Sunday, November 28, 2010
#352) GREGG JEFFERIES
Gregg Jefferies was selected by the New York Mets organization in the first round (20th overall pick) of the free agent draft on June 3, 1985. The San Mateo Serra High School product was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in both 1986 and 1987. The first player to ever earn the honor twice. He was almost as famous for his aggressive daily workout that included swinging a bat in a swimming pool. Expectations continued to grow for the 19 year-old at an unachievable level. "Being compared to Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest players ever, when I heard the comparison, I just laughed to myself," recalls Gregg today. "The only thing Mickey and I had in common is that we were both switch-hitters and we both were male."
Jefferies made his major-league debut on September 6, 1987. He was promoted to New York when the rosters expanded to close the year. Gregg would have three hits in his six at-bats, while driving in two runs during limited time. Despite the fast start it was determined that he would return to Triple-A Tidewater for the next season.
Gregg would replace the veteran Wally Backman as the Mets starting second baseman on August 28, 1988. The move was ill-received by his teammates who did not seem to appreciate the hype surrounding Jefferies. His talent as a major-league hitter was shown with a .321 batting average in 29 games. Including a streak that earned him the National League Player of the Week honor on September 11, 1988. The Mets won the National League Eastern Division and faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. The young infielder had earned a spot on the postseason roster. "It's living a dream," Jefferies was quoted before the series. "Five weeks ago I was in the minor league, and now this." New York would fall to the Dodgers in a hard fought Championship Series. While playing third base, Gregg made a key error fielding a bunt from Orel Hershiser that led to a five-run second inning in the deciding seventh game. The mistake seemed to overshadow his nine hits in the series.
The young hitter struggled in his first full season, and recorded a .258 batting average in 1989. Things did not get much better the next year, and soon the once promising star was under fire from the fans, press and his fellow teammates. All of which became unbearable for the young ballplayer. "I don't believe anyone can deny the fact that I have consistently taken it on the chin for the last three years," wrote Gregg in an infamous letter that he read aloud to listeners of the New York radio station, WFAN on May 24, 1991. "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." The Mets called a players-only meeting in response that "was heated at times, but Gregg had his say and some people were able to talk to him." reported Mets pitcher, David Cone. The situation continued to deteriorate and in August there was discussion of moving Jefferies into the outfield or to trade him. "Whatever happens, happens," he was quoted. "It's still the early part of my career, and I'm not going to give up on myself yet. I'd like to stay in New York, but if I get traded, I'll play the best I can wherever I go."
Gregg was traded to the Kansas City Royals along with Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller in exchange for Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota on December 6, 1991. He became a two-time Major League All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals and retired with a .289 batting average in 14 years of professional baseball.
Looking back on his career, Jefferies says, "There was stuff I wouldn't have changed and stuff I would've. I would've loved to win the World Series. I was spoiled on the Mets in 1988, getting to the playoffs that early. I broke in early; I had some immaturities. I had a temper and I wish I had learned to tone that down. I did later. But I had a great time in New York. It gave me my name."
After his playing career he became the varsity baseball coach at Pleasanton Foothill High School with his father serving as his assistant coach. "It's fun coaching and getting that competitive edge again," Gregg said. "As a coach I'd say I'm kind of a mixture between my dad and Joe Torre." He taught his team the pool drill that brought him so much attention. "They love it."
"I was always very fiery. I had to be because I wasn't good enough to just throw the bat out there," Jefferies explained. "Did it hurt me sometimes, being an emotional player? Yeah. But people tell me now that I always played hard and that they loved the intensity. It's always like that—the longer you're retired, the better player you were."
Gregg Jefferies signed his card in the set for my friend, Adam of City-Liquidators at the MAB Show in Secaucus, New Jersey on November 13, 2010.