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HEY MIKE, ZIP IT!

I think Mike Piazza is great.

I think he should be the highest-paid player in baseball, not by a whisker, but by every single one in his Fu Manchu mustache.

I think anywhere Mike Piazza plays in the future, that team is an immediate contender.

I think if that is any team but the Dodgers, Fox’s image among Dodger fans will never recover.

I also think this:

It’s time for Mike Piazza to zip it.

No more talk about his contract. Last I looked, he has a contract.

No more lamenting the future. He is being paid $8 million to deal with the present.

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And, please, no more public protests about being “confused and disappointed.”

After hearing their favorite player spend the first two days of this championship season complaining about his situation, I’ll bet some Dodger fans are also confused and disappointed.

Nowhere in his current contract is there a clause that says Piazza can struggle on the field because he is worried about his next contract.

Wouldn’t that be like a clause allowing the Dodgers to forget to pay him some of that $8 million because they are busy negotiating that new deal?

It is human nature that even though Piazza’s contract does not expire for eight months or so, he would be worried about his future. He works with his body. He could get hurt tomorrow, and then what happens?

It is also human nature, however, for fans to expect that he give them their money’s worth now.

He is being paid $8 million to worry about April through October, not November.

And to think, this contract stuff was going to be so easy. It was fastball down the middle.

The most entertaining Dodger begins his final year before free agency. At the same time, an entertainment giant begins its first year of Dodger ownership.

Then, just before the sale is completed and serious contract talks can begin, that most entertaining player is accused of being selfish by a former teammate, and everybody rushes to the player’s defense.

Mike Piazza had charisma, numbers, history . . . and then he had Brett Butler.

Butler’s comments couldn’t have given Piazza’s career a bigger boost if he had returned from retirement to be Piazza’s designated runner.

By the time their little feud had played out--with the world defending Piazza and ripping Butler--you would have thought Piazza was a saint.

If the Fox bosses didn’t know of their catcher’s impact on this town before that, they should have then.

This contract stuff, it was a fastball down the middle.

Then Tuesday afternoon in a clubhouse in St. Louis, everything changed.

With the rest of the Dodgers and Cardinals talking about Mark McGwire, Piazza chose to talk about Mike Piazza.

If only Piazza had stuck to his winter stance, his vow not to discuss the issue publicly or allow it to become a distraction.

The harder he worked, the quieter he remained, the more leverage he would have had.

Dodger fans appreciate that sort of thing. Every night, the stands are filled with hard, quiet workers.

Piazza’s audience, despite national perception, is not Hollywood, nor does it aspire to be.

I’m guessing that few of those people wanted to hear a monologue after the first game of the season.

Then when the Dodgers foolishly responded--team counsel Sam Fernandez needed to take a lesson from Fred Claire on that one--Piazza fired back with another monologue.

The problem is, much of this isn’t even about Piazza. Although he grew up wealthy, he has always remained an average, sensible guy.

This thing may be a battle that, in the end, has little to do with the catcher who has unfortunately become its spokesman.

On one side is Fernandez, the Dodger negotiator. He’s understandably trying to make an impression on his new Fox bosses.

On the other side is Piazza’s longtime buddy, Dan Lozano, the agent. He’s obviously trying to make an impression on a firm whose only big-name agent, Dennis Gilbert, recently left.

Fernandez can’t back down because, well, what would Peter Chernin think?

Lozano can’t back down because, well, how many potential clients would he lose?

Both of them need to just sit down.

Fernandez’s expectations that he doesn’t need to hurry this deal are unreasonable.

Piazza may love L.A., but he’s not Eric Karros, he is an East Coast guy. He will disappear in a minute, and so will Fernandez’s reputation.

But Lozano’s hopes that he can negotiate baseball’s first $100-million contract may also be unreasonable.

It’s a nice landmark figure, but fully 20% higher than baseball’s next-highest deal. He might have to settle for being the bridge to $100 million for someone else.

Piazza is fiercely loyal to Lozano, which is a noble thing. But he intimated that he will take this battle onto the field, which is a bad thing.

“I’m not going use this as an excuse if things aren’t going well . . . but how can I not think about this?” he told The Times earlier this week.

Certainly, Piazza and Lozano are not averse to trying to use the media to make their points.

But when the team’s best player intimates that his contract situation could affect his play, whether it is a negotiating ploy, that is news. To ignore it would be the same as ignoring a hamstring injury.

The entire English-speaking world now knows what Piazza needs.

Here’s what he doesn’t need:

He doesn’t need people examining his every at-bat and wondering, on that bases-loaded groundout, was he thinking about a new contract?

He doesn’t need people watching every attempted stolen base and wondering how hard he would throw if he were happy?

He doesn’t need people saying, “Brett Butler was right.”


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