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Barbara Terry interview with Mike Piazza

When you think of Mike Piazza, you think of the all-time home run champion for Major League Baseball catch­ers, hitting 400! You think playboy, because of his good looks and success. You think of a 12-time all-star during a career that is likely to end up getting him into the Hall of Fame. You don’t necessarily think of a family man and a guy that’s hip on car dealerships.

All right Mike, let’s start with the very beginning. What was your first car?

I believe it was a, yes, it was a ’72 Nova. It was kind of neat. It had the air shocks in the back with the air hose. It was red. My father was in the car business so we always had a plethora of cars. I even had an IROC Z.

What motor did you have in the IROC Z?

I don’t even remember. I think it was the larger motor. The sport with t-tops and stuff. That was standard issue in high school for me. What else did we have? We had a bunch of stuff. Like I said, the good thing about being in the car business was that you get so many trade-ins. I mean, my first job was when I was 12 years old, washing cars down at my dad’s car lot. So I was driving around the parking lot when I was 14. I’ve always loved cars and it is such a big part of my fami­ly history.

Your dad’s dealership, was it a used car dealership or was it a franchise?

My dad started with used cars and then he was one of the first Datsun dealers in this country in 1968,1 believe, which is now Nissan. Then he eventually went into Honda. He got a Honda franchise, and the gas crunch hit in the ’70s. They did really well for him, especially in the last year or two, as there’s been a big push for hybrids because of the gas prices. Remember, back in the ’70s, there was a gas crunch and people were lin­ing up for gas? Do you know what I’m talking about?

Mike, I was not pumping gas in the ’70s, so I do not remember that!

There was this gas crunch in the ’70s and people were waiting for gas. I don’t know if it was OPEC or what.

Each station had a certain allotment of gas per week and when they sold out, they were done. So, the point is, there was a rush on Hondas. They were selling hun­dreds and hundreds of Hondas a month based on what was going on with gasoline.

Cars are cool.

No, they are very cool. It’s a part of Americana. Like the way horses were in the 1800s and horseless carriages were in the 1900s. There’s something about America and its vastness and the freedom it offers, you know.

People love to drive with the top down. It gives them a sense of freedom, it’s what the United States is, where­as, in Europe, the towns are laid out in a communal sense. You have the plaza orthe piazza and the church.

You could walk to church or walk to breakfast or walk to coffee. This country is a little more based on the automobile. I’m going off on a weird tangent here.

That’s okay (ALL LAUGH). You mentioned you were driving at 14. How old were you when you got your dri­ver’s license?

Seventeen.

Why were you 17 and not 16?

Because my dad wouldn’t let me drive. He thought if I drove at 16, that I wouldn’t be as focused on baseball.

Ohhhhh.

Yeah. I think it goes back to what I was saying. You’re rebellious at that time. I think if I got my license at 16,1 would have been too worried about cruising for girls instead of baseball.

That’s what we all did at 16.

Yeah, but I remember him telling me,’If you get to the Major Leagues, you’ll have all the cars you want and all the girls you want but you have to get to the Major Leagues first’ I remember him saying those words, so, again, I have to thank him for that.

Your dad was very insightful and correct regarding his beliefs in your future career.

He was right, so maybe, again, I have to thank him. In his defense, too, I was a very aloof, free-spirited kid. It all worked out, as you can see.

Okay, so you got your driver’s license when you were 17 and you had a Nova. Can you tell me more about the Nova. Was it a trade-in at your dad’s dealership?

Yeah, it was a trade-in. I actually think a friend of his had it and then I drove it for a few months. I really only had it for a couple of months, then I just started looking around at other cars. I would be at my dad’s dealership when a trade- in would come in and would drive the salesmen crazy because they wanted to resell all of the trade-ins, but I wanted dibs on some of them.

This is how I got my IROC. It was funny because I remem­ber that car, being as I have an affinity for those late-’60s muscle cars – the Camaros, the GTOs, the Chevelles. I love watching auto auctions on TV. I think it’s cool. But I’m more into the one-off classic car look with a new car vibe. I’m not big into the whole complete reproduction, which I think is cool, but I like the newer versions of the old car.

Of course! Like the new Camaro and/or the Challenger coming out. What do you think about the Saleen Mustangs?

I think they’re cool cars. I’m not a huge Ford aficionado. Obviously, some people are Ford and others are Chevy. There are a few Fords that I like, but I was always big on GM – a little bit of MOPAR and I like the Chargers. I watched The Dukes of Hazzard as a kid and those are cool cars. Some guy here locally has a beautiful Charger. He’s trying to sell it and keeps reducing the price.

How fast have you gone in a street car?

It’s pretty funny. I had a ’97 Mercedes S-600 in California when I played with the Dodgers. It’s so funny, but I don’t want to tell it. A friend of mine is a guy named Eddie Braun – a Hollywood stunt man. He has crashed cars his whole life. He’s Charlie Sheen’s stunt double and I met him in California. He’s huge. So I had this, not the SL, but the S, the 600, the two-door with aftermarket 19-inch Pirellis. I just remember we were going down the 405 with no traffic, about 11:30 in the morning. Eddie kept telling me to step on it so we could see what it could do. So I hammer it down. This car was a monster, the V12.1 look down and I’m doing 120, and I blow right by a C.H.I.P.

No way.

Yeah. He pulls me over. He comes up to the window. He says, ‘License and registration.’ Then he says, “Where you going so fast, Mike?’ Just like that. Apparently he recog­nized’ me. I was playing for the Dodgers, so I was some­what recognizable, I guess, and my buddy Eddie said, ‘Officer, I’m a stunt guy. It’s my fault. I encouraged him. I said let’s see what this can do.’ He was totally trying to help me out and this guy goes, ‘Do you know this girl?’ He just started to make small talk and didn’t give me a ticket. I told him, ‘Officer, I never drive like this – wide open road, not a truck in sight – so I opened it up.’ I don’t want to say that’s an excuse, but this was the most safe condition where you could actually do that. This was so straight, at a point after Laguna Beach, where you could see for five miles. I ham­mered it and never felt anything like it It was, like, 120. That’s it -11:30 in the morning and I got pulled over.

It’s too tempting not to feel the rush of the speed when you have perfect conditions.

I’m not advocating breaking the law, but you’re right. I find it hard to believe that someone in the middle of Montana in the summer with five lanes and no cars… again. I’m not saying it’s okay, but, if you’re going 100 miles an hour, nobody’s going to notice.

I love coming to Florida. It is so laid back here.

Yeah. There are so many cars out there now, it really is dangerous. You don’t know. In Florida, a cop told me 20 per­cent of the drivers are over 80.

Oooooh!

That’s one in five over 80. With that statistic, you have to be careful. You have to drive defensively.

It should always be about safety and safety first.

Yeah. Now I have Cheerios on the floor of my Mercedes.

Do you ever see yourself owning a hybrid; don’t you want to go zero to 60 in 30 minutes?

That’s a good question. The Escalade – isn’t that the biggest contradiction-the Escalade hybrid. It’s like having a huge golf cart.

Yeah. You don’t have the horsepower like you would with a big V8 gas engine, so do not expect to really be able to punch it.

Until they really perfect the technology of some kind of alternative fuel, whether that be the hydrogen cell or the hybrid, I think I will stick with my current cars.

Have you heard about the Tesla?

Yeah, the four-door they’re now making. I just had the Car and Driver that it was in, and that’s a pure plug-in car, right?

Yes, and it does have quite a bit of umph and get-up- and-go!

No, I don’t doubt that. I think the question is, again, if you plug it into the wall, you’re still using some form of fossil fuel – some coal plant or whatever – unless it’s nuclear. I don’t know. I have no problem with alterna­tive fuels. I think it’s cool and there is a market for that one day. I don’t think you’ll ever get the gas-fueled combustible engine out of the Americana, as it is in our blood. Of course, you can tone it back. If you have a Prius you take to work every day, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not saying you always have to have a Ferrari or a Mercedes, but I think there is an affinity for a combustible engine in this country. I don’t ever see it subsiding.

Well, it can’t totally. For instance, you take the South, you take construction workers. They’re never going to work out of a Prius. They need a truck. They’ll have to have their three-quarter and one-ton pick-up trucks to use for their careers, to make a living.

You’re right. It’s like when I travel; I take the babysitter and my wife, my daughter and the luggage and her coach and other stuff. So I have to call for an SUV to pick us up at the airport. Am I going to take two Priuses? We’re a traveling culture, we’re a driving culture and I think alter­native fuels are great. I think they should be pursued and perfected. I think it would be great to pull up and get hydro­gen. It would be cheaper. I just don’t want to end up like the Hindenburg. I don’t want to blow up.

(LAUGH) When you first got signed to a big contract what was the car that you went out and grabbed up?

That’s a good question. I would say, not when I first got signed, but that Mercedes was like my first toy car, that two-door.

Now you have a Mercedes and a Range Rover. What other cars have you owned?

Living in New York, I always had an affinity for Mercedes. I had one of the first BMW 7 Series in this country-the new 2002, black 745.

You know not to buy the first year of any new model. Why’d you do that?

Because I wanted it. Because I wanted to be the first to have one.

They had a series of mechanical problems with that new body 745 in 2002, so your car probably spent more time in the shop than in your garage, right?

Yeah. I don’t follow suit with most people. Usually you’re either a BMW guy or a Mercedes guy. I like them both. I think the BMW 7 Series is a great driving car. My Mercedes S-550 I have now is a great car. I think there’s something to be said about German engi­neering. The doors shut more crisply.

Nice luxury suspension. There’s a butt for every seat. That’s why so many manufacturers stay in business – because we all have different tastes.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s like with wine – there’s French wine, a little more European, a little smoother. There’s California wine, a little more robust; Cabernet, out-of-the-barrel drinkable, a little smoother. I think that’s the cool thing, and I’m into being all over the map. If I see a car and I like it, then I will buy it. I don’t stick to a genre.

Do you have your eyes on a particular vehicle now?

Yeah. I want the four-door Lamborghini, black exterior with parchment/tan interior or the silver. I just don’t know if I want to pay $400,000 for a car.

A four-door Lambo?

I think it’s cool. I have to have a baby seat in the back.

I can’t have a two-door anymore. When you have kids, your whole life changes.

What has been your favorite car from the get-go?

That’s a good question. That’s like picking a favorite fla­vor of ice cream, a favorite candy.

You probably have a certain passion for each car that you have owned.

I was never a huge Porsche fan. It’s sort of smaller and I’m a bigger guy, so it’s tough for me to get in. I’ve always liked larger formatted cars with four doors, and with that said, yeah, it’s fun driving a Ferrari. I was actually considering getting the, you remember the 456 GT automatic Ferrari. When it first came out it was the first automatic car that I can recall. It had a front engine, so it was kind of a cool car.

I see you cruising down South Beach in a Bentley Arnage.

The Bentley Arnage. Maybe the Silver Spur, but I don’t know about the Arnage. I would have to say that this is the largest collection of Bentleys in the world, in South Beach. There’s no question. It’s funny, you pull up to a hotel and you expect special treatment with a Bentley. I have a friend and we joke. We’re, like, There’s anoth­er Bentley and another Bentley. There’s another Bentley.’ Yeah, when those first came out, they were all over the place. But look how Bentley got in that market, that higher-end luxury market in the U.S.

SUVs, without a doubt give you a sense of security by being elevated.

Oh my God, you just want a fighting chance if, God for­bid, you get in an accident. There’s something to be said about that. With a lot of cars in America, there are also a lot of bad drivers…really bad drivers. I now think, as a parent, your priorities shift. You kind of become more evolved. I want my daughter in a nice safe Mercedes with something around her.

What Mike was most proud of was his wife, daughter and family. He seemed to be at a very happy place in his life, improving his dream homea renovation project he began as soon as he retiredand building a family.

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athletes, baseball, boxing, Dallas Cowboys, fast, football, golf, nascar, olympics, WWE

Barbara Terry interview with Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer Is known as ‘The King’ for many reasons. He was king of the golf world for years, being the first man to reach a million dollars in earnings; and having won seven majors throughout his career, includ­ing the Masters four times fbetween 1958 to 1964); the U.S. Open in I960; and the British Open in 1961 and 1962. He is the king of charity, too, having won numerous humanitarian and golf achievement awards over the years. He is also king of the business world, as he’s an excellent entrepreneur, helping found the Golf Channel and owning successful car dealerships

Arnold’s choice in his Cadillac dealerships is a perfect fit for him because, in reality, he’s the Cadillac of golf. He has set the pace that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have followed and driven themselves to break. Arnold was very enjoyable and informative, and very passionate about aviation throughout the course of this interview.

What was your first car that you owned?

You don’t want to go back that far.

I do if you do.

Well, the first car I had was a two-door Ford sedan, and it was a 1949.

Okay. Did you buy it with your own money or was it given to you?

I bought it with my own money, as I have with every car or every mode of transportation that I have ever had.

Let’s start off with airplanes and your fascination with flying. Then we can get into your history with cars, other modes of transportation and your car dealer­ships.

When I was very young I went on a golf trip to play a tournament as an amateur. It was a DC3, which was a mode of transportation in those days. I flew through a thunderstorm on my way to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It scared the life out of me. I saw things I had never heard of and I didn’t know what was happening. So, having been scared, I decided that, in my life, I was probably going to do a lot of flying and traveling. That was going to be very important to my destiny.

As soon as I got home, I decided I was going to learn more about aviation and traveling. As the years went by, I studied and worked on learning more about avia­tion, and the first year that I became a professional and I had enough money, I started adding to that by taking flying lessons. Time went on, and within two years, I had a private license and started flying by myself to various exhibitions and tournaments. I found that, in doing that, it afforded me the opportunity to do my work-meaning play golf-and do exhibitions. And it allowed me to spend time with my family. I would go out in the morning, for example, play an exhibition, do the things I needed to do and then fly home at night so I was with my family.

As time went on and I started playing more tourna­ments, I found that I could get to the tournament sites far easier flying than I could driving. The first couple years, I drove across the United States. I drove to L.A., back to the East coast, back to the West coast. That was very trying. After about five years of that, I was to where I could afford to fly more and I flew commercially. That started in about 1955, and about 1961, I bought my first airplane – a twin-engine Aero Commander. By then, my family had grown a little and, during the summer, I put my wife and children in the airplane with me and I flew to the golf tournaments.

As my schedule got more hectic, I bought another air­plane in 1963, which was a 560 Aero Commander. I bought that new and, because of the heavy schedule, I hired a pilot part-time to go with me to help take care of the air­plane and to fly with me to tournaments. As the years went on, I had a great interest in some of the executive travel that was going on. I was watching the executive airplanes turn into jets. In 1966,1 leased a Jet Commander and I flew that for two years. The lease ran out and I made a new deal with Lear for a Lear 24. That deal was a nine-year deal. I flew it myself with the pilot who accompanied me, took care of the airplane and did a lot of the stuff that was necessary to be professional and fly yourself around the country.

Nine years I did that, and then, in 1976,1 had a good friend who was an attorney who represented me. He became an aviation expert and became a part of Cessna. So, when the lease ran out on the Lear 24, I went to a Cessna Citation 1. That was one of the first Cessna Citations built. I got the No. 1 Citation 2. That was in 1978. Then, in 1983,1 got a Citation 3.1 had a couple of those. And then, in 1992, I got a Citation 7. In 1996,1 got a Citation 10-the No. 1 pro­duction airplane. Then, in 2002,1 got my second Citation 10 and that’s what I’m flying today. I fly these airplanes myself. I go to Flight Safety once a year to do my recurrent training for the Commander, all the Citations and the Citation 10. I’m somewhere in the area of over hours of flying. I fly my airplane everywhere I go.

Is there a favorite place that you like to fly to?

Everywhere that I fly to, I go on business. I fly for golf, for business. One of my favorite places, of course, where I do a great deal of business, is Palm Springs, California. I do like to fly there.

How old were you when you first got your pilot’s license?

I was 26 years old.

Have you ever been caught up in the air in a bad thun­derstorm? Other than the first one you told me about?

I have been in thunderstorms flying on numerous occasions and, particularly, in my early days. The first airplanes that I flew did not have radar. So I flew in weather, and occasionally, I got in a thunderstorm, yes. In those days, it wasn’t quite like it is today, where you can get directions around thunderstorms. In my early days of flying, if you flew on instruments, you were inevitably going to fly in thunderstorms. That was just a part of the business of flying.

What’s been your all-time favorite plane that you’ve owned or had from the get- go?

Citation 10.

At what year did you open up your first car dealership?

The first dealership I had was in 1981. That was Arnold Palmer Motors.

How many dealerships do you have now?

Well, we built the dealerships up to nine and I have sold all but one. I still have Arnold Palmer Motors in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

While flying yourself around on the golf circuit, did you find that you were the only player doing so, or were there other players also flying themselves around?

No, actually, there were some before me. A guy by the name of Johnny, who goes way back. He was a pilot and did some flying. Then guys like Lloyd Mangrum had a Bonanza. Jimmy Demaret had an airplane that he flew. There are others, I just can’t come up with all of them. And, of course, in the early days, not long after Jack Nicklaus came on the tour, he got an airplane. He wasn’t a pilot, but he had an airplane and he had a crew that flew him wher­ever he wanted to go.

What do you currently have going on,? Do you do a lot of charity work? You mentioned that you still fly to events. What current events do you have going on?

I have the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women; the Arnold Palmer Medical Center here in Orlando. It’s quite large. We have, in the medical cen­ter, we have the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Children and Women. That’s brand new and it’s huge. We have the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in that medical cen­ter, we have a trauma center in that medical center and we have a cancer research center in that center. I have an Arnold Palmer Pavilion, which is a cancer treatment center in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I have a prostate cancer center in the Lucy Curci Cancer Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, California. We have a hand center that is in Baltimore – Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. And a guy by the name of Tom Grant, who is in charge of that, is doing some work with people like John Kanzius, who is working to help cure cancer with M.D. Anderson. And I’m chairman of the hospital foundation at the Excela Latrobe Hospital.

Don’t you have an annual golf tournament that you host?

I have a tournament here at Bay Hill that is an annual tournament that is called the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It goes on every March. One of the recip­ients is the Arnold Palmer Hospital or Medical Center here in Orlando.

If you had a dream plane that you have yet to acquire, what would that plane be?

Just the Citation 10.1 just want to keep it. I love it.

What all do you love about it? Tell me a few key things.

It’s my second Citation 10; I had the first production model. I’m now at 176 production-the fastest private executive jet in the air. It seats 11 people and it’s a wonderful vehicle to get around the world in.

Is it a common thing, in this day and time, that players fly themselves on the circuit?

There’s a few of them that have airplanes that take themselves from one course to another, such as Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus. But they do notflythe air­planes, they have crews that fly them.

Do you happen to listen to music while you’re flying?

No, I’m busy working. I can’t afford the luxury of music while I’m flying an airplane. I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.

Arnold Palmer is all about class. From major championships to Cadillacs to airplanes, he exudes elegance and style. He is one of the greatest golfers of all time and, along with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones, is one of the few professional golfers that can truly be included In the conversation as perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. It was a pleasure to interview him and it’s a true honor to have him included in this book.

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