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Walk-Off Hype

It was about 15 years ago that my dad went to Florida to meet with someone for a business deal. This person wanted to impress my dad, so he arranged for a few meetings. One was dinner with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. Another was a quick meet-and-greet with former big leaguer Max Lanier. The third person he met was one that was larger than life- he got to spend nearly an hour talking with Ted Williams.

During this conversation, the name of a rising Mets prospect came up. His swing, that's the one that most reminds me of mine, Williams said. My dad came back to New York all excited in having this knowledge and we looked forward to watching this player for a long time.

For those too young to remember, think of Gregg Jefferies the rookie in basically the same way you think of David Wright. Jefferies was the subject of much hype, befitting of a player who was twice named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. In 1988, he was recalled in late August and became an immediate contributor. He was hitting line drives everywhere and his play-the-game hard mentality was endearing.

On September 16 of that season, the Mets were about a week away from clinching the NL East heading into a Friday meeting with the Expos. Jefferies was hitting .381 through 16 games, even after an 0-for-13 mini-slump that lasted all of three contests. On this night, batting third with Keith Hernandez out, he already had two hits heading into his at bat against southpaw Joe Hesketh with a runner on second and two outs in the ninth inning, of a 3-3 tie. A switch hitter, Jefferies was more than adept from the right side, and he whacked the first pitch into centerfield for the game-winning single.

In hindsight, one of Jefferies' comments to reporters after the game foreshadowed the rest of his Mets career. We just weren't smart enough to realize it at the time.

"A couple of years ago, if I'd gone 0-for-13, this place would have been wrecked."

After hitting .321 in 29 regular-season games and .333 in the playoffs, the expectations were tremendous for Jefferies, who was shifted to second base, for the 1989 season. He ran into a bit of a roadblock though, in the form of a 1-for-28 slump in early April. Jefferies couldn't shake his newfound reputation. His facial expressions usually showed disgust and he was known for throwing a mini-tantrum or two while in a funk, much to the delight of teasing teammates. Whether it was legitimate or not, Jefferies earned a reputation as a frustrated perfectionist. Though he closed the season strong, hitting over .300 with eight home runs in September, and led the National League in doubles with 40 in 1990, Jefferies never could get back to the level of appreciation he enjoyed in 1988.

After the 1991 season Jefferies was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the deal that brought Bret Saberhagen to the Mets. A year later he was dealt to St. Louis, where for two seasons, he was an All-Star, and the kind of player the Mets fans expected. In 1993, he had the best year of his career, hitting .342 with 46 steals and 83 RBI. He then spent four seasons with the Phillies, was traded to the Angels as a rent-a-player in late 1998, but Anaheim came up three games short of the AL West title. Jefferies spent the last two seasons of his career as a part-timer with the Tigers and retired with 1,593 hits and a .289 career batting average. He was a solid, respectable player, but not the megastar he was hyped up to be.

Take a look at the fan memories page at Ultimate Mets. The name still evokes a lot of passionate responses. Guess that's what happens when someone like Ted Williams says good things about you.

True Metsetters know...The Mets had nine different players get a walk-off RBI in 1988. The only player with more than one was Kevin Elster, who had two of them.

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