Top 100 Mets: #97 - Benny Agbayani

Never considered a serious prospect, Benny Agbayani turned a temporary call-up into a 3-year career deserving of spot #97 on our Top 100 Mets. Benny delighted fans by grinding surprising production out of his comically un-baseball-like body. He matured into one of the most important hitters on the 2000 pennant-winning Mets, but bouts with injury and ineffectiveness the following year would force his departure from the Mets.

Our #97 Greatest Met, Benny Agbayani had career the was brief but memorable, and certainly enjoyable. The Mets drafted the right-handed Agbayani out of Hawaii in 1993. At home he was a baseball and football hero, but, not blessed with any special tools, Benny's fate was serve as organizational filler. Agbayani moved up the minors methodically. Along the way, Benny crossed picket lines to become a replacement player in the ruckus surrounding the 1994 strike. When he reached AAA in 1996 at the age of 25, Agbayani couldn't be found on any prospect lists. He had shown some ability to hit for average, and had a good eye at the plate, walking frequently and almost as often as he walked.

Agbayani's stay in AAA Norfolk would last over 3 full years. During that time, Benny met his greatest advocate. Manager Bobby Valentine taught Benny an exaggerated leg kick, popularly used as a timing mechanism among Japanese players. Agbayani would later credit much of his success to Valentine's tutelage. Over his years at Norfolk he hit nearly .300 and showed some improvement each year. He continued to post good OBPs and cut down on his strikeouts. His power numbers, however, remained poor. Given his stocky build and unimpressive defensive skills, he looked unsuitable for a bench spot; with his age, he seemed an unlikely candidate to ever make an impact in the majors.

Something changed in 1999. Benny started off hot, hitting .356 with 8 homeruns through 30 games. And he got lucky. Injuries to Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla had opened up the Mets outfield, and Benny was called up to join the team in Colorado. Benny chose #50, in honor of his home state, as the similarly built Sid Fernandez had done years before. He was given the start in leftfield, and thus begins the legend of Benny Agbayani.


































































In his first game, Benny hit a single and a homerun. In the second, a single and a triple. Agbayani exploded in his debut at Shea. He collected 5 hits in the first two games and was primed for one of the most impressive doubleheaders in Mets history. Fans will remember May 20 as the day that Robin Ventura hit two grand slams in two separate games, the first ever to accomplish the feat. But it was Benny's day. A 4 for 4 performance with 2 homeruns in the first game was capped by a triple in the second. Fans began to chant his name, and in the span of 4 home games, delighting with his unlikely appearance and obvious joy, Benny Agbayani had attained cult sports hero status.

The hitting kept up. He hit 10 homeruns in his first 78 bats, and his popularity soared. Eventually, however, he cooled down. When October rolled around, Benny was essentially a pinch-hitter.

By all accounts, it was a successful year. The Mets made the postseason narrowly, and without Agbayani's help there is no question that the team would not have made the playoffs.
D. Henson
Benny Agbayani: Benny became an instant fan favorite in 1999, hitting 10 home runs in his first 78 at-bats.
His contribution did not, however, seem real. He finished with outstanding numbers, but they were so heavily boosted by his outrageous and flukey first month that they were not taken very seriously. Conventional wisdom would say that the league had since "figured him out." The obvious comparisons were to players like Kevin Mass, a AAA slugger who had an amazing debut with the Yankees in 1990 but soon fell out of the majors.

Benny's strongest advocate, however, was still in the manager's office. Leading up to the final days before the season opener in Japan, a roster crunch threatened to send Benny to the minors. His competition for a roster spot was Jay Payton, the former top Mets prospect, who was out of minor league options. A late injury to Darryl Hamilton gave Benny a temporary reprieve from demotion, one which Benny took full advantage of by smacking a game-winning, pinch-hit, "sayonara" grand slam.

Benny was back on the team for what would be his career year. When the sulking Rickey Henderson was released from the team, Benny was able to win the leftfield starting job. As the season evolved, the Mets team shaped up quite differently from the previous year. With the rebound of Al Leiter and the acquisition Mike Hampton, pitching was a major strength where it had previously been a weakness. The hitting, however, suffered the loss of John Olerud badly, and only Alfonzo and Piazza, it seemed, were producing.

In fact, Benny Agbayani had improbably, but unquestionably, become the third best hitter on the team. Placed all over the lineup, mostly splitting time between leadoff and seventh, Benny hit for average, hit for power, and got on base. He finished the season ranked third on the team in OBP, and third in SLG. Benny capped his dream season with a sterling October performance. He hit .320 throughout the playoffs with a .433 OBP, slammed a game-winning extra inning homerun in the division series, and doubled in the winning run in the Mets' only World Series victory.

Nevertheless, there still existed some doubt as to Benny's abilities. His hitting feats had still come out of nowhere, and were accomplished in somewhat limited time. The organization did not guarantee that he would start in 2001. Benny did win the leftfield job in spring training, and was declared the leadoff hitter. The doubters, however, were right. Benny's hitting was sluggish: although he continued to get on base, his strikeouts ballooned and his power was sapped. Other problems appeared. His fielding, which had previously been surprisingly adequate given his size, degraded. And largely due to a single incident (Benny flipped a ball into the stands with only two outs), he acquired a reputation for being a spacey, undedicated player . The happy sheen wore off very quickly.

In the Winter after 2001, rumors abounded that Benny would be sold to Japan. His contract was moved to a different place: he was traded to Colorado in the complex 3-way deal that brought Jeromy Burnity to Shea Stadium. Playing in hitter's paradise, in probably his last true shot in the majors, Benny hit terribly. He has since bounced around on waivers, showing few signs that he deserves another call-up.

Agbayani had a brief career with the Mets, a brief time near the top and a swift fall from it. He is worth remembering. A chunky and happy Hawaiian who came out of nowhere to be one of the best hitters in one of the brightest periods of Mets history.

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