The Post’s Kevin Kernan is one of my favorite NY sports writers and has a nice piece this morning in the Post about Gregg Jefferies.
Jefferies is candid about his Mets days, but I don’t believe that there was as much resent for him replacing Wally Backman amongst the team as is indicated in Kernan’s piece. Much of the problems that Jefferies and the Mets suffered occured as a result of the organization’s plans for him. After Jeffereries extremely successful late season stint in 1988, the plan was to have him play third base. Who can blame them? He was that good and it was while he was playing 3B.
Howard Johnson was long rumored to be traded during the off-season in a deal which would bring lefthander Mark Langston to the Mets. The trade would allow Jefferies to play third. Talk continued during the spring, but the deal never materialized. The Mets made the decision during spring training to make Jefferies a second baseman – a position for which he was never suited for and had played only a handful of games. .
It was a disaster and Jefferies stuggled terribly in 1989, proving to be a drag on the entire team. The club’s energy slowly bleed. Looking for a boost, on June 18th the Mets traded Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra to the Phillies for Juan Samuel. A career second baseman, Samuel had been moved to centerfield by the Phillies before the start of the season. When Jefferies poor season continued, many were calling for Jefferies to be optioned to AAA Tidewater. Davey Johnson was the lone voice in the organization that desired keeping him and ended up being one of Johnson’s rare faulty assessments.
While Jefferies was a recluse and had no friends on the club, players were sympathetic of the situation he’d been put into. The club was in second place and many wanted the Mets to send Jefferies down, to bring Samuel in from center to play second and for Mookie Wilson be inserted into centerfield everyday.
It never happened. Wilson was dealt to Toronto on the same day Frank Viola was acquired and Samuel was sent to the Dodgers that winter. The Cubs won the division by six games and the Mets did not appear in the post-season again for another decade.
With Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter at the end of their careers and soon be gone, the Mets looked to build their everyday line-up around Johnson, Darryl Strawberry and Jefferies. Frank Cashen’s momentous decision to low-ball Strawberry in contract negotiations during the 1989 season sent the vulnerable gifted star into a personal tailspin. He would leave after the 1990 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Realizing that Jefferries was not a player they could not build around he was traded along with Keven McReynolds after the 1991 season for Brett Saberhagen. Bobby Bonilla was signed the same winter. The Mets slid into mediocrity finishing 5th in 1992 and last in 1993.
One can easily hypothisize that the Mets fall in the later half of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s can be traced to the organization’s handling of Jefferies. If Jefferies had been sent down during the 1989 season, it would have served to alleviate the tremendous pressure that had been put on him. His presence had almost become cancer, not all of his own doing. The drama palyed out daily on WFAN and in the newspapers. Page Six fodder came from the Mets’ clubhouse. Optioning Jefferies would have been the most prudent decision. If the Mets – sans Jefferies had rebounded and wrested the division from the Cubs in 1989, the club’s legacy and direction would have been far different.
A great might have been to be sure, but it could have been the same for Jefferies.
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This post was written by bobsikes on January 30, 2010