Edgardo was more than just the keystone of the best infield ever. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say right up front that Alfonzo might just be my favorite Met of all time. As a rookie in 1995, he was already the best all-around infielder on the club, yet spent more time on the bench than on the field, that year and the next, watching the punchless Jose Vizcaino and defensively challenged Jeff Kent play ahead of him. When Kent was dispatched late in 1996, Alfonzo took over third base and his career took off. With the arrival of Robin Ventura in 1999, he moves to second base and will eventually be all-but-universally acknowledged as the Mets all-time best at the position.
“If you ever play one position, you are more comfortable with either one that you play. I have to wait and see what the situation is. You have to be prepared for anything. You just accept what comes.” –Edgardo Alfonzo
He had his best season in 1999, taking full advantage of his number two slot in the lineup behind Rickey Henderson and in front of John Olerud, Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura. His personal highlight came in Houston on August 30, 1999, when he had arguably the best single offensive game ever by Met: 6 AB, 6 R, 6 H, 3 HR, 5 RBI. He would finish the season with a career high 27 HR and 108 RBI. The following week he found himself, along with John Olerud, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura, on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “The Best Infield Ever?” in tribute to their historic defensive prowess.
In the winner-take-all Game 163 vs. Cincinnati, he followed Rickey Henderson’s leadoff homer with one of his own, giving Al Leiter all the offense he would need to take the Mets into the post season. The next night in Game One of the NLDS, he homers in the first inning and, in the ninth, he breaks a 4-4- tie in a big way with a grand slam to provide the margin of victory.
When Olerud left for free agency, Fonzie was moved to the number three hole in the lineup, where he responded to this new challenge in typically clutch fashion. While his power numbers drop slightly (25 HR, 94 RBI), he boosts his OPS to .967¬—80 points higher than in ’99.
A variety of injuries took their toll on Fonzie over the next two seasons, and the decision to let him walk after 2002 turned out to a wise business decision, although it broke many a Mets fan’s heart, including that of yours truly. Fonzie made one of the classiest exits in baseball history when, after leaving New York for San Francisco, he bought a month’s worth of ads on top of NYC taxi cabs thanking the fans and the city he came to love.
That’s shouldn’t have surprised any of us who watched him day after day for eight seasons. He always was a class act, played hard, played hurt, ran out every ball he hit and never complained. When the Mets signed his to a AAA contract in 2006, no one rooted for an improbable comeback more than I did. Happy 39th birthday Fonzie –two thumbs up and a heartfelt “A-a-a-ayyy!”
Happy 43rd birthday to Shane Halter, whose Mets career consists of just seven games in 1999—all as a defensive replacement. That’s a Mets club record for most games by a position player without a plate appearance. The Detroit Tigers selected him off waivers the following spring, and as he left the Mets clubhouse in St. Lucie, odds are no on was shouting “Come back, Shane!”
Shea Stadium was the last stop of José Offerman’s checkered major league career. In June 2005 the Mets signed the former two-time All-Star, who turns 44 today, in hopes of generating more offense at first base, where Doug Mientkiewicz was struggling badly even by his less-than-stellar offensive standards. Offerman’s budding managerial career suffered a potentially fatal blow in January 2010 when he was banned for life from the Dominican Winter Baseball League for attacking an umpire.
Bronx native Ed Kranepool, the only bona fide career Met, is 68. He is still the youngest Met to ever get a hit: a double at the Polo Grounds at age 17, three months after graduating high school. Three years later the lefty first baseman (and sometime outfielder) represented his team in the All Star Game. At 25 he played, and homered in, his only World Series game. Despite being an integral part of the 1969 Miracle Mets, he spent most of the following season at AAA Tidewater after a slow start with the parent club. But he bounced back in 1971 with one his best offensive seasons, and soon fans who once referred to him as “Super Stiff” were calling him “Steady Eddie.”
In 1974, he cemented his growing reputation as a premier pinch hitter by going 17 for 35 off the bench—a .468 average that is still the highest ever for any player with 30 or more pinch at-bats. He ended his career, fittingly, with a pinch double in his final Mets at-bat in 1979. It turned out to be his last appearance in the major leagues when, perhaps because he was never a true power hitter, not one team was interested in signing him as a free agent. Although his Mets club record of 1,488 career hits was surpassed by David Wright this past September, Ed Kranepool will always remain the all-time Shea Stadium hits leader.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected president, thereby rising one office higher than his uncle and namesake G. Herbert Walker. The latter held the office of executive vice president of the New York Mets from the team’s inception until his death in 1977. Walker was one of the founding partners of the franchise along with Joan Whitney Payson and M. Donald Grant.