Monday, March 28, 2011

M.U.M.'s The Word (Most Underrated Mets): Edgardo Alfonzo

In 1991, the Mets signed a 17-year-old slick-fielding infielder from Venezuela and sent him to the Gulf Coast League. During his first two years in the minors, the teenager made excellent contact, hitting .331 and .350, but he was basically a singles hitter, collecting 12 extra-base hits (no home runs) in 1991 and 18 extra-base hits (one home run) in 1992.

Then in 1993, he finally flexed some muscle, rapping out 18 doubles and 11 home runs, to go with 86 RBI and 26 stolen bases for the St. Lucie Mets. When he followed that up with an even better 1994 season at AA-Binghamton (34 doubles, 15 HR, 75 RBI), the Mets couldn't help but bring him up to the major leagues for the start of the 1995 season.

Although the Mets already had Jeff Kent and Bobby Bonilla starting at second base and third base, respectively, it wasn't too long before both of them started to receive less playing time to accommodate the versatile new kid on the block. Splitting time between second base and third base would become something of a habit for one of the most underrated (and best) players in Mets history.

Fonzie's skills and knowledge of the game were that of a veteran player, leading people to believe that he was older than his reported age, a rumor that was denied by Fonzie repeatedly. Here he is on his Bowman baseball card in a shot taken on his 12th birthday.

Edgardo Antonio Alfonzo made his major league debut with the Mets on April 26, 1995. It was the first game of the 1995 season (because of the strike, the 1995 season was delayed and truncated to 144 games) and the first game in the history of Coors Field. In typical Coors Field fashion, no lead was safe, as the Mets blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning and twice in extra innings. Alfonzo was on the bench to start the game, but with so many pitching changes and double switches needed in the 14-inning affair, he found his way into the game in the tenth inning, flying out as a pinch-hitter for John Franco.

Because of Jeff Kent and the high-salaried Bobby Bonilla, it became difficult for the Mets to find an everyday role for Alfonzo. Over the first 25 games of the season, Fonzie started four games at second base, seven games at third base, appeared as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement eight times and remained on the bench for the entire game in the other six games. In those same 25 games, Bonilla was hitting the cover off the ball (.357, 5 HR, 18 RBI), while Jeff Kent was not (.209, 2 HR, 9 RBI). If anyone was going to lose playing time to Alfonzo, it should have been Jeff Kent. However, the Mets had another problem on their hands - left field.

The Mets went into the 1995 season with David Segui as their starting leftfielder, but before long, left field seemed to resemble a high-priced game of musical chairs, with players such as Segui, Joe Orsulak, Ricky Otero, Chris Jones and Bobby Bonilla all getting their turn to play the position. Finally, on May 24, manager Dallas Green moved Bonilla to left field on what was supposed to be a full-time basis and Alfonzo became the club's everyday third baseman. Of course, in the dictionary used by the 1995 Mets, "full-time" and "temporary" were synonyms.

For the first month of the Bonilla-to-left-field experiment, Alfonzo played mostly at third. Then he played a couple of games at shortstop as Bonilla was moved back to third base and Orsulak was given a few starts in left field. When Jeff Kent was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder sprain, Alfonzo moved back to second base, before going back to third base in late July while Bonilla moved back to left.

With the Mets going nowhere in the NL East, they decided to unload some of their higher salaried players at the trade deadline, most notably Bobby Bonilla. That was supposed to clear the way for Edgardo Alfonzo to take over at third base (dare we say it) full-time. But in August, Fonzie was placed on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his back that almost ended his season. He did play again in 1995, but was used sparingly, compiling only 27 at-bats after August 10.

After a promising rookie season in 1995, Edgardo Alfonzo began the 1996 season on the bench, as Jose Vizcaino became the everyday second baseman, with Jeff Kent moving over to third base and rookie defensive wizard Rey Ordoñez taking over at shortstop. As a result, Alfonzo had nowhere to play regularly and his production suffered. Through July 26, Fonzie had only started 35 of the Mets' first 104 games and collected 174 at-bats, being used mostly as a pinch-hitter. At the time, his batting average was .236. With one home run and 16 RBI, it appeared as if the promising career forecasted by the Mets had been a case of wishful thinking and the 22-year-old Alfonzo had faded before getting a fair chance to truly shine. But just as the trade of Bobby Bonilla a year earlier had given Alfonzo an opportunity to prove to the Mets that he could take on the rigors of playing every day, another trade was in the works in 1996 that would open up a spot in the infield for Alfonzo. This time, he would make sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

On July 29, 1996, the Mets traded Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. In true Dallas Green fashion, Baerga, who had played exclusively at second base since the last month of the 1991 season, played third base and first base for the Mets, while Alfonzo became the Mets' regular second baseman. With an everyday job secured, Fonzie wasted no time getting back on track and fulfilling the promise he showed in the minor leagues. In his first game following the trade of his infield roadblocks, Alfonzo belted only his second home run of the year, helping the Mets to a 5-0 victory over the Pirates. Over the final two months of the season, Alfonzo batted .284 with three home runs and 24 RBI. The numbers weren't eye-popping, but they were an improvement over what Alfonzo had produced when he had no definitive role. The final two months of the 1996 season would also serve as a stepping stone for the rest of Alfonzo's career.

With the arrival of Carlos Baerga at Shea Stadium in 1996, Edgardo Alfonzo switched positions from third base to second base, allowing Baerga to play third. It would not be the last time Alfonzo rode the infield shuttle at Shea.

The 1997 Mets were not your grandpa's Mets. They were vastly improved over the teams that finished below .500 for six consecutive seasons. With a new manager (Bobby Valentine) and a new first baseman (John Olerud), the Mets competed for a playoff spot until the last week of the season. Many players had their finest seasons to date in 1997, including Butch Huskey (.287, 24 HR, 81 RBI), Rick Reed (13-9, 2.89 ERA) and Bobby Jones (15-9, 3.63 ERA). Another player who improved by leaps and bounds was Edgardo Alfonzo.

Despite the presence of a former batting champion in John Olerud, it was Edgardo Alfonzo who led the team in batting average (.315) and hits (163) in 1997. Fonzie's other numbers (27 doubles, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 84 runs scored and a career-high 11 SB) helped keep the Mets in contention for the National League wild card until the final week of the season. Another forgotten aspect of Fonzie's game that he improved upon immensely was his ability to draw a walk. In 1995 and 1996, Fonzie walked only 37 times in 763 plate appearances. That number jumped to 63 in 1997 alone. As a result, his on-base percentage, which was .303 over his first two seasons with the Mets, climbed to .391 in 1997.

With so many great performances on the 1997 Mets, it was Edgardo Alfonzo who received the most recognition in the MVP voting. Fonzie was the only Met to earn consideration from the voters, finishing 13th in the 1997 National League MVP race with 10 votes.

After their return to contention in 1997, the Mets were poised to continue their resurgence in 1998. Unfortunately, one Met who didn't continue his success from 1997 early on was Edgardo Alfonzo. Through May 21, Fonzie appeared to have regressed to his early 1996 form by hitting .239 with seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBI. But then the Mets made a stunning move, acquiring All-Star catcher Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins in May. For the third time in four seasons, a trade made by the Mets ended up benefiting Alfonzo, as the third baseman (Baerga was back at second base now) took off.

With John Olerud (.354, 22 HR, 93 RBI) and Mike Piazza (.348, 23 HR, 76 RBI in 109 games as a Met) firmly locked in the middle of the order, it was Edgardo Alfonzo whose job it was to get on base for them as the second-place hitter, a spot in the order he took over on a full-time basis on July 1. In his first game as the regular No. 2 hitter, Fonzie hit two home runs against the Toronto Blue Jays. While other teams focused on Olerud and Piazza, it was Alfonzo who was quietly putting together a solid season. From July 1 to the end of the season, Fonzie hit .292 with 16 doubles, 13 HR, 44 RBI and 57 runs scored. Unfortunately, the Mets fell short at the end of the season, losing their final five games before being eliminated from the wild card race on the final day of the regular season. The 1998 season finished on a low note from a team standpoint, but after all the high notes (and baseballs) being hit by Edgardo Alfonzo, the Mets couldn't help but look forward to 1999, to see just how far the team and Alfonzo could go. And boy, did they go far.

This pose would be a familiar one for Edgardo Alfonzo in 1999, a year for the ages for the Mets' second baseman.

After two 88-win seasons in 1997 and 1998, the Mets were not going to be satisfied with anything less than a postseason berth. However, their hunger for excellence didn't produce results over the first two months of the season, as the Mets stumbled to a 27-28 start, leading to the dismissal of three coaches. After the pink slip party, the Mets won their next game to move back to the .500 mark, but Edgardo Alfonzo had still not produced to the level the Mets expected of him following his breakthrough second-half performance in 1998. Through the team's first 56 games, Alfonzo was hitting .290 with 13 doubles, 7 HR and 27 RBI. With a renewed sense of purpose, the Mets started to pile up win after win. Not coincidentally, Alfonzo began to rake at the plate, putting together a season that ranks as the best for any second baseman in franchise history. (Did I mention that Fonzie was now back at second base?)

Just like he did in 1998, Fonzie's resurgence began against the Toronto Blue Jays. In a three-game series swept by the Mets, Alfonzo collected five hits (including a double and a home run) and three RBI. The onslaught on opposing pitchers continued over the next 26 games, as Alfonzo hit .327 with 14 extra-base hits and 28 RBI (an average of over one RBI per game). Despite the pre-All-Star Game batting blitz, Alfonzo was not selected to represent the National League in the Midsummer Classic. Fonzie never needed any motivation to play the game, but after his All-Star snub, he played like a man who was out to show the selection committee what they had overlooked.

In the Mets' first 41 games after the break, Fonzie turned into Mike Piazza at the plate. He batted .367 with 14 doubles, 11 HR and 39 RBI. His on-base percentage over the six-week stretch was .418 and he slugged a whopping .645. During the streak, he had a five-RBI game on August 11 and a four-RBI game four days later. But his best game happened on August 30, when he put together the best single game by any Mets hitter in franchise history, going 6-for-6, with three home runs, five RBI and six runs scored.

As August turned to September, the Mets were determined not to let their late-season collapse of 1998 repeat itself in 1999. But a seven-game losing streak took the Mets out of the wild card lead going into the final weekend of the season. With three games to play, the Mets were two games behind Houston and Cincinnati, the wild card co-leaders. The Mets had to sweep the Pirates and hope for some help. They won the first two games against the Bucs and watched as the Reds lost two games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Needing to win the final game of the season to guarantee at least a 163rd game, the Mets struggled against Pirates' starter Kris Benson in the regular season finale. But with the game tied at 1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Edgardo Alfonzo was due to bat third in the inning. Fonzie was one of the team's most clutch hitters during the first 161 games of the season. That formula would not change for Game No. 162.

After Bobby Bonilla (the man whose trade gave Alfonzo his first shot as an everyday player with the Mets back four years earlier) grounded out to first base to start the inning, Melvin Mora got the Mets going by ripping a single to right field. That brought Edgardo Alfonzo to the plate, who kept the rally going by lining an opposite-field single, moving Mora to third base. With the winning run standing 90 feet away, the Pirates chose to intentionally walk John Olerud to load the bases for Mike Piazza. The Mets' catcher, who had already slugged 40 home runs that season, never got a chance to swing the bat, as Brad Clontz uncorked a wild pitch that brought Mora home with the winning run.

With the Cincinnati Reds winning their final game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets needed to win a one-game playoff at Cinergy Field to earn their first trip to the postseason since 1988. Unlike the final game of the Pittsburgh series, the Mets wasted no time getting to Reds' starting pitcher Steve Parris. After Rickey Henderson walked to lead off the game, Fonzie cracked a two-run homer, giving starting pitcher Al Leiter all the runs he would need. Alfonzo also drove in the final run of the game with a sixth inning double, and the Mets went on to win the game and the National League wild card berth. The Mets didn't have much time to celebrate their victory, as they had to fly to Arizona to open up the NLDS against the NL West champion Diamondbacks. Although the team had every excuse to be tired, playing in their third city in three days, one Met who didn't feel exhaustion was Edgardo Alfonzo, and he showed it in Game 1 of the NLDS.

No one would confuse Randy Johnson with Steve Parris, but try telling that to Edgardo Alfonzo. Just as he had done the previous night against the Reds, Fonzie homered in the top of the first inning to give the Mets the early lead. The Mets extended that lead to 4-2, but the Diamondbacks tied it in the bottom of the sixth inning on Luis Gonzalez's two-run homer. The game remained tied until the bottom of the ninth inning when Randy Johnson loaded the bases with one out. Out came the intimidating Johnson. In came Bobby Chouinard, who had only logged 140 2/3 innings in the major leagues with a 4.54 ERA. The batter Chouinard was brought in to face was none other than Edgardo Alfonzo. One swing of the bat later, the Mets had taken an 8-4 lead on Fonzie's grand slam that just stayed fair near the left field foul pole. The Mets went on take the first game of the series, with Alfonzo registering his third five-RBI game of the season.

After taking Randy Johnson deep earlier in the game, the Diamondbacks thought Bobby Chouinard would have a better chance to retire Edgardo Alfonzo. Oops.

After the two teams split the next two games in lopsided affairs (Arizona won Game 2 by six runs and New York won Game 3 by seven runs), the Mets were trying to close out the series in Game 4 at Shea Stadium. It behooved the Mets to close out the series at home because lurking in the Arizona desert for Game 5 was Randy Johnson. The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning when Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a home run to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. It was Alfonzo's third home run of the series, all of which gave the Mets the lead. This time, the Mets couldn't hold on to the lead Alfonzo gave them, as Armando Benitez allowed Arizona to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning on a two-run double by Jay Bell. The Mets were six outs away from having to travel back to Arizona for a do-or-die game against Randy Johnson. But Edgardo Alfonzo was due to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning, and he wasn't about to let the team down.

Facing Gregg Olson, Fonzie drew a leadoff walk. With John Olerud, a left-handed batter, due up next, manager Buck Showalter brought in the lefty Greg Swindell. The lefty appeared to do his job, inducing Olerud to hit a fly ball to right field. However, Tony Womack (who had just been moved from shortstop to right field prior to the bottom of the eighth inning) dropped the ball, allowing Alfonzo to reach third base and Olerud to coast into second. When Roger Cedeño hit a sacrifice fly to center field, Alfonzo scored the unearned run to tie the game. The game went into extra innings, where Todd Pratt won it with a walk-off home run off Matt Mantei.

For the series, Alfonzo only hit .250 (4-for-16), but all four of his hits went for extra bases (one double, three home runs). He also added three walks to give him a .368 on-base percentage over the four games. But the most important stat for Alfonzo in the NLDS was that he scored every time he reached base in the series, reaching base seven times and scoring all seven times.

The extra-base hit parade would continue in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, with Alfonzo banging out four more doubles in the six-game series. His fourth double, leading off the sixth inning of Game 6, helped start a rally for the Mets, who had already fallen behind the Braves by five runs. However, the Mets' rally eventually fell short, as the Mets lost the game and the pennant to the Braves in the 11th inning. Although the Mets failed to advance to the World Series, the team exceeded expectations, with Edgardo Alfonzo playing a key role in their successful season.

During the regular season, Fonzie hit .304 with 41 doubles, 27 HR, 108 RBI and a franchise-record 123 runs scored. In ten postseason games, Alfonzo added five doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and eight runs scored, with most of the extra-base hits coming at crucial points of the game. For his efforts, Fonzie earned his first Silver Slugger Award and finished eighth in the National League MVP vote, becoming one of three Mets to finish in the top ten (Mike Piazza finished sixth and Robin Ventura placed seventh).

Edgardo Alfonzo's transformation from solid player to elite hitter coincided with the Mets' rise to the top of the National League. The Mets still hadn't gotten to the World Series, and made that their goal for the 2000 season. Although Alfonzo had a near-perfect season in 1999, he still felt that he could take his game to another level by becoming a more patient hitter, thereby getting better pitches to hit and drawing more walks. By making that his goal for the 2000 season, he felt that the team would become more efficient and had a better chance for success. Alfonzo was able to achieve his goal and took the team with him for the ride.

Fonzie finished the 2000 season with career-highs in batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.425) and walks (95). He also added 40 doubles (becoming the first Met to record multiple seasons of 40 or more two-base hits), 25 HR, 94 RBI, 109 runs scored and his first selection to the National League All-Star team. However, in a year full of memorable moments, one of them stood out above all others.

On June 30, 2000, the Mets were in the midst of a crucial four-game series against their nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. The series was already one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season series since the mid-'80s Mets-Cardinals late-season clashes. However, this one had an extra appeal to it because it was Braves' closer John Rocker's first appearance in New York after his tell-all interview with Sports Illustrated during the off-season, where he discussed his opinion of New Yorkers. With the game almost secondary to the John Rocker circus, the Mets lost the first game of the series and were in danger of dropping the second game to the Braves after Brian Jordan's three-run homer off Eric Cammack in the top of the eighth inning gave Atlanta an 8-1 lead. The Mets did put runners at the corners with one out in the bottom of the eighth, but Robin Ventura grounded out (making the score 8-2), leaving the Mets one out away from ending the inning. They would wait quite some time for that last out to be recorded.

Singles by Todd Zeile and Jay Payton made the score 8-3 and left two runners on base. Benny Agbayani then walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Mark Johnson then drew another full-count walk to force in a run. It was now 8-4 and the tying run was at the plate in the form of Melvin Mora. He became the third consecutive batter to walk on a 3-2 pitch, making the score 8-5. After Derek Bell walked to cut the lead to 8-6, Edgardo Alfonzo came up to bat. Terry Mulholland, the third pitcher used by the Braves in the inning, was able to get ahead in the count, trying desperately not to make Alfonzo the fifth consecutive batter to draw a base on balls, especially with the dangerous Mike Piazza looming in the on-deck circle. One strike away from finally ending the inning, Mulholland tried to be too careful with Alfonzo. Fonzie drilled a ball through the hole to left field, driving in Joe McEwing (who had been inserted as a pinch-runner for Johnson) and Mora. One pitch later, Piazza scorched a line drive three-run homer off the padding above the left field wall near the foul pole. The Mets had scored ten runs in the eighth inning (nine of which crossed the plate after two were out) against their hated division rivals.

Although the biggest blow of the inning came off the bat of Mike Piazza, it was Edgardo Alfonzo's clutch two-out, two-strike, two-run single that pulled the Mets even, setting the stage for Piazza's heroics. The game personified everything that was right about the Mets in the year 2000. They were loaded with great individual players who could come up with clutch hits such as Edgardo Alfonzo and Mike Piazza, but also had their share of smaller role players, like Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton who would do whatever it took to help the Mets win.

The Mets did not have to sweat it out over the final days of the 2000 season to make the playoffs as they did in 1999, cruising to their second consecutive wild card berth. Once again, the Mets were going out west to begin the NLDS, this time against the NL West champion San Francisco Giants. The Mets would fall in Game 1, but Edgardo Alfonzo provided another big hit that loomed large after the final out was recorded in Game 2.

Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS will always be remembered for J.T. Snow's game-tying three-run homer off Armando Benitez in the bottom of the ninth inning. However, Snow's blast might have been a game-winning home run had it not been for Edgardo Alfonzo. In the top of the ninth inning, with the Mets clinging to a one-run lead, Fonzie hit a two-run homer off Felix Rodriguez to give the Mets a 4-1 lead, a lead that quickly evaporated once J.T. Snow connected in the bottom of the inning. The Mets went on to win the game in the tenth inning, when John Franco froze Barry Bonds at the plate, striking him out with the tying run on base to end the threat and the game.

The Mets won Game 3 on Benny Agbayani's walk-off home run off Aaron Fultz in the 13th inning, but the game would never have gone into extra innings if Edgardo Alfonzo had not tied it with a two-out, RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning off Giants' closer Robb Nen.

Just like in 1999, the Mets had to win Game 4 of the NLDS at Shea Stadium to avoid having to travel across the country for a fifth and deciding game. The Mets gave the ball to Bobby Jones, who won more games than any other Mets starter in the 1990s. However, this was a new decade and Jones was making his first career postseason start. The Mets took an early 2-0 lead and Jones retired the first 12 batters to face him. Then, things got a little shaky in the fifth inning, with the Giants loading the bases on a double by Jeff Kent and two walks. Jones was able to get out of the inning unscathed, but the Mets now had to worry that their pitcher was running out of gas trying to protect a small lead. That feeling of trepidation didn't last long, especially after Edgardo Alfonzo came up to bat.

This Fonz never jumped the shark, but he did jump all over opposing pitchers who dared to challenge him.

Mere minutes after Bobby Jones had escaped from from his first postseason jam, the Mets had put two men on base for Edgardo Alfonzo. Giants' pitcher Mark Gardner, who popped up with the bases loaded to end the rally in the top of the fifth inning, battled with Fonzie for seven pitches, getting him to foul off pitch after pitch. On the eighth pitch, Alfonzo got more than just a piece of the ball, launching a long double to center field, scoring both runners. The Mets now had a four-run lead, giving Bobby Jones his confidence back, which showed when he retired every remaining batter to face him. The Mets advanced to the NLCS for the second straight year, this time facing off against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the relatively easy five-game series, the Mets won three games by four runs or more. Edgardo Alfonzo turned the series into a one-man wrecking crew, hitting .444 over the five games and reaching base an astonishing 13 times (eight hits, four walks, one hit by pitch) for an eye-popping .565 on-base percentage. Fonzie scored at least one run and drove in at least one run in all four Mets victories. Unfortunately, Alfonzo could not sustain his brilliance once the Mets got into the World Series, as he only reached base five times in 23 plate appearances (.217 OBP) against the Yankees. He did, however, have one clutch moment in the World Series, when he temporarily gave the Mets the lead in Game 1 with a two-out, RBI single in the top of the seventh inning.

The 2000 season represented the peak of the Mets' rise to the top of the National League, as well as the peak of Edgardo Alfonzo's playing career. In 2001, with the Mets slumping to an 82-80 record, Edgardo Alfonzo hit for the lowest average in his Mets career, finishing the year at .243. Chronic back problems, which put him on the disabled list and caused him to miss most of June, were believed to be the reason for his poor batting average, although he did manage to hit 17 home runs in 2001, despite missing 38 games.

Obligatory Fonzie fielding photo. After all, he wasn't just a great hitter. He could pick it on the field, too.

In 2002, the Mets attempted to rebuild their team with offense, acquiring first baseman Mo Vaughn and second baseman Roberto Alomar. Yet again, Alfonzo was asked to take the second base-third base shuttle, moving over to third base to accommodate Alomar. It was the fourth time Alfonzo had switched positions in his Mets career, going from third base to second base in 1996 after the acquisition of Carlos Baerga, back to third base in 1997 when Baerga was moved to second, back to second base when Robin Ventura was acquired to play the hot corner, and then back to third when Alomar became a Met in 2002.

Once again, Alfonzo spent time on the disabled list in 2002, missing three weeks in August with a strained oblique muscle. Although his run production from 1999 and 2000 was still M.I.A., Fonzie's high batting average and keen eye returned for one last hurrah in 2002. As late as September 1, Alfonzo was among the league leaders in batting (.332) and on-base percentage (.414), before finishing the season with a .308 batting average (good for 10th in the National League) and a .391 OBP. He also hit 26 doubles and 16 home runs, but only finished with 56 RBI.

The Mets had a decision to make following the 2002 season. Would they re-sign Alfonzo, who could still field and hit for average, but was not the run producer he used to be or would they choose to let him walk, going with other options at third base? During the 2002 season, the Mets had offered Alfonzo a three-year, $18 million contract extension, but after the season ended, the Mets reduced their offer to $11 million over two years. After not taking the three-year offer earlier in the year, Alfonzo would have signed for two years, but wanted $8.5 million per year, a number the Mets refused to match. Instead, Alfonzo chose to sign a four-year, $26 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, who offered him more money and security than the Mets did.

It was a bittersweet moment for Mets fans, having to watch the anchor of their infield for the past eight seasons leave the only team he had ever known. Alfonzo knew how passionate Mets fans were about their team and appreciated all the love and support they gave to him over the years. Therefore, to thank the fans, the normally quiet and reserved Alfonzo voiced his gratitude by purchasing ad space on New York City cabs (see photo, right).

Despite the numerous position changes between second and third base to accommodate other stars, Alfonzo always accepted the moves and did his job to the best of his ability. And oh, what ability he had. The slick-fielding infielder never won a Gold Glove Award for his defensive skills, but that was par for the course. After all, Alfonzo did everything well and never got the accolades that normally go with a player of his caliber.

Look at the Mets' all-time offensive leaders. Only three players are in the top ten in each of the following career totals: batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, runs batted in and walks. One of them is Mike Piazza. Another is David Wright. The third one is Edgardo Alfonzo.

In his eight-year Mets career (1995-2002), Fonzie finished with a .292 batting average (6th all-time), .367 on-base percentage (6th all-time), 614 runs scored (5th all-time), 1,136 hits (4th all-time), 1,736 total bases (6th all-time), 212 doubles (4th all-time), 120 home runs (9th all-time), 538 runs batted in (6th all-time) and 458 walks (7th all-time). Even sabermetricians would be impressed to find out that Edgardo Alfonzo is the only player to appear in the top five in both Offensive WAR (5th, 24.9) and Defensive WAR (tied for 3rd, 4.2). The four players ranked ahead of Alfonzo in Offensive WAR are Darryl Strawberry, David Wright, Howard Johnson and Mike Piazza. Those are also the top four home run hitters in franchise history. The three players tied or ahead of Alfonzo in Defensive WAR are Rey Ordoñez, Keith Hernandez and Carlos Beltran. Those three players are the only players in Mets history who have won at least three Gold Gloves apiece.

Fonzie never led the league in any offensive category, only won one Silver Slugger Award and was selected to play for the National League All-Star team once, yet his consistency in all facets of the game allowed him to finish among the all-time Mets greats.

Whether he was dressed in white or black, Fonzie always provided a consistent attack.

Edgardo Alfonzo was never the big star of the team. Even in some of his bigger moments, he was overshadowed by someone else. Everyone remembers the wild pitch in the 162nd game of the 1999 season that allowed Melvin Mora to score the winning run. No one remembers Alfonzo getting the hit that put Mora on third base to begin with. Everyone remembers Todd Pratt's walk-off home run to win the NLDS. No one remembers that before Pratt's heroics, it was Alfonzo's home run that gave the Mets the early lead or the run he scored to send the game into extra innings. Everyone remembers Mike Piazza's three-run homer to cap the 10-run inning against the Atlanta Braves in 2000. No one (well, maybe some of you do) remembers the game-tying single by Alfonzo that set the stage for Piazza's screaming line drive. Everyone remembers J.T. Snow's shocking home run in Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS. No one remembers that it was Alfonzo's home run in the top of the ninth inning that allowed the Mets to take a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Everyone remembers Benny Agbayani's walk-off home run to win Game 3 of the 2000 NLDS. No one remembers that Alfonzo produced the tying hit that sent the game into extra innings. Everyone remembers Bobby Jones' one-hit masterpiece to win the NLDS in 2000. No one remembers Alfonzo's two-run double in the fifth inning that gave Jones the breathing room he needed to mow down the Giants for the rest of the game. Everyone remembers that Mike Hampton pitched two brilliant games in the 2000 NLCS, earning him the series' MVP Award. No one remembers that Alfonzo reached base 13 times in the five-game series in only 23 plate appearances.

Some people might not even remember his comeback attempt with the Mets in 2006, hitting .241 in 42 games with AAA-Norfolk or his desire to get one last crack at making the team in 2010, hoping to retire as a member of the Mets. That's okay with Fonzie. He was always the humble player, the player who'd rather lead quietly while the other players received the star treatment. It's why he will always be one of the most underrated Mets in franchise history. It's also why he will always be one of the best players to ever don the orange and blue.

One of the best in orange and blue? Fonzie could rock the black duds, too!

Note: M.U.M.'s The Word was a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting some of the best Mets players of all-time who never got the recognition they deserved because they weren't the biggest names on the teams they played for. Did I say "was a thirteen-part weekly series"? That's right. This is the thirteenth and final installment of M.U.M.'s The Word. It's just a co-inky-dink that we chose our thirteenth player to be the man who wore No. 13, Edgardo Alfonzo. We hope you enjoyed the series. For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 3, 2011: John Olerud
January 10, 2011: Sid Fernandez
January 17, 2011: Jon Matlack
January 24, 2011: Kevin McReynolds
January 31, 2011: Bobby Jones
February 7, 2011: John Stearns
February 14, 2011: David Cone
February 21, 2011: Rusty Staub

February 28, 2011: Rick Reed
March 7, 2011: Ron Taylor
March 14, 2011: Turk Wendell

March 21, 2011: Roger McDowell


G-Fafif said...

I spent all of 2003 and part of 2004 in a they-let-Fonzie-go snit. This reminded me why I was so upset that he was allowed to walk.

Terrific's the word for this series, and in Met circles, Terrific can never be overrated.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

I am humbled by your kind words. If not for the fact that these posts took longer than a Steve Trachsel outing that went into extra innings with him pitching all the innings, I'd have continued the series. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so MUM has been silenced for now. Thanks so much for your support!

Sparks said...

Fonzie remains an all-time favorite. It's something of a shame that his body of work was overshadowed by his teammates--guys who may have put up better numbers in individual categories, but none of whom could lay claim to being the total package Alfonzo was. As you say, he always seemed to be right in the middle of all the great moments for which others are more directly remembered. If Piazza was the heart of those teams, Fozie was the soul. It's always good to see items like this one in which he gets his due.