1. Rays

Dave Hyde: One man's odd search for the 122 Mike Piazza baseball cards as a Marlin

Published Mar. 26, 2017

The bond uniting Marlins fans through all the years and fire sales and ownership maneuverings is anger. Raw, even blow-torch-hot anger. It's all many Marlins fans have, right? Which makes this story so great.

This is a quirky story of the odd paths sports takes us. It's a fun, fire-sale story. It starts in 1998 when the Marlins traded Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenrich in a salary dump for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile.

Piazza was held hostage for five games and eight days until they shipped him to the New York Mets. Marlins manager Jim Leyland said every one of those days, "Mike won't be long here." Piazza said every day, "It's an odd situation."

And a corporate lawyer in California had a conversation with a friend about seeing a baseball card from that time when Piazza was a Marlin.

"That'll probably be worth something someday because of the strange situation," the friend said.

The lawyer, Jerry Dworkin, bought the card. No reason. He isn't a sports fan. He didn't collect cards. He went to the University of Miami law school in the mid 1970s, but there was no geographical attachment involved.

"Just seemed something fun to do it," said Dworkin, who lives in Irvine, Calif.

He set the card aside. A few years passed. In 2002, Dworkin stumbled across another Piazza card as a Marlin. So he bought that for fun. And then he found another. And another.

"It mushroomed," Dworkin said. "The cards kept coming."

In 2004, there inexplicably were more Piazza-the-Marlin cards on the market. He didn't know why card companies made such cards. But they were made by all the card companies: Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Donruss, Leaf, Pacific Omega .

Some had limited editions of Piazza-the-Marlin — say, 100 cards in total. A few had Piazza as Met but in a Marlins uniform. Dworkin bought them all to even his amusement.

"This is the only thing I ever chose to collect, for whatever reason," he said.

Each day, he'd comb eBay, CraigsList and Amazon. He'd get alerts when one became available. He'd phone card dealers, haggling and negotiating for some random card of Piazza as a Marlin.

"I've spent every morning for years checking if anything was out there," Dworkin said.

That's how he ended up with 117 cards of Piazza as a Marlin. It was such a strange accomplishment, if that's the word, that Dworkin's mission became known to Piazza.

When Piazza signed copies of his book, Long Shot, at a Pasadena, Calif., book store, Dworkin was second in line. He introduced himself to Piazza as the Marlins-card collector.

"He was aware," Dworkin said. "He shook my hand. As I handed him the book, I asked, 'Could you sign it, Go Marlins?' The guys guarding him said, 'Absolutely not — only autographs.' But when I got back to the car and looked at it, he'd written, 'Go Marlins.'"

Want more than just the box score?

Want more than just the box score?

Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter

Columnist John Romano will send the latest Rays insights and analysis to keep you updated weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

When Piazza was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer, the story got better. Which is to say odder. Which is to say the Hall called up Dworkin and asked if he'd allow his cards to be part of a Piazza display.

So 24 of the best cards were put in the Hall. After the induction, Hall officials asked Dworkin if he'd donate them for a permanent exhibit. He changed a few around, but agreed to it. He had as much fun with the idea as anyone.

"This is probably the most unusual baseball card collection ever for a Hall of Famer," he said. "There'll probably never be another like it. One, how many Hall of Famers are traded in mid career?

"Two, will any be with a team for that short a time? Three, the card industry has changed so much there aren't that many companies around to print that many cards and they've gone digital."

How much did this pursuit of Piazza cards cost Dworkin? He's keeping that to himself, because, "I'd be embarrassed if that got out. People would think I'm crazy."

Some of his collection, including eight of the cards initially in the Hall exhibit, will be auctioned at the National Sports Collectors convention held in Chicago, July 26-29. Not that the non-sports fan knows what that's about.

"As you can imagine, I've never been to it before," he said.

Dworkin isn't finished with his mission just yet. By his reckoning, there were 122 cards made of Piazza as a Marlin. So each day he looks on his computer for the five cards he's missing. He doesn't hold out much hope at this point.

"They've probably been thrown out when someone cleaned out a closet or box," he said. "I'm more amazed than anyone with how far I've gotten with this."

Those were loud, angry days when Piazza was a Marlin. His stats from that time look quirky in retrospect. Five games. Eight days. Eighteen at-bats. A .278 average.

And one man chasing the 122 cards identifying him as a Marlin.


This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge