Although Jefferies was a disappointment compared to the hype he received in the minors, he did have a 14-year career in the majors, hitting .289/.344/.421 with a 107 OPS+. His OPS+ was better than league average every year until age 28 when injuries struck, and he had particularly good years in 1993 (.342/.408/.485, 142 OPS+, 5.5 WAR) and 1994 (.325/.391/.489, 130 OPS+, 1.9 WAR in the strike year). He stole 193 bases, was a two-time All Star, and posted a career 21.9 WAR.
It’s amazing to look at Gregg Jefferies’ baseball-reference page now and realize he was a pretty decent Major Leaguer. In my memory, outside of 29 games at the end of the 1988 season, he sucked.
Mets fans often reference Generation K and/or Alex Escobar when reminding each other of the way prospects frequently fail to match their surrounding hype. And I do that too, of course. But to me no former Met better embodies the distinction between expectations and actual performance than Jefferies, largely because I legitimately expected he’d end up in the Hall of Fame.
I followed the Mets in 1987, but 1988 was my breakout season as a crazy, full-tilt Mets fan. When Jefferies came up in late August of that year, with tons of hype surrounding his promotion, he was electrifying. In his first 13 games, he hit .462 with a .500 OBP and a .962 slugging. Small sample size, obviously, but I was 7 years old and knew nothing of the concept. I was watching this guy I had read about all season in Inside Pitch, and he was everything I had hoped he would be and more.
Ultimately he wasn’t, of course. But I can’t say I didn’t spend a significant amount of time that year trying to affect a permanent squint to make myself look like Gregg Jefferies. And in backyard Wiffleball games, I tried to imitate the way he frequently seemed to stumble over second base on doubles.
In 1989, Jefferies stunk it up out of the gate, and I guess my appreciation for him fizzled quickly. I remember a bunch of nonsense in the newspapers involving an open letter to Mets fans, but I can’t recall the specifics. By the time he was traded to the Royals in December, 1991, I was more upset about the departure of another favorite — Kevin McReynolds — than the loss of the 24-year-old Jefferies. And more than anything, I was excited about the All-Star cast the Mets seemed to be pulling together for the 1992 season.