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Outside hype, you'll find Mets' best

Edgardo Alfonzo doesn't draw the ink or pay of other Series stars, but teammates call him their top player.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


NEW YORK -- He is not, like Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams, making $12-million a season. He is not, like Mets pitcher Al Leiter, recognized on every city corner. He is not, like Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, a regular on the club scene and gossip page. He is not, like Mets teammate Mike Piazza, dating Playboy's playmate of the millennium.

There are many things Edgardo Alfonzo is not.

But the Mets are certain about one thing he is.

"He's our best player," Robin Ventura said. "That's just a fact.

"He's a great hitter and a great second baseman. Just a stand-up guy that is there every day. He's done it all the time."

In a World Series full of stars about to be magnified and deified under the New York media spotlight, Alfonzo barely rates a mention. He's not flashy or outspoken or egocentric enough to command much attention. But he gets plenty of respect.

"The most underrated player in New York," reliever John Franco said. "Both teams have so many superstars ... Fonzie goes unnoticed, but he just comes in and does the job day in and day out. He's the best well-kept secret, I guess."

Mets manager Bobby Valentine is well known for having an answer for everything. But when he was asked to describe how much Alfonzo has meant to the team, Valentine was stymied.

"I can't put it into words," he said. "He ... he's just ... he's a special baseball player. He's a special team member. He's a special teammate. He carries the load. He's a guy who understands responsibility, and embraces it."

That has never been more evident than during the Mets' post-season run.

The Mets have played nine playoff games. Alfonzo has gotten at least one hit in every game. He drove in runs in six, including five straight. Overall, he is hitting .361 (13-for-36) with nine RBI.

In each of their three division series wins over the Giants, Alfonzo had what amounted to a key hit: a two-run homer in the ninth inning in Game 2, a game-tying double in the eighth inning of Game 3 and a two-run double in the fifth inning of Game 4 that proved to be the knockout blow.

"No disrespect to anybody else on the team, but when we get in a situation where we need a hit, where we need a guy to come through, everybody on this team wants Fonzie at the plate," outfielder Darryl Hamilton said. "He's been so huge for us, so clutch for us."

Alfonzo has been that way for years. It's just now that people are starting to notice.

"I don't know what it is, but whatever it is, it's pretty good," Alfonzo said. "I thank God for giving me the opportunity and the ability. Whenever the team needs me I try to do my best. I try to concentrate on every pitch."

Alfonzo, 26, has had tremendous impact in the field, driving in 202 runs over the past two seasons while hitting 52 home runs with a .313 average. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1999 and made his first All-Star appearance in July, having made an effortless and complaint-free move from third base to second in 1999 when the Mets acquired Ventura.

Alfonzo also is becoming a quiet leader. When the Mets played flat and emotionless and lost Game 3 of the NL Championship Series, Alfonzo was the one who spoke up and spoke out, saying the players "gave up" and "laid down" after getting behind early.

In other situations, some players and team officials might object or take offense to such an assessment. Mets general manager Steve Phillips thanked Alfonzo for stepping forward. "I respect his opinion of what happens in the clubhouse and in the dugout," Phillips said. "I'm glad to have him step up and try to push some buttons. I think it's a good thing."

A native Venezuelan, Alfonzo long admired countrymen such as Dave Concepcion and Ozzie Guillen. Now he is starting to be considered their equal. Quiet and humble, Alfonzo seems almost embarrassed by the attention.

"I like to play the game. I like to be a good player, be part of a team," Alfonzo said. "I just try to do my job and whenever people, media or TV (reporters) make a couple good points about me, I just feel happy."

The way Alfonzo plays, he makes a lot of people feel that way.

Is it money that matters?

1. Bernie Williams, Yanks -- $12,357,14

2. Mike Piazza, Mets -- 12,071,429

3. David Cone, Yanks -- 12,000,000

4. Derek Jeter, Yanks -- 10,000,000

5. Robin Ventura, Mets -- 8,000,000

6. Al Leiter, Mets -- 7,750,000

7. Mariano Rivera, Yanks -- 7,250,000

8. Andy Pettitte, Yanks -- 7,000,000

9. Paul O'Neill, Yanks -- 6,500,000

10. Roger Clemens, Yanks -- 6,350,000

11. Chuck Knoblauch, Yanks -- 6,000,000

12. Mike Hampton, Mets -- 5,750,000

13. Bobby J. Jones, Mets -- 5,366,667

14. Scott Brosius, Yanks -- 5,250,000

15. Derek Bell, Mets -- 5,000,000

16. Tino Martinez, Yanks -- 4,800,000

17. Rick Reed, Mets -- 4,375,000

18. Todd Zeile, Mets -- 4,333,333

19. Edgardo Alfonzo, Mets -- 4,225,000

20. Darryl Hamilton, Mets -- 3,633,333

-- Source: New York Post

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