Forgotten Player of the Moment – GREGG JEFFERIES
by Bill Barnwell
(Originally published Feb 27, 2007)
Gregg Jefferies was on the periphery of my Mets fandom as I grew into some sort of sports consciousness. I started going to Mets games around ’89, I think, so Jefferies would have been on the team, but I had no idea at that point. All I remember from that era are the giant RC Cola signs. My other initial Met memory — and I don’t want to delve too deep into this since this is Jeff Innis territory — is the Mets trading for Frank Viola and what a great deal that would be. In glorious fashion, of course, the Mets sent the Twins Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani and let Viola leave in free agency two years later. The first Mets team I really got behind and knew was going to be good was the ’93 version, which explains why I am a Red Sox fan now.
Jefferies was a player I knew was on the Mets, and I knew he was supposed to be a good hitter, but I knew even from a very young age that he was a man who could not field the ball very well. I didn’t know his backstory at the time, but he didn’t seem like a very big deal to me — more like how I’d later view, say, Butch Huskey. Those two guys don’t have much in common.
For those of you who, like me, weren’t around back then — essentially, Jefferies had a crazy father and was supposed to be this hitting savant. He went in the first round of the 1985 draft and basically laid waste to the Mets minor league system, putting up a .333/.386/.512 line across all levels. Of course, you might note that he wasn’t really walking that much. Yeah. Turns out that helps you. This was also while he was a catcher, which would put him somewhere around Brian McCann but three years younger. Unfortunately, the Mets had JESUS behind the plate so he was blocked there.
He got called up in 1987 at 20 and the next year, he hit .321/.364/.596 in 109 ABs for the Mets. Unfortunately, he had 504 ABs with Tidewater and hit .282/.329/.395. That was a little more accurate. The Mets played him at second and third, I guess thinking he could be the proto-Howard Johnson or something, and it didn’t quite work out.
The next year, he finally got his starting gig, and he EXPLODED onto the picture by…hitting .258/.314/.392. Tim Teufel coulda done that. He got a litle better in 1990, but he was still a slightly-above replacement-level second baseman with the bat and miserable with the glove. Prospectus says he was worth about five wins, which wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.
1991, well, it wasn’t a good year for Mr. Jefferies. His bat went back down the tubes, his power spike gone. Apparently — and I did not know this until I read Wikipedia — he wrote an open letter to WFAN. It said: “When a pitcher is having trouble getting players out, when a hitter is having trouble hitting, or when a player makes an error, I try to support them in whatever way I can. I don’t run to the media to belittle them or to draw more attention to their difficult times. I can only hope that one day those teammates who have found it convenient to criticize me will realize that we are all in this together. If only we can concentrate more on the games than complaining and bickering and pointing fingers, we would all be better off.”
I am not going to speculate on who might have criticized Jeffe…the hell I’m not. It certainly wasn’t Dave Magadan, since he rules. PROTO-YOUK!!!! I can like Youkilis in the offseason, still, especially if he’s showing up in On the DL. Kevin Elster? Nah. Hubie Brooks? Nah. Vince Coleman was busy doing coke to hate on Gregg. Garry Templeton…repeat. Tom Herr, well, it may have been Tom Herr. Mackey Sasser was busy working on throwing the ball 60 feet. Aww… David Cone? Sure. David Cone’s a scumbag and you know it, WFAN callers. I don’t think John Franco had perfected his picking-off-my-teammates move yet.
Jefferies was traded to the Royals in 1992 — in a preposterous trade where the Mets sent him and Kevin McReynolds away for Bill PECOTA and Bret freaking Saberhagen. You would think that the Cone trade would have taught the Royals to not stick their fingers in the socket, but they did this deal and the Glendon Rusch one years later. He lasted two years there before he was sent to St. Louis for the inimitable Felix Jose (who really deserves a FPOTM himself).
Of course, every white guy has a career year when he gets to St. Louis and Jefferies was pretty freaking white. St. Louis moved him to first and he had two years out of John Olerud’s career, hitting .342/.408/.485 and then .325/.391/.489 the year after.
Even more of course, he decided this would be a good time to leave and left for Philadelphia, the perfect city for a player with Jefferies’ fragile temperament. He immediately went back to being a league-average hitter, which at first meant he was a below league-average first baseman. He got to Anaheim and Detroit before calling it a career in 2000.
I should also note that Wikipedia says that Gregg Jefferies married a girl who graduated from high school in 1999, which would make her 24 by a conservative estimate, sixteen years younger than the Jeff-man. Nice.
What’s the lesson here? Stay away from WFAN. You should know better. Oh, and RC Cola is great.
I now will present letters to the editor from the New York Times from September 25, 1988, debating whether Gregg Jefferies should be Rookie of the Year.
Even though Gregg Jefferies has been a superstar hitter, batting .400-plus, and also a great fielder, I’m sure that he doesn’t have enough games to be eligible to win the award. [ To qualify for the award, a rookie must have been on a major league roster for at least 45 days and have at least 130 times at bat. SANJAY NAIK Scarsdale, N.Y.
(Naik was actually off by 10, as Jefferies was 22 at bats off. He was also wrong, since Jefferies received six votes. Oh well.)
Chris Sabo of the Cincinnati Reds is the National League Rookie of the Year. Sabo’s performance as a rookie is an enviable paradigm of baseball excellence, a synthesis of performance, professionalism, discipline, and a personal modesty. MITCHEL GERBER East Meadow, L.I.
(I have the feeling Mitchel Gerber’s got him a big ol’ man crush.)
Gregg Jefferies steps up to the plate. Gets a fourth hit in four times at bat. Pandemonium at Shea. McCarver is yelling, Kiner is yelling, and on my radio, Thorn is shouting, and the Murph is ecstatic. Disregard the technicalities that say Mr. Jefferies does not have enough times at bat. Not only do you have the rookie of this year, but the rookie of last year, the year before, and next year as well. PAMELA ROMANO White Plains
(I have the feeling Pamela Romano’s got a big ol’ pair of wet underwear.)
To give Jefferies the Rookie of the Year award would be to make a mockery of that award. Let’s wait and evaluate him after a full year in the big leagues. DOUG FRIED New York
(Doug Fried is a big hater.)
RC Cola loses the Shea Stadium Contract to Coke
Gregg Jefferies at The Baseball Cube
I should have just cut and pasted this
Buy a Gregg Jefferies Starting Lineup Figurine Jerk