For 17 years, Jerry Dworkin of Irvine, CA collected certain Mike Piazza cards and memorabilia anticipating a day when the long-time catcher was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Little did he realize that he would beat his hero into the museum.
The focus of Dworkin’s collection is a little unique. Instead of collecting all of Piazza’s cards—most of which picture him as a Dodger or Met—Dworkin focused on the eight days in May of 1998 when Piazza was a member of the Florida Marlins.
Piazza’s whirlwind ‘98 season included a blockbuster trade from the Dodgers to the Marlins. In return for their All-Star backstop, the Los Angeles received Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios. Florida never intended to keep him, but it took over a week for a deal to flip him to the Mets to be consummated. In return for a veteran who would help lead them to the World Series two years later, the Marlins received Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall. Piazza appeared in only five games for the Marlins, recording five hits including his only triple of the season, and driving in five runs.
Remarkably, that short stint in teal still produced a number of baseball cards issued by various manufacturers that show Piazza wearing the very unfamiliar colors of south Florida’s favorite squad.
In January of 2013, the New York Times featured the unique collection and earlier this month, 24 cards from his 111-card accumulation went on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of its ‘Whole New Ballgame’ exhibit.
“My goal since day one, recognizing the oddity of what was occurring, has always been to get the cards into the Hall of Fame,” Dworkin told Sports Collectors Daily. “That said, no one is more surprised or pleased than I am that I accomplished it.”
Dworkin traveled to upstate New York for the unveiling.
“I’ve been in contact with Jim Gates, the Hall’s librarian, since Mike first became eligible for induction,” he explained. “When the Hall was putting together the new exhibit for their second floor, addressing the modern era of the game, (Hall of Fame lead curator) John Odell remembered the Times article about me and could think of no other collection that better displayed how crazy the trading card industry got way-back-when. He recalled Jim had my contact info and asked him to get in touch.”
The display, which also includes a Beckett magazine and other collectibles, includes a credit to Dworkin and a description that reads “Piazza played in just five games for the Marlins in 1998 but the overheated card industry still produced more than 120 cards depicting him as a Marlin.”
The agreement calls for the collection to be on loan to the Hall for one year, subject to extension by mutual agreement.
Now that part of his collection (the complete list is below) has reached Cooperstown, Dworkin says he’s grappled with bringing his quest to locate more cards to an end. He owns most of the known “true” Piazza Marlins cards (those that picture him wearing the team’s colors or contain a Piazza Marlins uniform swatch).
But old habits die hard.
“I continue each morning, as I have for 17 years, with my search,” he admitted. “My collection of 111 cards contains some Mets cards which show Mike as a Marlin or contain a piece of his Marlins uniform. Those cards aren’t in Beckett’s count. Many, but not all, of the cards ‘missing’ from my collection were low serialized items, many 1:1’s, that were probably thrown out by somebody’s mom and may not exist. I do know where two 1:1’s are but have been unable for years to get the owner to part with them.”
That owner is Chris Fernandez, another avid Piazza Marlins collector Dworkin playfully refers to as “my arch-nemesis.”
And yes, Dworkin met Piazza after word spread about his unusual hobby. He came away with a copy of Piazza’s autobiography, Long Shot, signed with the notation “Go Marlins”.