The blog for Mets fans
who like to read

ABOUT US

Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

Got something to say? Leave a comment, or email us at faithandfear@gmail.com. (Sorry, but we have no interest in ads, sponsored content or guest posts.)

Need our RSS feed? It's here.

Visit our Facebook page, or drop by the personal pages for Greg and Jason.

Or follow us on Twitter: Here's Greg, and here's Jason.

The Power Broker

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

We had our bitter cheer
And sweet sorrow
We lost a lot today
We’ll get it back tomorrow

Shawn Colvin

In March of 2020, as the coronavirus was rapidly shifting from an abstract concept to the determining factor of our lives and times, I thought about baseball, though baseball had shifted from the determining factor of our lives and times (mine, anyway) to an abstract concept, thanks to the coronavirus. I thought specifically of Pete Alonso.

Had this emerging global pandemic occurred a year earlier and indefinitely postponed the 2019 season, putting it on hold the way the 2020 season was on March 12, it struck me that we as Mets fans would have been deprived of a formal introduction to a promising power hitter whose minor league numbers we had seen but whose potential and personality were surfaces that had yet to be scratched.

A funny thing happened on the way to a Polar encore.

In the snapped-shut Spring of 2020, even as we groped to grasp all that was going on around us, what we’d have to do and what we’d not be able to do, the idea that we wouldn’t have had a full dose of Alonso-19 indeed seemed like a deprivation. By March of 2020, after a year of exposure, Pete Alonso was as much the determining factor of our current Met lives and contemporary Met times as any one individual could have been.

Alonso entered the 2019 season with zero home runs and credentials on his major league ledger. He was an abstract concept at most. They guy who hit 15 home runs for Binghamton in 2018, 21 for Las Vegas and another six in the Arizona Fall League. The guy who was said to be far more bat than glove at first base. The guy whose prospective offensive assets and potential defensive drawbacks might be transcended, anyway, by his service time to date (also zero), meaning the Mets could theoretically be best served by allowing the kid to cool his heels in frosty Syracuse for a couple of weeks, lest he prove too worthwhile too soon and he become eligible for free agency in six years rather than seven.

Remember when the future was something people thought they could make out in advance?

It was all theory and supposition. Pete Alonso shattered speculation by breaking through. In Spring Training of 2019, the last Spring Training to both begin and end, Alonso came to bat 75 times, hit another four home runs and slashed .352/.387/.620. How ya gonna keep Pete down on the farm after he’s conquered St. Lucie? New GM Brodie Van Wagenen broke with MLB’s anticompetitive gentlemen’s agreement and sanctioned the rookie as roster-ready from Opening Day forward.

Whatever happens to Van Wagenen in however much tenure he has remaining as Mets general manager under pending new ownership, this decision will rate as his savviest. Alonso making the Opening Day lineup essentially made 2019. Pete was a big leaguer from the moment he showed up at Nationals Park on March 28. He might have been a big leaguer from the moment he came out of the womb, probably tugging at his mother’s shirt in celebration. That’s how the youngster Todd Frazier nicknamed the Polar Bear carried himself. Like he belonged. Like he always belonged. Like this was his frozen tundra and the rest of us were giddy just to be gathering chills on it.

Pete Alonso belted his first major league home run on April 1, 2019, his and the Mets’ fourth game, at Marlins Park. The Polar Bear had shown he could thrive in Florida during exhibition games. He took his thawed bat back up north and blasted four more homers during the first Mets’ homestand. Then it was back down south to crash and splash a fountain at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. In St. Louis, he hit one off a relative stranger, another off a college rival he demanded to step in against (it was an SEC thing). Before April was over, he was a certified slugger and budding legend.

In May, the legend was certifiable, too. His first home run of the month, in the ninth inning at Milwaukee, thrust a looming loss into marathon territory (still a loss, but it took eighteen innings to get there). His next was a “take that!” to a Padre freshman hurler who dared question Pete winning April’s NL rookie honors instead of him; the aggrieved party shut down the Mets one night, Alonso beat his successor the next. In mid-month, one night in Miami, he went deep twice. Another night soon after, at home versus Washington, he launched a ball so high over the left field foul pole that only replay review — perhaps aided by air traffic control across the street at LaGuardia — could confirm that it was indeed a home run. That was the night after he hit one off another National, a big-deal free agent signing, three nights before he bashed some visitor from Detroit. In Los Angeles toward May’s close, where the Mets regularly imploded, Pete exploded for a pair of homers off a Dodger otherwise becoming yet another L.A. ace. Shortly after June began, back at Citi Field, Pete’s next victim was a San Francisco postseason icon, the same southpaw who stifled the Mets for nine innings the last time they competed in postseason play.

The identities of the opposing pitchers hardly seemed to matter. It was the rookie slugger from the Mets who was the story. Nine home runs by the end of April. Nineteen home runs by the end of May. The pelts piling up at a preposterous pace in June and a record falling before July. On June 23, Pete homered off his second former World Series MVP of the month for his 27th circuit clout of the year. The rookie had accumulated more home runs in a season than any Met rookie before him. And the season had a half-season left to go.

Pete Alonso was just getting started.

We knew him for three months. The rest of the baseball-loving nation was invited to a sitdown with him at the Home Run Derby in Cleveland. It’s an event that doesn’t count yet can mean a ton when somebody most had recently never heard of hits a ton in the full All-Star festivity spotlight. Alonso won. It meant a ton. He was handed an enormous check. He made substantial charitable donations ASAP. The Polar Bear had gone national.

The U.S. tour continued after the break. One in Minneapolis that nearly reached Canada. Two in San Francisco. Back to Flushing for a plundering of the Pirates. Stuck briefly on 34 (which had been the Mets team record until the franchise’s adolescence), Pete told us neither he nor his mates were giving up. #LGM? Make that #LFGM. Pete was all about emphasis.

Appropriately, Pete commenced boldfacing his at-bats.

BAM! No. 35 boosts the Mets over the .500 mark on August 5.

BAM! No. 36 contributes to the Mets’ suddenly unstoppable winning ways on August 6.

BAM! No. 37 helps complete a sweep of the Marlins on August 7 (Miami pitchers would turn and watch helplessly eleven times after Pete connected).

BAM! and R-R-R-RIP! It wasn’t enough that Pete’s 38th home run of 2019 catapulted the Mets back into a game the suddenly self-styled contenders needed against the Nationals. The kid (he was still only 24, still only a rookie) led the charge to embrace Michael Conforto after Scooter scalded the single that scored the winning run in the ninth. That much is commonplace when ballclubs go nuts. What was new — what represented the Polar Bear’s special touch — was separating Conforto’s uniform top from his body top. Like unbelievable home run totals and embellished acronyms, shirt-tearing was now a Met thing. Like everything else emanating from Pete Alonso, it came off as the greatest thing since Todd Hundley.

Hundley once hit 41 home runs for the Mets in an entire season. Carlos Beltran matched that total. Nobody had exceeded it. It was such a daunting sum from the Mets fan perspective that we had stopped bothering to have one of our own aspire to it. The Mets dinged their share of dingers collectively as the homer-happy 2010s wore on, but no single Met had dared to directly challenge the majestic Hundleyan figure since future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza came within one in 1999. This entire century had transpired without a Met closing in on the record.

What’s that? Pete Alonso hit his 40th home run of the year on August 18? And his 41st on August 24? And his 42nd on August 27? He had outslugged every Met ever and there was still more than a month’s worth of Met games to go?

That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

It was insanely good and it kept getting better. The Mets could only FG so far in 2019, but Pete’s power knew few bounds as August became September. He owned the National League rookie record for home runs. He led all of Major League Baseball in home runs. He hit his 50th on September 20. He surpassed 50 on September 25. He tied the all-time mark for home runs by a rookie on September 27. He set a new one on September 28.

Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs in 2019. If it boggled the mind a little less than we might have expected when he reached 53, it was because he’d given us a season to get used to his ways. Yet our mind still boggled plenty.

After Pete’s cup runneth over in 2019, it might have been a bit much to ask for a full refill in 2020.

No Met had ever done anything like Pete Alonso did in 2019. Few Mets ever appeared to enjoy doing what they did as Pete Alonso did in 2019. No Met ever took such obvious charge of the vibe surrounding the team in his first year à la Alonso. Five previous Mets won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Nobody among them, not even Tom Seaver in 1967, took it upon himself to conceive what shoes each of his brethren should be wearing for a big occasion and then arrange for each of them to have the shoes. That, however, was what Pete Alonso did to commemorate the somber anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Since 2008, Mets fans had mourned not just the casualties from 2001 but the disappearance of the first-responder caps the Mets had worn to show solidarity with local cops, firefighters, EMTs and those from other agencies who lost people in service to other people. Major League Baseball, in what will go down as some of the most boneheaded rulemaking and regulation-hewing decisions of modern times, denied the Mets the chance to maintain an organic, community-minded tradition that had said so much to so many.

OK, Pete said, if we can’t have the caps, we can do the shoes — specially designed footwear that will illustrate and spell out that we Met players have not forgotten and would not forget those heroic acts that cost so many lives. Never mind that none of them were Met players in 2001 or that most of them children eighteen years earlier. This was a symbol of commitment. It was a statement…but what a statement, both from the Mets and from Alonso, the latter of whom, in case you’re keeping score at home, was still a rookie.

By September 11, 2019, Pete’s home runs had made him a shoe-in to become the Mets’ sixth NL Rookie of the Year. The shoes made him something more. It was yet another dimension to a player and a season. Shoeing feet. Shredding and shedding shirts. F’ing up the ol’ LGM not for profanity but from ebullience. Not just happy to be here in standard froshspeak but bleeping delighted to have arrived and prepared to stay at first base and propel us next year to first place.

The whole of the man won us over in 2019. It would have been a shame to have been deprived of that. It convinced us as much as anything to look forward to 2020 like we hadn’t looked for to a Met year in quite a spell.

***
As March became April in 2020 and baseball was nowhere to be seen except on rewind, I selected Pete Alonso of the Most Valuable Player of a year whose games might very go well unplayed. He’d finished seventh in NL MVP balloting in 2019, but that was based on the 53 homers, the 120 RBIs and the outsize impact of his presence.

The statistical odometer reset to zero for the new year, as it always does, and it wouldn’t budge until who knew when, but the legend of Pete Alonso kept gathering mileage and momentum because Pete Alonso was determined to live up to his legend, bat or not bat. Pete was on Zoom extending his best wishes to a Mets-loving grandma whose spirits were thus lifted out of the park. Pete got in touch with medical teams fighting the virus, and they took an instant from saving lives to say thanks for his saying thanks. Pete started a foundation called Homers for Heroes. Pete stood up for the idea that the lives of Black people matter before every sports league figured out that was a pretty simple truth. You didn’t need baseball to be in progress to keep rooting for one of baseball’s rising stars.

Getting back to watching this guy was a major reason resuming baseball this summer seemed imperative.

Then baseball came back in late July, Pete, wearing 20 in ’20, with it. We’d get him athletically, not just virtually. We’d cheer him distantly because the virus barred us from the Met premises. He’d continue what was shaping up as a Met career for the ages and we’d continue to roar our approval through whatever channel we could.

It wasn’t the same. No two seasons are ever the same, no matter how Groundhog Dayish it can get around the Mets. Clearly 2020 was going to be unprecedented from every angle. There were no fans in attendance. There were more than a hundred fewer games. There was a DH in each league, and Pete was often assigned to hit without fielding despite his determination to catch a Gold Glove at first. With the roar of the crowd prerecorded and the element of surprise now more something you dreaded rather than embraced (because this whole horrible year was a surprise…and who embraces anymore?), Pete Alonso of the 2020 Mets didn’t amount to a cause to rally around.

On September 19, as Pete batted against Ian Anderson amid the Mets battling the Braves at empty Citi Field, Wayne Randazzo talked on the radio about closing one eye and imagining the ballpark as it had been almost a year ago at this time, when Atlanta was the visitor, the stands were well-populated and Alonso was making history by belting his 53rd home run of the season. Randazzo was interrupted mid-reverie by a deep fly to left. Alonso was going deep, just like it was 2019 again. It was perfect!

Too perfect. The ball was caught at the wall by Marcell Ozuna.

Pete Alonso was, to be brutally honest in the skewed scheme of all the things that had gone awry, less the Polar Bear and more just another player. A player in a slump, at that, reaching for too many outside pitches, striking out and popping up over and over. He may have still encompassed all the marvelous traits we assigned to him in 2019, but it wasn’t 2019 anymore, and there wasn’t any track record before 2019 to fall back on. Pete Alonso was batting in the low .200s and not necessarily the first Met you looked to to go deep or for postgame depth. Michael Conforto and Dom Smith were the primary visible postgame Mets, as visible as they could be without Steve Gelbs standing next to them to ask questions in front of an adoring crowd. Pete was kind of his own. Perhaps it’s harder to be out front when your numbers are back in the pack. Perhaps only so many players can speak on the head of a Zoom. Perhaps, mercifully, there wasn’t much call for asking yet again, what do you think is wrong, Pete?

As it did for most of the rest of us, his 2020 was taking place in a vacuum. As it did for most of the rest of us, it had a tendency to suck…though there were moments to the contrary here and there. On September 3, when the Mets absolutely needed to win in the wake of the news that Tom Seaver had passed, it was Alonso who hit the game-winning homer to beat the Yankees (a leadoff two-run homer in extras because that, too, was how 2020 rolled). Afterwards, Alonso seemed to grasp how a Met icon should speak on an occasion of this magnitude of a Met of this magnitude. Tom, Pete said, is “an absolute legend. Now he’s a baseball god.”

It would be too much of a stretch, even for the nimblest of first basemen, to say it takes one to know one. Maybe none of Alonso’s years will approach his debut year. Or maybe Pete is still scaling Mt. Metsmore like one of his batted balls ascends to the skies. He is, after all, only 25, and he already has 69 home runs, with a late rush bringing his 2020 total to 16. There’ve been full years when 16 home runs have been enough to lead the Mets. Pete popped his bittersweet 16 across the shortest, least appealing baseball calendar imaginable. They didn’t catapult the Mets into a legitimate playoff race, but they were 16 causes to clap a little, shout a little, forget a little that the virus that closed down baseball and everything else in March hadn’t yet hit the exits.

Pete Alonso is already 27th on the all-time career Met home run list, tied with Ron Swoboda, who needed six seasons to hit 69. On the final day of the 2020 season, when Pete mashed his last two taters until further noticed, he surpassed the lifetime Met totals of Lee Mazzilli, Ike Davis and Wilmer Flores. They were all around Flushing for many more than two years. They were all at least demi-legends in a Metsian context. Guys who hit 68 home runs. Guys who hit 69 home runs. Plus did other things. That was plenty for us. We were conditioned from 1962 until 2019 to never expect an outpouring of power from most of those we thought of as boppers. We loved whatever we got.

Then Alonso burst through the wall in 2019 like John Madden selling Lite beer, soon to wallop balls over it again and again. He created an act too tantalizing not to follow and likely impossible for himself to follow up. Sixteen homers in a sixty-game season now seemed a little off. The output of Polar Bear Pete, the toast of the town, registered as a tad disappointing.

We won’t know what Pete Alonso is truly all about as a baseball player and Met legend until we make the turn to something approaching normal and get another up-close look at what he can do in it. He did extraordinary things we’ll always remember in the one regular regular season he was granted to date. No Met ever had the kind of year Pete had in 2019.

If he didn’t have the best of 2020s, well, who among us has?

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith

8 comments to The Power Broker

  • Blair Schirmer

    “Alonso entered the 2019 season with zero home runs and credentials on his major league ledger. He was an abstract concept at most. They guy who hit 15 home runs for Binghamton in 2018, 21 for Las Vegas and another six in the Arizona Fall League. The guy who was said to be all bat, no glove, so maybe he’s not who you want to trust at first base right away.”

    —Genuinely curious: Why are you using the kind of evaluation that would be provided by a badly misinformed casual fan as your baseline?

    Alonso was a tremendous hitter at all 6 of his minor league stops. That’s extremely rare. He always hit for average, he always got on base, and he always hit for a lot of power. In addition his closest comp was probably Giancarlo Stanton. There is no record, in any case, of a hitter with his minor league record not succeeding in the majors.

    Also, his fielding was below average but nonetheless acceptable for a 1Bman. He took a huge step up between 2017 and 2018. He proved to be a quick learner at the 2018-2019 offseason defense camp. His defensive numbers in 2019 were fine, and were accomplished on minor league fields, off of minor league throws. He won a legit July 2019 Defensive player of the month award. Everything strongly suggested he’d be at the lower end of the spectrum of MLB first basemen, but definitely on that spectrum. There was nothing suggesting he was too inept to play that position. Literally nothing.

    I’ve never met anyone claiming Alonso couldn’t hit enough to make up for his glove who a) was acquainted with his very projectable minor league hitting numbers, b) knew anything about his defensive numbers, or c) had looked at his training camp reel, which alone shows he’s limber around the bag, has soft hands, can scoop and dive, and otherwise is as agile as anyone carrying a fit 245 lbs. on a 6′-3″ frame.

    It was clear before 2020 that Alonso would be worth a major league lineup slot. The only real question was, would he be a star, of just another power hitter whose defense rendered him merely good?

    • I’ve reconfigured a couple of sentences in that paragraph, partly because I realized I typed “liabilities and drawbacks” when I didn’t mean to use both, and also because, you convinced me I likely overstated the “no glove” case, though it was based on the general sense expressed ahead of 2019 that this guy can hit for power, but we’re not sure how he’ll field. It’s something the SNY booth referred to throughout 2019 — that Alonso’s glove in practice exceeded its reputation.

      Overall, the idea was to frame Alonso as someone who, for whatever we saw as March of 2019 dawned, we couldn’t have seen the full extent of what he’d accomplish by September of 2019 — and realizing in March of 2020 what a shame it would have been to have missed out on having that season.

      Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.

      • Blair Schirmer

        @ Greg — Thanks for the considered reply.

        Tbh I found it inexplicable, that the FO wasn’t talking about Alonso as their 1Bman similar to how Atlanta was talking about Freddie Freeman when he was coming up through the Braves system and when he was on the verge of being promoted.

        Presumably you don’t pointlessly overpromise or overpraise a player, but otherwise failing to openly appreciate the remarkable accomplishments of an extraordinary power hitter doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t get a player renowned in the minors for his hard work to work any harder. It just adds a pointless note of dubiety to his life.

        Who knows, really. Ownership sets the organization’s tone, and who knows why it didn’t speak often and well of Alonso, including dismissing concerns about his defense as an obvious and incorrect distraction. As of mid-2018 it should have been a given that Alonso would be on the 2019 MLB roster as soon as his status permitted. His BABIP even fell off a cliff his first month in AAA, but that did nothing to hurt him and should have done nothing to render him suspect.

        I was probably the only one arguing to bring up Alonso and McNeil at the ASB in 2018, but why wouldn’t you? Both were far better than the Mets’ other options (I also would have brought up Giminez at the end of 2018 and spent resources outside the IF during the 2018-19 offseason, but I get why that’s too much for most people), and if the Mets were planning to contend in 2019 (which bringing up Alonso for Opening Day suggests they were–otherwise why give away a year in return for a few weeks?) why not give two extremely talented players at positions of need a half season to adjust, should they need it? Cheers,

  • eric1973

    As I recall, before and during March 2019, Alonso was portrayed as just another guy with some power, who could not field.

    There was no clamoring for this guy. There was no buzz. There was no talk of ‘Wow, wait til you see this guy, and here he comes finally!’

    He had to outplay the world, as well as the Scouting Reports, in Spring Training, and what we had been told by the press.

    Greg, you nailed it the first time, as he exceeded all expectations in hitting and fielding in 2019.

    To say he came out of nowhere would not exactly be an untrue statement, considering how well he played.

  • open the gates

    I realize that prorating stats can be misleading, but I’ll go there anyway. If you prorate Pete Alonso’s 16 homers in 2020 to a full 162-game season, it comes out to 43, which would be the second most in Mets history to a guy named Pete Alonso. As sophomore slumps go, I’ll take it.

    • Blair Schirmer

      @open the gates

      Same here. All things considered Alonso was pretty much the same hitter in 2020 as he was in 2019–what he was, was unlucky, with a .242 BABIP compared to .280 in 2019 despite hitting the same % of line drives and, overall, hitting with a profile extremely similar to 2019. He just hit more balls at fielders than ordinary fortune suggests he should.

      Equalize his luck on fly balls, put his batting average on balls in play back to something like normal, and he’d hit right around 50 home runs in a full season. Instead of 2019’s line of .260/.358/.583 Alonso would hit something like .260/.350/.560. He’d add singles and more doubles, while his walk and K rates, almost identical to his 2019 rates, would presumably stay very much the same.

  • Daniel Hall

    “If he didn’t have the best of 2020s, well, who among us has?” – Shareholders of Zoom and the like, if they already had their own Caribbean retreat before The Thing took all our joy away.

    Beyond that I ain’t got nothing.

    I have only modest wishes going forwards. A somewhat normal baseball season in 2021. That Pete hits 50 again. And that the damn Yankees or Dodgers don’t win a ring in between.

  • eric

    I hope Pete Alonso doesn’t turn out to be Chris Davis.