Faith and Fear in Flushing, which we dedicated as The Blog for Mets Fans Who Like to Read on February 16, 2005, turns 13 years old today, which is neither here nor there, unless you’ve come for a kiddush (in which case you might like to read the Haftorah) or you’re joining us in praise of Edgardo Alfonzo, No. 1 among No. 13s.
We’re 13 now. Fonzie is 13 always. He’s also one of the best Mets ever and deserves to be officially revered as such.
You’re a Mets fan. I don’t have to convince you. If you partook of the Edgardo Alfonzo Mets between 1995 and 2002 — especially prime Fonzie time between 1997 and 2001 — you know Fonzie. You love Fonzie. At the very least, you like him a lot. Who who loves the Mets wouldn’t?
When the Mets spanned the competitive spectrum from pretty good to nearly great for five consecutive seasons, an unnatural state of being for this franchise, Fonzie was rarely not one of the three main reasons for their success. Others came, others went, others aggravated, others’ flaws sometimes obscured their strengths. Fonzie never bothered any Mets fan. He gave us happy days, happy nights, happy late-inning rallies. He embraced being called Fonzie despite arriving in New York without an apparent clue as to who Henry Winkler famously portrayed. It wasn’t a problem. If there was one thing we learned from watching Edgardo Alfonzo of Miranda, Venezuela, play baseball, it was that he could never otherwise be accused of cluelessness.
Fonzie’s career had quietly crept past its peak when he was named the second baseman on the Mets’ 40th Anniversary All-Amazin’ Team by fan vote. He was the starting third baseman on the not so Amazin’ Mets team of 2002 that year, back to the position he played in 1997 and 1998 after apprenticing as a utilityman in 1995 and 1996. He moved from third to second for Robin Ventura in 1999 and it worked out brilliantly. He moved from second to third in 2002 for Roberto Alomar, and it worked less brilliantly. The sum total of complaints we heard from Fonzie over being shifted among positions? Thirteen minus thirteen. Zero.
Ten years later, an expert panel identified Edgardo Alfonzo as the second baseman on the Mets’ 50th Anniversary Team. His excellence was vouched for by online vote and by authoritative figures. Nobody by 2012 had come along since 2002 to supplant him and nobody was reassessed in retrospect as any better. Pending any revelations in the middle of the infield between now and 2022 (including a rear-guard boomlet on behalf of Daniel Murphy), Fonzie will likely be the second baseman on the Mets’ 60th Anniversary Team.
Edgardo Alfonzo is not in the Mets Hall of Fame. Almost all of his All-Time teammates who have been long retired from playing are. The following Mets players were recognized as parts of the 40th and/or 50th Anniversary teams and are in the Mets Hall of Fame: Mike Piazza; Keith Hernandez; Bud Harrelson; Ed Kranepool; Rusty Staub; Cleon Jones; Mookie Wilson; Darryl Strawberry; Tom Seaver; Jerry Koosman; John Franco; and Tug McGraw.
Three who are not — Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran — are, are sort of, or were just very recently active players. The rest who lack enshrinement are Howard Johnson, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra and Edgardo Alfonzo. Dykstra was a ridiculous pick over Jones in fan voting in 2002 (the call was for three outfielders, not one at each outfield position) and has proven himself a reprobate in life. McDowell was twice the choice as righty reliever primarily because few could bring themselves to acknowledge antacid-inducing Armando Benitez as the most dominant right arm in that role. More than Dykstra or McDowell, HoJo, the consensus all-time Mets third baseman pre-Wright, has a legitimate beef with not being recognized as a Mets Hall of Famer. He could be inconsistent between 1985 and 1993, but when he was on, few Mets power hitters have ever been more productive, and almost nobody who hit balls as far as he did could run as he did. Perhaps the less than cordial terms on which he left the Mets as a coach following the 2010 has diminished his status to non-person in Flushing. It wouldn’t be the first time a Met great has been ignored after the fact.
Or maybe the Mets have forgotten they have a Hall of Fame, seeing as how they haven’t inducted anybody inside its hallowed walls since presenting Piazza his plaque in 2013. If they cared about the institution, Fonzie would have been their next honoree. There are no apparent hard feelings between the two parties. Fonzie works for the Mets. He’s been an ambassador. He’s been a minor league coach and, unless a change to the contrary has been announced, is about to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones for a second season. Just over two weeks ago he was the special guest legend at Citi Field for Truck Day, joining Mr. and Mrs. Met in greeting season ticket holders. That’s three delightful Met faces in one fell swoop.
Edgardo Alfonzo comes around regularly these days and he came through constantly in the days of yore. That’s why he was voted to all-time teams ten years apart. Every time Fonzie took the field, he was as good at his position as any Met or any contemporary. When Bobby Valentine (speaking of figures who belong in the Mets Hall of Fame) installed Fonzie at third early in the ’97 season, the team was transformed. Edgardo the everyday third baseman was an anchor. The Mets elevated from second-division afterthought to perennial contender. He hit over .300. He and his left-side compadre Rey Ordoñez let nothing under their gloves. He was the catalyst for a playoff chase.
Within two years, Alfonzo was the second baseman. They acquired Ventura, whose third base credentials in the American League were impeccable. So what happened? Only “the best infield ever,” per the observation of a noted national magazine. Ordoñez and Alfonzo up the middle were as compelling as they’d been at short and third. Ventura and John Olerud at the corners were pretty darn stellar, too. Sports Illustrated wasn’t hyperbolizing in the least.
Fonzie took a sad team and made it better in 1997. He contributed substantially to pushing that team to the cusp of a championship in 1999 and then into a World Series in 2000. Piazza attracted most of the attention. Those who knew where to look knew to look at Fonzie just as much. That savvy group of Metsnoscenti included Mike himself. He paused in his Cooperstown Hall of Fame speech in 2016 to say he couldn’t have done it without Edgardo. He didn’t have to do that, but he knew the story of the Mets at their turn-of-the-millennium heights wouldn’t have been complete without including Fonzie.
Neither is the Mets Hall of Fame.
To be prosaic about it, Fonzie ranks 10th in games played as a Met, 9th in at-bats, 5th in runs scored, 7th in runs batted in, 5th in hits, 7th in walks, 6th in doubles, 10th in homers and 7th in total bases. Further, though he was less than fleet afoot, he is 27th among Mets in stolen bases and tied for 25th in triples, indicative of someone who knew how to run the bases. Oh, and he’s 5th in sacrifice flies, which makes sense, given how much Fonzie sacrificed himself for the good of the team. Edgardo played the fourth-most games of any Met as a second baseman (509) and fifth-most (515) as a third baseman. Despite being pushed and pulled in deference to the presence of others, he was a serious Gold Glove candidate at both positions, finishing directly behind winners Ken Caminiti at third in 1997 and Pokey Reese at second in 1999, then Fernando Viña in 2001. Fonzie won the NL Silver Slugger at second in ’99, made the NL All-Star team in 2000 and garnered MVP votes in three seasons as a Met, placing 13th in 1997, 8th in 1999 and 15th in 2000.
This isn’t Mets Hall of Fame material? And this is before you throw in popularity and personality. On those counts, Fonzie rises to Mookie levels of belovedness. Seriously, do you remember a bad word from a manager, a teammate or a fan from 1995 to 2002? The worst you could say was that given the state of Alfonzo’s back toward the end of his Mets tenure that yeah, maybe he was not quite worth the big free agent contract he was seeking and eventually got. No hard feelings, though (except in his back). Before he left for San Francisco, Fonzie took out advertisements atop a dozen taxis telling New York how much he loved us. As vehicles of gratitude go, that beats a newspaper ad, a tweet and anything Henry Winkler ever did on a motorcycle.
Our Fonz came close to coming back, getting at least as far in 2006 as Matt den Dekker seems headed in 2018 (minor league contract), if not quite as far as where Jason Vargas is going (major league roster). Edgardo never looked right as a Giant or anything else and, by the last year of his four-year deal, after bouncing through Anaheim and Toronto, wound up in Norfolk. I thought he’d rise up from Triple-A by that championship September and be in the clubhouse enjoying champagne with Reyes and Wright.
Didn’t quite happen. He kept circling Shea. Played with Buddy Harrelson’s Ducks in 2007 and 2008. Finally returned home for the Shea Goodbye ceremonies. Was received thunderously. Is still received warmly. The organization seems to like him as a teacher and a person. The fans surely love him. We lined up for his bobblehead in 2012 and we’d rise and applaud for his Mets Hall of Fame ceremony.
We were lucky to have No. 13. Give the man his plaque already.
Speaking of Mets years, Mets fan and FAFIF reader David Jurman has a collection of Mets yearbooks and programs spanning 1967 to 2009 and would love to hear from anybody interested in giving some/all of them a good home. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like us to put you in touch with David and his baseball library.