9 DUPACR: Gregg Jefferies

With 9 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, the focus is on former wunderkind Gregg Jefferies.

Jefferies was supposed to be the next Pete Rose — and the greatest offensive player ever produced by the Mets farm system, next to Darryl Strawberry. In spring training of 1998, and almost six months before he was added to the 25-man roster in 1988, Sports Illustrated ran a feature story on Jefferies, detailing his unusual work regimen and status as “arguably the best baseball player not on a Major League roster”. Within days of the SI issue’s release, high school boys throughout the country were marking up colored tennis balls and swinging bats underwater (including yours truly). Heck, I even remember a portly, much-too-hairy, middle-aged softball player who worked security at my college dragging a bat through the indoor pool.

And why wouldn’t we? After all, here was one quote from that article:

Some experts are already comparing Jefferies’s skills to those of Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Wade Boggs. Like Mantle, Gregg, who’s 5’10” and 175 pounds, is a switch-hitter with mirror-image swings from both sides of the plate. Like Rose, he’s highly aggressive; like Morgan, a smart, challenging base runner; and like Boggs, an immensely talented all-fields hitter. He’s so effective at the plate, in fact, that three times umpires have confiscated his custom-made black SSK bats at the behest of rival managers who thought, erroneously, that the bats were doctored.

Mickey Mantle? Wade Boggs? Fire another tennis ball at me — I’ll tell you what number is on it.

Without question, Jefferies was — at the time — the most-hyped prospect in Mets history. And at first, he lived up to the hype, hitting .321 with a .961 OPS, 6 HR, and 17 RBI in only 29 games at the end of the season — a season in which the Mets finished in first place, with 100 wins, but were stunned in the NLCS by a hot Dodgers club. I remember thinking, “wow, the Mets have tons of great young pitching, they’ve been to the NLCS twice in three years, and now they have this superstar hitter who isn’t even old enough to drink; the Mets have a dynasty and are going to go to the World Series all the time!”

If only.

Ironically, it was the arrival of Jefferies that was one of the key motions that destroyed, rather than fostered, a Mets dynasty. The destruction, of course, began right after the ’86 World Series, when the Mets sent Kevin Mitchell to San Diego for Kevin McReynolds, but the momentum built significantly after the team decided to “create a position” for Jefferies in 1989 — which, in turn, displaced Wally Backman, but more importantly, did not sit well with the veterans on the club, who saw Jefferies as a brat with a silver spoon placed in his his mouth. It was a tough first season for the 21-year-old, as he hit only .258 and was constantly tormented by the older Met players. He improved in 1990 — as the Mets began to regress — but then took a giant step backward in ’91 and was traded the following winter (with McReynolds and Keith Miller) for Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota.

Eventually, Jefferies did put up impressive numbers, but not until after he left Flushing (he hit .342 with 16 HR, 46 SBs, and only struck out 32 times in 612 PAs for St. Louis in 1993). As a Met, though, he’ll always be remembered as the kid who never came close to fulfilling the hype.

What #9 do you best remember? A few from the past include Joe Torre, Jim Hickman, Todd Hundley, Todd Zeile, Ricky Ledee, Bruce Bochy, Ty Wigginton, Mark Bradley, and J.C. Martin. Post your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Fred February 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm
    My favorite Jefferies memory actually happened when he was with the Phillies. He was playing left and the fans kept harrasing him by chanting “You’re a 5.” Doug Glanville was playing center and he was laughing his head off. So Jefferies asked him what it was all about and Glanvile, a Strat-o-Matic fanatic, explained to a perplexed Jefferies that his Strat defensive rating in left was a 5, the absolute worst range factor a player could have.

    Personally, I’d have rather heard about Hundley, or Ty, or even J.C. (the man with the greatest bunt in Mets history), than the Brat that Got Away.

  2. micalpalyn February 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm
    1. You forgot 1988 when Jeffries replaced HoJo at 3rd.
    2. Is this where the Mets tradition of …’place the player at any old position’ started.
    3. Kevin McReynolds, Jeff Kent must be mentioned too as players whose behaviours attitudes et al bounced them out of Flushing despite talent.
    4 As for unreached potential …Mets have had that ad nauseum.
    • Neil February 7, 2011 at 2:44 am
      Have the Mets really had ad nauseum unreached potential or just ad nauseum media reports?

      I read plenty of media reports saying the Mets have some quality players coming up in the system, blah, blah, blah; then I read this:
      “26. New York Mets
      Earth to Fred Wilpon: This is what a strict adherence to slot recommendations will buy you. Parsimony has its price.”

      I trust Keith Law as an honest talent evaluator, so a media proclaimed “middle of the pack” minor league system actually being 26 of 30 tends to raise an eyebrow.

      All things considered, I could go either way.

      It should be inconceivable a team in NYC with over $100,000,000 of payroll wouldn’t have the absolute best medical care available, but the last couple of seasons indicate this might not be the case.

      Maybe the Wilpons are skimpers (probably incredibly leveraged skimpers at that…) and the scouting departments and development systems are skimped as much as anything else.

      I remember Jefferies well, and I was so disappointed. One of the most endearing images I have of him is botching that ground ball in the playoffs against the Dodgers. I have always understood the phrase “look the ball into the mitt” after seeing that play.

  3. Walnutz15 February 7, 2011 at 9:36 am
    My favorite over-hyped Met of all-time.

    Sadly for Jefferies’ career, the on-field moment I remember best was the night he grounded out to end a game vs. the Phils [Final home game in ’89] — and charged at Roger McDowell to set-off a “brawl”. We had snuck down to the field level to take it all in; and not many were left at that point — was frigid in the upper deck.

    Essentially, they just tackled each other in-between the mound and 1st base….and everyone else just came out to observe any kind of pummeling Jefferies might take.

    As a 9-year old, I didn’t understand just how hated he was by his teammates……..after all, he was supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread.

    McDowell, now on the Phils: “Gregg’s been through some tough times this season. There’s been a lot of pressure on him and maybe it all got to him. I never disliked him, but I don’t think we’ll be exchanging Christmas cards this year.”

    Off-field: his fantastic letter that was faxed to WFAN.