I don’t think the 2012 Mets will be as bad as most people seem to think … but that’s not the same thing as thinking the 2012 Mets will actually be good.
I’ll think they’ll be mediocre, with a relatively robust offense but too many No. 4 starters in the rotation and too many improved teams in the National League East. And like a lot of mediocre teams, I think we’ll only be able to take their measure a few years further down the road. Looking back from the vantage point of, say, 2015, the 2012 Mets might strike us as a team that was beginning to benefit from the sounder foundation built by Sandy Alderson and Co. in preparation for the Wilpons’ return to financial health and the blossoming of the farm system. Or they might strike us as a pointless way station before the last of Omar Minaya’s contracts ran out, Alderson and his team escaped and the Mets took up residence in the cellar as the Pirates East, with fans pleading for Bud Selig to finally take the team away from its penniless ownership.
I’ll hope for the former — while bracing for the latter.
But either way, this isn’t going to be a great team in 2012. It’s going to be one that will play with plenty of black clouds over its head. And it’s one that could use some distractions.
We’ve got some distractions already — the return of uniforms like they oughta be, the reappearance of Banner Day, and the retraction of distant fences. I don’t mean that to be cynical — I think the first two are great ideas and the third is worth a try. Distractions in the service of worthy causes can be good things.
But how about another one — one that’s openly sentimental and admittedly a bit foolish?
It’s starting to be a long ago somehow, but once upon a time the Mets boasted The Best Infield Ever — John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura. They never won a title — Olerud departed for Seattle, Ventura’s renaissance proved fleeting, and Ordonez’s uselessness at the plate and shortcomings as a person became impossible to ignore — but while they were together they combined for reliably thrilling baseball night after night at Shea. I loved them all at various points, but the one I cheered for most fervently was Edgardo Alfonzo.
Alfonzo came up when the Mets were bad, and even while he scuffled I was certain that he would become a star — I loved his sense of the strike zone, his ability to work himself into good counts, how his swing was simple and unfussy, and how he proved useful whereever the Mets put him on the infield. As it happened, I was right — he was front and center when the Mets finally became a team that once again inspired pride alongside devotion. He seemed to like it here, he was homegrown, and I dreamed of one day standing at Shea or some successor to it and cheering a 40-something Fonzie into retirement. He’d be a good bet to get 13 added to the wall of retired numbers, a lock for the Mets Hall of Fame, and we’d insist to all comers that he had the credentials for admission to that other Hall up in Cooperstown. We’d be wrong, unable or unwilling to see that our love was papering over a statistical gap, but wrong for all the right reasons.
It didn’t work out that way.
It usually doesn’t, but it’s still heartbreaking.
The Mets let Fonzie become a free agent after the 2002 season, and much as I’m loath to admit it, Steve Phillips was right about that one. Fonzie put up two OK seasons for San Francisco, turned 30, and came apart like a cheap suit. In 2006 he hit .126 in 87 at-bats between Anaheim and Toronto. He hasn’t been seen in the big leagues since.
But he’s still out there — shortly after Thanksgiving, MLB.com noted that he was playing well in Venezuela, mulling a contract to play in Japan, and still saying all the right things: “To play baseball, you love the game. That’s what I’m doing — I still love the game.” (Tip of the cap to Amazin’ Avenue for the link.)
Amazingly, he’s only 38 — still a couple of years shy of when I imagined saying farewell to him in that better alternate universe.
You can already guess what I’m going to suggest next, and you’re probably wondering if I’ve forgotten something — because you’re remembering that the Mets already tried this.
In 2006 they purchased Fonzie’s contract from the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League, leading both me and Greg to dream of a return for Edgardo with the Mets’ soon-to-be playoff-bound club. It was perfect, it really was — and there was precedent. In 1986, Lee Mazzilli was the final piece of the Metropolitan puzzle, the 24th man on that immortal team. He was a capable pinch-hitter and a wise old hand, but more than that he was a symbol for all of us who’d suffered through the Mets turning themselves into the North Korea of baseball, a hermit kingdom that refused to acknowledge free agency and its transformation of the game. Maz had been one of the few bright spots of those awful years, and his return felt like redemption for all of those players who had toiled uselessly under the dispirited gaze of Mettle the Mule and 2,000 fans a night. Maz got a ring, and somehow it was like Pat Zachry and Steve Henderson and Frank Taveras and Doug Flynn and Joel Youngblood and Bob Bailor got a little piece of one too.
It was a nice thought. But Alfonzo hit .241 in 42 games at Norfolk, without much power. The Mets’ postseason roster looked pretty good. He never got called up, never became the second coming of the second coming of Lee Mazzilli, and drifted off to the Long Island Ducks and Mexico and Japan and the Newark Bears and now Venezuela. He’s only 38, but he hasn’t shown much of anything since he was 30.
Against all this, I can only offer a nonsensical plea, a crazy fan’s crazy wish: I know I know I know I KNOW, but goddamn it, he’s EDGARDO ALFONZO.
Jason Isringhausen clawed his way out of the scrap heap and became an awfully nice story at the age of 38. So why not Fonzie? The Mets are shopping in the bargain aisle for middle infielders. Fonzie should be on the endcap, priced to move. So why not a spring-training invite? It would give us a chance to cheer, to read nice features in the papers, to say remember when — even if there was no guarantee that this was more than a February story. If nothing else, it would be another nice distraction. And we could use as many of those as we can get.