By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
Gregg Jefferies was not the first great Mets prospect. A couple of them, Tom Seaver and Doc Gooden, reached the majors and attained stardom after a relatively short time in the minor leagues, so there was no long-term anticipation by Mets fans. Darryl Strawberry was the first super prospect that Mets fans followed throughout his minor league career. Although his numbers were just so-so, there was always the expectation that he would become a great player because of his tools and because he was the first player chosen in the 1980 amateur draft. Gregg Jefferies on the other hand had incredible statistics during his minor league career, won 2 minor league player of the year awards, and was clearly the best hitter in every league he ever played in, at least until he reached AAA.
Jefferies was the Mets' first round pick in 1985 as a shortstop, the twentieth player chosen over all. His reputation was as a great high school hitter, one who was obsessed with hitting, who practiced hitting in a swimming pool, who treated his bats as his prized possessions, whose hero was Ty Cobb. His father was his youth coach and he drove him hard. Jefferies' goal was not just to be a big leaguer, but to be the greatest hitter of all time. The Mets patiently brought him along through every step of their system where he was always a superior hitter. The problem was that Jefferies' defensive performance was well below average at shortstop and the Mets needed to find a place for him once he reached the big leagues, which seemed inevitable.
That the Mets chose to play Jefferies at second base, a position he barely played in the minor leagues, and hardly played at all in the nine years he spent in the big leagues following his trade away from the Mets can be considered the first of many missteps the Mets made in trying to fill that position for the better part of the next 20 years. The problems Jefferies had with his Met teammates are well documented elsewhere, so I will not go into that. Jefferies certainly had talent, but he just never fit in with the Mets, or at second base.
The Mets traded Wally Backman to the Twins to make room for Jefferies. Ask any self-proclaimed Mets expert who the Mets received in exchange. That's one tough Mets trivia question. Yes, it was Steve Gasser, Jeff Bumgarner, and Toby Nivens, three of the better pitching prospects in the Twins' system at the time, all of whom seemingly disappeared upon arrival with the Mets. Meanwhile, another second base prospect in the system, Keith Miller, was given a look. Keith was one of those hustling all-out head-first slide types who got injured too often to win a regular job. Both Jefferies and Miller were traded by the Mets to Kansas City in the same deal for Bret Saberhagen, and it was Miller rather than Jefferies who was given the second base job with the Royals. KC played Jefferies at third base and the rest of his big league career, mostly with the Cardinals and Phillies, was spent as a first baseman/outfielder. Gregg never came close to achieving his career goals, although he did have some fine years with the bat, once he left the Mets. Maybe the Mets should have tried Gregg at first base, where Dave Magadan replaced Keith Hernandez. Under Davey Johnson, the Mets seemed to take pride in moving players around. Kevin Mitchell at shortstop is hard to believe in retrospect, but it seemed to work fine in 1986. Future experiments like Howard Johnson in centerfield didn't work nearly as well. Meanwhile, Juan Samuel, a former all-star at second base was acquired by the Mets in exchange for two of their most popular players, not only with fans, but with teammates, Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell. The Mets played Samuel in center field and he was extremely disappointing before being traded away. Samuel spent the bulk of his playing time at second base both before and after his time with the Mets, but the Mets NEVER played him at second base.
So, this entire 1989-1991 period was one of turmoil and mistakes for the Mets at second base. When, in December of 1991, the Mets sent both Jefferies and Miller away, they left a hole at second base that was filled for the short term with the signing of veteran Willie Randolph. Later that season, the Mets traded for a future star at second base, but unfortunately, they didn't realize it. More in the next installment.
Part 1 - A History of Mistakes
Part 2 - The Sixties
Part 3 - The Seventies and Eighties
Part 4 - Gregg Jefferies - Current Article
Part 5 - Jeff Kent
Part 6 - The Carlos Baerga era/error
Part 7 - Roberto Alomar
Part 8 - 2004 - 2005
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008
Part 10 - The Future