Saturday, January 30, 2010

History Repeats Itself

Earlier today I read an article that got me thinking about Gregg Jefferies, and the strange place he holds in Mets lore.

One of the most-hyped minor league prospects in franchise history, my best memory of Jefferies comes from his card in the 1988 Strat-o-Matic baseball set - the first set I ever owned. He split time between second and third base while he got the 109 at-bats the card was built on - a tantalizing hint of what Mets fans hoped the future held for Jefferies.

(Strat nerd alert: here's a picture of Jefferies card for that season. Jefferies was a 45/50 with more than 40 points of hits against lefties and righties. A 3e8 at third base, Jefferies also had a *19 and 19 points of home runs v. lefties. In short, he was a switch-hitting Evan Longoria with speed.)

Suffice it to say, Jefferies never lived up to the promise of that first Strat card. He appeared in parts of five mostly uninspiring seasons in New York, perhaps more notable for the controversy that surrounded him than any on-field achievements.

The controversy was mostly generated within his own clubhouse. Jefferies was hated by a cadre of veteran Mets and there was a perception around the team that the young star was a baby who received preferential treatment because of the potential he had displayed in the minor leagues. Even an ardent Jefferies supporter would have to admit that he did himself no favors with his on-field histrionics - think of a 21-year-old Paul O'Neill without the track record and the aw-shucks attitude off the field.

What really resonated with me was a 1990 story about Jefferies in the New York Times, written during Spring Training before the season began. Jefferies had a terrible start to the 1989 season, earning extra attention from manager Davey Johnson and others in the organization. As it tends to do in such situations, jealousy reared its ugly head in the Mets' clubhouse.

Things got so grim that some of the Mets muttered that Jefferies was hurting the team, even though he hit .289 with 11 home runs in his second-half revival. Randy Myers, who has since been traded to Cincinnati, sniped at him by writing across the lineup card: ''Are we trying?'' And Roger McDowell, after he was traded to Philadelphia last June, taunted Jefferies from the mound during a game in September and touched off a fight.

I find myself struck by the idea of a player having the gall to deface the lineup card to taunt a struggling teammate, one who was clearly talented enough to become a superstar one day. It goes a long way toward explaining why Myers was traded for John Franco after the 1989 season - a trade that I never really understood before today.

I also found myself flashing back to the "Know Your Place Rook" fiasco between Billy Wagner and Lastings Milledge from a few years ago. The Mets chose Jefferies over Myers in 1989 - they chose Wagner over Milledge in 2007. History repeats itself.

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