Expectations can be cruel. Sometimes they can’t unfairly paint an unflattering picture.
Former Mets infielder Gregg Jefferies seems to be an illustration of the perils of expectations.
By any reasonable metric, Gregg Jefferies was a success in baseball. He played in three different decades over 14 different seasons. He was a first round pick who became a regular in the majors. He led the league in doubles one year, was selected to back to back All Star Games and became a millionaire many times over along the way.
But alas, Jefferies came of age in the decadence and exaggeration of New York of the 1980’s. The era of The Bonfire of the Vanities and the original rise of Donald Trump was the crucible that forged Gregg Jefferies. He began as the promise of the next great New York baseball star and would leave representing the disappointing slide of a once great team.
Jefferies went to Junipero Serra High School, the same Silicon Valley prep school that produced Jim Fregosi, Barry Bonds and eventually Tom Brady. He was a first round pick of the Mets in 1985 and entered an organization that was on the verge of greatness.
The likes of Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling were already playing at the major league level. Players like Kevin Elster and Dave Magadan were on their way up. But the prospect that got everyone buzzing was Jefferies.
In two Single A levels in 1985, the 17 year old batted .326 and posted an OPS of .876.
As an 18 year old, he shot all the way to Double A. As the parent team was winning the World Series, Jefferies batted a combined .353, had an OPS of .950, drove in 111 runs and posted double digit totals in home runs, doubles and triples. The young World Champion Mets had a budding batting champion developing in their farm system. The possibility of long term dominance seemed inevitable.
In 1987, he dominated in Double A as a 19 year old. His OPS was 1.021 and had power and batted .367, earning a cameo in New York for 6 games.
The build up continued in 1988 as the 20 year old Jefferies made his way to Triple A. He did not put up as gaudy numbers as he had in the previous year, but still was a solid all around hitter.
By late August he was on the big league club for good and he belonged. He batted .321 down the stretch, seeing his OPS get to .961, homering 6 times in 118 plate appearances. He was in the starting lineup for the NLCS, getting locked down playing time as Howard Johnson, Kevin Elster and Dave Magadan split other at bats.
In the playoffs, the hot hitting continued, and while the Mets did not advance to the World Series, they had a budding star.
He even had his Rookie eligibility protected and he would have a chance to win the Rookie of the Year in 1989. Jefferies looked cocky and willing to back it up. He even said he was going to take aim at Pete Rose’s all time hit record for his career.
But 1989 was a strange year in the history of the Mets and one that made their fans feel bitter that such a beloved team was tampered with.
With the Mets infield stacked, a position needed to be opened up for Jefferies. Popular Wally Backman, one of the many players who symbolized the hard fighting scrappy Mets, was shipped off to the Twins and Jefferies became the second baseman.
The Mets were prohibitive favorites to win their third NL East title in 4 years. But they did not come out of the gate blazing and found themselves trailing Montreal and Chicago for much of the season. And Jeffreies batted .176 in April and .195 in May with no homers.
As the year went on, the team started trading away more beloved players. Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell were dealt in a disastrous trade with Philadelphia for Juan Samuel. Mookie Wilson was shipped off to Toronto. Rick Aguilera was included in the Frank Viola trade. And the team was streaky, winning 6 in a row and losing 6, hovering near first but never leap frogging into position.
And with favorites being sent off, the slumping Jefferies became a symbol of what was wrong with the team. The scrappy hard nosed Backman, Wilson, Dykstra etc made the 1986 Mets tough and winners. And instead they had this soft kid who couldn’t hit.
He wound up hitting .324 in August and .300 in September, but it was too little too late. While he found his stroke by the end of the year, all anyone remembered was him starting a charge the mound brawl with beloved former Met Roger McDowell.
Jefferies got some Rookie of the Year votes in 1989 (he did in 1988 as well) but was looked upon as a colossal bust by the fans. He had a better 1990, leading the league with 40 doubles, but the Mets failed to make the post season again and Jefferies took the brunt with whispers that his teammates didn’t care for the cocky 22 year old kid.
In 1991, with the Mets no longer contending, Jefferies wrote a public letter defending himself to the fans. It backfired, painting him as a petulant child. That off season he was traded to the Royals in the Bret Saberhagen trade.
After an uneventful year in Kansas City he landed in St. Louis where it appeared he found a home in 1993. While he was a 6 year veteran, he was also only 25 years old and out of the New York limelight.
He made a pair of All Star teams, contended for the batting title and found his power again. Alas, the Cardinals would not give him a no trade clause and signed with the Phillies before the 1995 season. The fact that he was one of the few players signing multimillion dollar contracts during the strike/lockout was not good optics for Jefferies.
After a few good but not great years with the Phillies, he bounced around between the Angels and Tigers before injured finally had him hang up his spikes in 2000, not quite with 1600 hits.
It was a nice career, one that he can be proud of in his California baseball academy he runs. But he was supposed to be more, according to expectations, which we all know can be dangerous.