Fan Friday: Gregg Jefferies and the moment

Fan Friday is a special selection of posts written by Mets fans and readers of MetsBlog. This post was written by comedian Steve Hofstetter


I remember the moment my heart broke. It was December of 1991 and I’d recently turned 12. I was in my bed, about to stay home from school with a cold. My sister burst in to my room to give me the bad news. The Mets just got two-time Cy Young Award winner Brett Saberhagen and player to be forgotten later Bill Pecota. But to do so, they gave up Keith Miller, Kevin McReynolds and my favorite player, Gregg Jefferies.

I’d been a Jefferies fan since his almost-rookie-season rookie season (he didn’t have the plate appearances needed to technically be a rookie).

Jefferies was a late call-up in 1988. In his first 13 games, Jefferies hit .462 and slugged .962, helping the Mets clinch the NL East. Maybe it’s because I was 9 years old and he wore No. 9. Or maybe it was because he hit five home runs in 13 games. But Jefferies was my guy.

1988 was the season that cemented my Mets fandom. While I remember actively trying to watch the Mets as early as 1983, and I remember being excited throughout the 1986 season, by 1988 I was old enough to start forming my own opinions, instead of echoing those of my older brother. He wasn’t a big fan of Jefferies – but I was. Gregg Jefferies beat out David Cone for my favorite player, and I began wearing number 9 in little league.

But just three years later, Jefferies was gone. If I wasn’t already feeling sick, that news would have been enough to keep me home from school.

Jefferies’ time on the Mets was not easy. While I didn’t understand it back then, Jefferies’ poor fielding led to behind-the-scenes (and occasionally, in front of the mic) arguments with teammates. Add in the subsequent media scrutiny, and the future king was no longer considered royalty, unless you count the trade to Kansas City.

The early ’90s were a difficult time for Mets fans on the whole. Sure, there’s always been an element of circus in our lives. But the early ’90s were the pinnacle of ridiculous.

Vince Coleman threw a lit firecracker into a group of fans, injuring three children. Bret Saberhagen sprayed bleach at reporters. Dwight Gooden failed a drug test, before failing another. Anthony Young racked up 27 consecutive losses. Bobby Bonilla existed. I trace it all back to 1991 – to that moment my heart broke. For me, that trade was the beginning of the end.

Cone was jettisoned less than a season later. And while I dabbled with the idea of rooting for the Yankees, I couldn’t do it. The Mets may have broken my heart, but they were still my team. My frustrating, frustrating team. It was good to grow up in the early ’90s as a Mets fan – every child should learn to deal with loss.

Meanwhile, I kept tabs on Jefferies. I watched him go to the Cardinals, a team smart enough to take a guy plagued by throwing errors and move him to first base. And then I watched, like a proud parent, as he not only made the All-Star Game, but started it. Everything I’d been telling my friends (and my brother) about Jefferies came true. He hit .342, competed for the batting title, stole 46 bases, and was an MVP candidate. This was the Gregg Jefferies I’d been rooting for more than half of my cognizant life.

By the time injuries began shortening Jefferies’ career, the Mets were competitive again, even playing in the World Series the year Jefferies retired. I lost track of him – I read he was coaching high school baseball somewhere in California, but that’s all I knew. He was retired, and I had grown into an adult. The moment had passed.

For the next 14 years, I worked on my career as a standup comedian. Baseball was still a big part of my life – like in 2006, when I would race to watch the playoffs as soon as my shows ended. I wrote for Sports Illustrated, and contributed to Maxim and the New York Times. But I barely thought of Gregg Jefferies. Occasionally I’d move, and find the pin I bought of him at a game in 1990. Or I’d look through my old writing, and find a parody poem of Casey At The Bat I wrote with him beating the Mets in the NLCS in 1994. (It’s as dreadfully bad as it sounds.) But, aside from those fleeting moments, the man responsible for my uniform number was gone from my consciousness.

These days, my comedy career is going pretty well, and it’s led to some neat baseball-related perks. Next week, I throw out a first pitch for the first time, and I get to write this very column for a Mets blog I’ve been reading for 10 years. And, recently, David Cone followed me on Twitter. I sent him a thank you tweet, and when I got no response, I forgot about it. It was cool, sure – but perhaps he was just returning my follow and not actually paying attention.

But when Cone favorited something I wrote a few days ago, the 9-year-old in me came flooding back. Did one of my childhood heroes like something I wrote? I suddenly remembered watching Ron Darling roll over the Phillies for the clincher, the Mets winning their 100th game and Jay Howell getting ejected for using pine tar in the NLCS. I remembered five ace starting pitchers, two MVP candidates, and a dominant closer before we knew what dominant closers were. And I remembered Gregg Jefferies.

On a whim, I checked to see if Jefferies had a Twitter account. His son coincidentally helped him start one just days earlier, and Jefferies had just 62 followers. I followed him, and sent him a note. He wrote a nice one back, and I assumed that would be the end of our exchange.

I remember the moment my heart soared. It was June of 2014 and I was a few months shy of 35. I was sitting with a friend when my phone buzzed, and there it was right in front of me. “Gregg Jefferies has followed you.” Gregg Jefferies followed me – just 25 years after I started following him.

It seems strange to get excited that a 46-year-old high school baseball coach may or may not be reading 140 characters of my narcissism. But that is what being a fan means. It’s a series of moments – of strikeouts and clutch hits, of throwing errors and diving catches. Some moments break your heart, and some moments send it soaring. But those moments stick with you. Those moments are what you live for.

I wonder if he’ll like my poem.


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42 comments
John G Oleon
John G Oleon

There is lots of noise on here about minor leaguers not being the way to go. Back then our farm system was fantastic and it lead to some good years winning. Once, Frank C gave up the reins it went to crap...but if he would have stayed around I think we would have won a few more. I hope this bunch sticks around and does the same. We need that one trade to get us better. I can't say its Castro, Gonzo, or whatever...but we need a big time bat like Hernandez, Carter and Piazza. That will push this team next year to a higher level. I have always been a fan of build from within. I love what Atlanta is doing signing its own players, I hope we do the same. I know Ill get Wilpon comments, or we should have signed so and so...and I agree somewhat...but the decision made so far have been pretty good...Choo Choo has looked like a disaster, Colon has been pretty good for 10mil as has Grandy...Duda is better than Davis, stats prove that and Keeping david has been good too...Now go get that bat...I don't care what position it is...I am a Mets fan since I was born and in my first game the Mets were no hit versus the Pirates so I should have known better lol

Bryan McEntee
Bryan McEntee

He's right up there with Billy Beane, Alex Escobar, Fernando Martinez, and Lastings Milldege

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

Remember Eddie Murray on the mets? Liked him a lot too.

Keith DeMatteo
Keith DeMatteo

Jefferies was my guy too. I have over 4hrs of his at bsts.. crazy I know..

Andrey Ganeev
Andrey Ganeev

John Olerud is the same for me. In 1997 when I started watching the Mets much more and on channel 7 they raved how great this trade would be for the Mets

sheaheykid
sheaheykid

Nice piece! September 1988 was indeed a magical time for the Mets with boy wonder Gregg Jefferies helping to wrap up the NL East division title.   (I was almost 11, and went to a game at Shea in late September with my dad and sister -- Randy Myers got the save!) But then the heartbreak really started with the NLCS (Scioscia's HR off Doc, yadda yadda yadda...)  Then Jefferies's sophomore slump in '89, the emergence of the Pirates with their "Killer Bs"  (one of whom -- Bonilla -- the Mets would sign for the '92 season and would prove to be less than a "killer"...)  Mediocre '90 and '91 seasons then led to, of course, the abominable '92 Mets ("the worst team money could buy" per the Bob Klapisch book.)

Which One's Pink
Which One's Pink

Ron commented on Jeffries a few months ago. He said he didn't really understand the grief Jeffries got and that he had no problems with him ever. He also said that some of the stuff Jeffries got grief for, like carrying his own bats around in a bag, are standard order today.

I've always hates all the bs about how rookies are supposed to suck up to veterans and take whatever crap is thrown at them. Nonsense. Is that how your workplace operates?

illnagas
illnagas

There was maybe too much hype surrounding him. I remember the AAA Tidewater team came to Rochester and he signed autographs for about a solid hour before first pitch. I'm not sure we've seen anything like that ever again.

lindro88
lindro88

Jeffries was a machine down the stretch. Night after night. 

Jeff Robins
Jeff Robins

Jefferies' career took off when he was traded to Kansas City and George Brett took him under his wing. His signing with Philadelphia was unfortunate. He wanted to stay with the Cardinals but wanted a no-trade contract because he was starting a family. Signed with Philadelphia and the lineup around him fell to pieces with injuries.

7up17left
7up17left

After 70 years it finally happened...Abbott and Costello were right!


7up17left
7up17left

Very nice article.  I can remember that dark, December evening in 1991 as well.  I thought we gave up way too much for Sabes.... Really liked Miller and Greg, but was never a big fan of "Mc Foster".  Too laid back for NYC.


That era from 1992 to 1997 is very reminisent of the last 5 years we have experienced as Met fans.  Maybe Sandy has a Robert Person's for John Olerud trade in him...

Nancy Fava
Nancy Fava

He was my favorite player in the late 80s too. I had a huge crush on him and once gave him my phone number at an autograph event. He never called.

mesmo
mesmo

Highly enjoyable column... I look forward to more.

Muhammad Qureshi
Muhammad Qureshi

Most of his teammates hated him. In yesterday's battle of the broadcast, he was referred to as "a hated player" who played with Keith and Ron. I thought that was hilarious. Mc.Dowell when I beloeve he was with the Braves also called gim a pre-madonna when he ran down to first when Jeffries ran down the line, which started a brawl. I mean we liked Jefferies b/c he wasa highly touted pprospect. Ultimately, he wasn't a fan favorite. Mostly, b/c his teammates hated him.

That was a good read man - I'll keep an eye out for your comedy

Craig Mitchell
Craig Mitchell

Jefferies was a spoiled brat who didn't know his place. He felt entitled and felt he was "Above" rookie treatment and his selfish and childish behavior in the clubhouse made him rather unpopular. And this isn't conjecture. I witnessed it myself.  He was never going to work out.

Aidan Maslow
Aidan Maslow

Gregg Jefferies was my favorite too growing up.


Michael Kelmachter
Michael Kelmachter

I think as kids we are more inclined to root for younger players-  referred to as "kids" all too often rather than more established adults.  The sense that here was someone younger than everyone else trying to make it makes perfect sense to a kid who is younger than everyone else.  I rooted for the "young guy" in a lot of sports for that reason-  Kevin Elster, my hometown hero Brian Leetch, Al Unser Jr, etc because they were younger than the other athletes.  I didn't quite get that the "young guy" was 10 or 12 years older than I am.

Jeffries may be one of the first of the publicly acknowledged "Non-New York" guys.  His sucess with the Cardinals-  known for their gentler fans and media speaks to his talent when given a chance to suceed.  But his issues with the media (the 1990 open letter on WFAN), attacking former Met Roger McDowell because of a comment the latter made, and replacing fan favorite Wally Backman doomed him almost from the start. Had he handled things differently, he might have gotten more leeway to blossom for the Mets.

The Feels band
The Feels band

Gregg Jefferies was my guy, too. I have a very similar story that includes recently getting a note from him on twitter, too! Too funny. It was also a weirdly special moment for me. 

Geoff Beers
Geoff Beers

In 1988 I was 14.  I remember seeing that he took swings in a swimming pool to increase bat speed and power.  I started going to my grandparents' pool the next day with a baseball bat.  

Sal
Sal

I was 10 when Jefferies came up and went nuts at the end of the 88 season.  I remember thinking he was going to be the next Daryl for this team.  A few hundred uppercut, warning-track fly balls later I was less convinced.  It was definitely a sign of the end of that amazing 80s run.


And while we're on the topic.  if Willie Mcgee didn't hit that stupid line drive off Darling that Friday night game in September of 1987 (the one that injured Darling's pitching hand), well then McDowell never comes in the game and blows it, and I'm certain the Mets go on and win the 87 pennant and World Series.  No way the Twins were beating us.


Oh, and Mike Scoscia, you can go to hell too.  Thanks for ruining the 88 season.  

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

Yup. I was about 10 years old. First heard the hype from collecting baseball cards. I was a huge Jefferies fan. I was totally unaware of the clubhouse bs, as a kid. He pretty much solidified my live for the mets. That jerk. Kidding!!

avmetsjets
avmetsjets

@SteveHofstetter No problem. Keep it up! BTW, my headshot is the same one from your friend's photo shoot in your basement in Montclair!

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

Yeah seems like the mets were a particularly rough bunch at the time. Wrong clubhouse for a kid like Jefferies to enter. I'm sure a lot of those guys were put off/jealous by the hype alone.

Michael Jacoutot
Michael Jacoutot

Matt Harvey also didn't subject himself to rookie treatment. Just ask Jon Rauch. It's not selfish in my opinion. Just holding oneself to a higher standard.

Merrill Needham
Merrill Needham

Good point. Probably explains my current hero worship of Colon and Abreau?

@fallenmartyr Class of 97! Who is this?

Michael Frias
Michael Frias

@Chapter 7  Yes.  I remember his 1988 Donruss card selling fro $10 at local card shows.  Now $10 can get you 100 copies of it.

Craig Mitchell
Craig Mitchell

@Michael Jacoutot Not making a judgement call. The 1988 Mets were a proud bunch and resented that this rookie wanted to be "given" veteran status without earning it. 

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

That goes for almost everyone else too! Didn't understand supply and demand at the time either. Great memories either way.