’s interested. So, again those things, unfortunately sometimes get a little bit misconstrued in the paper and they come out maybe a little bit aggressive but for me again, I try to be very professional about it and realize my job is on the field and my representative, what he does is his job, so I have to trust him on a lot of things.”

Scully, Question Three:

“Sure. Well ultimatum is a heavy word. That’s the kind of the thing, ‘if you don’t do this, we bomb you.’”

Here that stinker Scully goes again, giving Piazza a chance to say it’s not an ultimatum, that he doesn’t want the thing to drag through the season and potentially ruin 1998 for him, or the Dodgers, or the franchise for the next decade (or, as it proved, all of the above).

But instead of taking this second opportunity to paint himself in a good light, Piazza again tries to have it both ways. Instead of saying ‘it’s not an ultimatum,’ or ‘I don’t think of it as an ultimatum,’ or ‘the Dodgers have unfairly leaked this to make me look bad,’ or even ‘Vin, you’re being unfair to me,’ he again tacitly accepts the term: “Well, again, that wasn’t the intention at all, we just wanted to make clear that for me, again, I basically came up through this organization and my intentions are to work things out and it remains to be seen. But again, as far as I’m concerned, it’s done, it’s over with, I’m here to play baseball, I’m signed to play through this year and I’m going to go out there and give 110% as far as not short-changing myself, the fans, or the organization. And everything else, again, remains to be seen.”

Ah, but that’s when Scully absolutely destroys Piazza.

“Absolutely. And well said.”

At this point Scully literally turns the interview to the question of Piazza’s knees, and then how many stolen bases Piazza had in 1997, and the next we hear of this almost milquetoast chat, it’s fifteen years later and this - not Piazza’s intransigence in negotiations nor the lunkheadedness of the Dodgers’ then-new owner Rupert Murdoch - this Scully interview is what induced Armageddon at Chavez Ravine.

Scully was understandably mystified. “As God is my judge, I don’t get involved in these things,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “I can’t imagine I would ever put my toe in the water as far as a player and his negotiations.

What Piazza was trying to do in the interview, of course, is exactly what he has so belatedly and unfairly accused Scully of so many years later. He was trying to influence Dodger fans. He wanted them to rally to his side. He wanted them to help him pressure the team to give him the money (now a ridiculous-sounding $105 million over seven years – $15,000,000 a season). He didn’t want to issue an ultimatum, but he wanted them to think there was an ultimatum dictated by circumstances and he had done all he could to avoid it and would continue to do so and gee don’t the Dodger Dogs smell good?

Again, one hopes Piazza hadn’t seen the interview and simply had it recounted to him by somebody who didn’t get it. You know: somebody who doesn’t understand English. That Piazza had a totally hit-and-miss record with, and understanding of, the media (if asked in 2000 to identify the most cooperative MLB star and the least cooperative one, my answer each time would’ve been “Mike Piazza”) suggests otherwise.

The sadness here is that until the release of his new book, Piazza’s exit from Los Angeles had been seen as one of the sharpest downhill turning points in the years between Kirk Gibson’s homer and the day the franchise was wrested away from Frank McCourt. If Dodgers fans did have it in for Piazza – because of Scully or their frustration or the shape of his mustache – they quickly turned. For nearly all of the last fifteen years he had been viewed as the victim in the equation, and his departure as an unnecessary and uncorrectable mistake.

Until, that is, he went and blamed Vin Scully, of all people, and forever made it look like Rupert Murdoch was the good guy in all this.

18 Comments

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Just another crybaby overpriced unproFUSSYinal athlete …

BB was a commentator, not an athlete. But other than that, right on.

This is really deplorable behavior on the part of Mike Piazza. It’s just to sell his book which he probably had little influence in writing. I feel sorry for Lonnie Wheeler, the co-author, to have had to sit down and listen to this whiner about how he felt when playing on the team, and how he didn’t get along with teammates, and how Vin Scully ‘crushed’ him during an interview in the last season with the Dodgers. If he really wanted to play for the Dodgers, then he should have just accepted the terms and not given a time frame for resolution. Contract negotiations are difficult enough without the added pressure of putting a time limit on it.
And who is to say our illustrious Mr. Murdoch did not leak the story and call it an ultimatum in the first place. I would not put it past the man to soil the negotiations. Look at all the phone hacking that went on under his nose. Since Mike Piazza did not dispute the charge when given the opportunity, he has no cause for stating what he did about Vin Scully who clearly gave him chances to set the record straight.
This is a clear case of trying to make yourself out to be a victim when you really didn’t make the grade you promised you would. He failed in that season to produce the 110% he promised. And now it has turned out to be a publicity stunt to draw attention to his book. By the way, I wouldn’t buy it.
Great article Keith. Vince Scully is a man of great integrity and I do not believe anything otherwise.

This is like being mad at God for putting the ocean too far from my house.

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I started the book last night – I’m up to his first full season with the Dodgers. I’ve always been a HUGE fan of catchers – Fisk & Piazza – my top two. That Piazza came up through the Dodgers who were MY TEAM until Murdoch bought them made it a double source of fun for me. As a kid who grew up with Vin Scully in her ear every night listening to games on the radio – this who thing makes my heart hurt.

BUT – I agree with your interpretation Kieth. I also agree with your description of Mike as the most and least cooperative player. He was always complicated – he’d have some fantastically fun and insightful conversations with Jim Rome on the radio one day, then clam up and be totally Mr Media/Image savvy coolness the next. I didn’t care though – what mattered to me was what he did on the field and in that way he never disappointed me. Nor did Fisk who has always been a cantankerous New Englander with a mighty chip on HIS shoulder here and there in interviews too.

The book so far is a fun read mostly because it mirrors my memories as a kid growing up watching baseball in the same era as Mike (he’s just three years younger than me). It is well told, but he also comes across as more disillusioned and defensive than I would have expected.

Unfortunately for Mike – Vin Scully will win out in the take back from that interview just about every time. As he should. No one classier or better at his job than Scully.

Good article, Keith. In other words: from-way-downtown-bang.

I can remember a Dodgers pitcher at the time saying that the staff hoped that he got a hit in his first at bat so that he could concentrate on calling the game not his hitting. But to blame VIN SCULLY? How ridiculous!

Even though I am a long time SF Giants fan, Have always liked and respected Mr. Scully. He is a real gentleman. Also, off topic, but somehow relevant; I have always gotten a big kick out of that other die-hard Dodger Tommie Lasorda (yea, I know, heresy from a Giants Fan, I could get booed for saying it out loud). As for Piazza; just another Whiner.

I spend many hours each season listening to Vin Scully– he’s the most fair-minded, positive, objective person I’ve ever listened to when it comes to baseball, and probably in other matters too (though he has contributed quite a bit of money to Republican candidates– forgiven). He turns play-by-play into sheer poetry. And he’s funny too. One day at Dodger stadium there were quite a few flies buzzing around. After noting them for a couple innings Mr. Scully said: “The top of the third inning at Dodger Stadium and the flies rule the infield.” I love that guy.

The best thing about being a great guy or gal is that no matter what anyone else says, YOU know and OTHER folks with good sense know that you ARE that great person. Such a character does not have to worry about a thing, because there are indeed other grand folks who will come along and insist that you are as good as gold! Like you just DID! One’s own life is constantly blogging about WHO one is. Mama used to say, “Your friends don’t need and explanation, and your enemies won’t believe it.” Mama knew. And Vin Scully does too. ;)

One commentator said that the interview isn’t dispositive in this sense: Piazza referred to Scully broadcasting about him, and, in theory, he could have been critical there–but the same commentator made the important point that whatever The Vin said, Piazza wouldn’t have heard it, since he was playing. Now, that said, I have listened to The Vin (he isn’t a big ego, but he isn’t merely Vin any more, you know?) for 40 years and, if I were to criticize him for anything, it would be that he really isn’t critical enough at times (I have thought his friendship with Tommy Lasorda may have contributed him to not pointing out some obviously boneheaded moves). The idea that he would have gone after Piazza in the way he suggests is ridiculous.

This sort of thing has happened once before. When the Dodgers got rid of reliever Mike Marshall, he claimed that the fans never accepted him in LA because Scully never gave him the credit he deserved. Uh, what? The next time Marshall pitched in LA for the Braves, after being introduced, he got the biggest round of boos I have ever heard, and there was not even a hint of a trace of satisfaction in the voice of the play-by-play announcer, who happened to be … yes, Scully. Nor did he say a word on the air about Jeff Kent, if you’ll recall that bundle of cuddliness complaining that The Vin didn’t know when he was talking about when he said that Kent benefited from having a big hitter in the lineup with him. The great Jim Murray, who was one of his best friends, said that the only two players he knew of whom Scully disliked were Marshall and Eddie Murray, but I never heard any sign of it on the air. As it should be.

Back in the 1960′s a washed-up actor named Keefe Brasselle got in the Jacqueline Sussan derby by writing a trashy novel called “The Cannibals.” One of the characters was an egomaniacal comedian nakedly based on…wait for it…Jack Benny. Benny was such a beloved character (try to find someone saying a bad word about him) it generated a backlash against Brasselle as being both talentless and tone-deaf. That’s my take on Piazza. Vin Scully, besides being the only baseball announcer in history who is consistently “better than the game” is one of the most benign media presences anywhere. The idea of him trashing ANYBODY is ludicrous.

Ya know … it’s fascinating to me how many people have to bring politics to this blog when politics has nothing to do with it, and I’ll prove it to you. If you look up donations, you’ll find that Vin Scully is listed as a donor to numerous Republican candidates. Yet Keith Olbermann thinks–as I do, and my politics are close to Olbermann’s–that The Vin may well walk on the water. So will everybody who brings up politics please do all of us who are baseball fans a favor and kindly shut up and leave?

This blog has devolved to the point that there is no point in commenting. You blog-hogs know who you are!

John was preceded in death by her taxi father to current Teamsters President James Hoffa
Jr. It was held in a position to shop around before choosing a coffin as way to
get, it is not your primary customers families. 8, 2014 at 10:00 am Wednesday, October 18, 2010 in Amarillo.
This company was started in 1959. They are a reality taxi as birth celebration in Texas
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Hey Jerk- How about letting actual baseball fans like myself enjoy this blog?

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