Sunday, August 26, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1991

Part 30 of our 50 year Top Prospect list...
What is it: 1991 Topps #30, Gregg Jefferies

What makes it interesting: Aesthetically, not a great deal. After the multi-colored fiasco that was the 1990 issue, Topps went way too simple for their 40th anniversary issue of 1991. The right mixture lies somewhere in between 1990 and 1991 and neither really captured it. Some people, in certain circles, do like this set, though.

I used to love Gregg Jefferies. When the Mets called him up in late August of '88, and he responded by hitting .321 with 6 HRs, and twice came within a single of hitting for the cycle, how could you not root for him? He made an immediate impact that pulled the Mets out of a team slump and carried them into the playoffs in '88. He didn't disappoint in the postseason, either, batting .333 with 9 hits in the Mets series loss to Los Angeles. The Minor League player of the decade for the 1980s, Gregg Jefferies was anointed a savior in waiting for the Mets, and his start in '88 certainly didn't lessen the hype. The Mets traded away Wally Backman and installed the 21-year old Jefferies as the starting 2Bman in '89. His rookie cards were the hottest thing around. I'm pretty sure I even had a Gregg Jefferies puzzle at one point.

But amid the hype, Jefferies wilted. His defense, never known as a large part of his game, was often suspect no matter what position he played. He only hit sporadically, finishing the year with a middling .258 average, 12 Home Runs and a paltry .392 Slugging Pct. Nonetheless, in a weak year of voting (the award went to the memorable Cubs outfielder Jerome Walton), Jefferies finished 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting (after managing to garner enough votes in 6 weeks' playing time to finish 6th in 1988). Nonetheless, Jefferies' star didn't dim much, and he did improve in 1990. Though his fielding was still lousy, and teammates often bickered with him over his attitude, justified as Jefferies often acted the part of a 22-year old, Jefferies raised his Batting Average to .283, with 15 Home Runs, 68 RBIs and a NL-Leading 40 Doubles (remember that?). Certainly, only a slight improvement would be necessary for Jefferies to develop into the All Star player everyone thought he would be.

Didn't happen. At least, not with the Mets. After a slow start in 1991, and continued bashing from his teammates and press, Jefferies responded with an open letter to WFAN pleading his case. This endeared him to no one and resulted in his being portrayed as a baby in a Daily News cartoon. Jefferies clearly couldn't win in New York, and his performance regressed in '91, as did the rest of the Mets, as they slid to 5th place in the NL East, and Jefferies slid to .272, with 9 HRs and 30XBH in total. Unable to get along with his teammates or the New York Media, Jefferies was dealt to Kansas City in the Bret Saberhagen deal prior to the '92 season. But, as trouble begets trouble, Saberhagen proved no better to the team chemistry or the team image, and the Mets spiraled out of control. Jefferies, meanwhile, found himself as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting over .300 multiple times, and making the All Star Team in 1993 and 1994.

Jefferies' legacy with the Mets is often mixed. On the one hand, he was clearly immature and unable to stand up to the glare of playing in New York. But his teammates' behavior during that period of time was no better, and often he got singled out due to the hype placed on him. Jefferies clearly had the talent, and was probably not used to adversity nor the egos of his fellow Major Leaguers, and only when he matured, long after he was gone from the Mets, did he find success. But, for those 6 weeks in 1988, he certainly won over 9-year old me, and I was a fan of his for as long as he was on the team. It's easy to block out the New York Media when you're that age.

Card back:

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