Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Colby Stereo

In 1988, the Mets recalled their Über-prospect Gregg Jefferies in late August so he'd be eligible for the playoffs and, in a move that placed Jefferies in the crosshairs of a close-knit, veteran policed, loosely run clubhouse, he became the regular third baseman.

Jefferies had demolished the minor leagues and, at 20, was known to be a wrecking crew with speed, pop and nearly identical swings from both sides of the plate. Permeated with veteran stars, the 80s Mets had their own way of doing things----most could get one arrested in several states and, for most of the decade infringed on their success. Inserting Jefferies into the mix proved combustible.

Such big time, big city stars as Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Ron Darling, David Cone and Lee Mazzilli still stalked the room and looked at Jefferies with a mix of jealousy, disgust and a begrudging acknowledgment that one of the biggest reasons the Mets pulled away from an upstart Pirates team was Jefferies's terrific month of September. That he supplanted popular veteran Howard Johnson at third base didn't endear him to the veterans either.

But he hit (.321; 6 homers; .921 OPS) and the team blew off into the sunset of the regular season winning 100 games before falling to Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers in the NLCS. The division was far more competitive than the final standings indicate as the Pirates hung with the Mets into late August before fading.

The team tolerated Jefferies and his helmet throwing, selfish, childish antics because he was helping them and for no other reason. It has to be realized that Jefferies: A) was a kid; B) was coddled by manager Davey Johnson; and C) had been spoiled since his childhood by a baseball coach father who was immersed and influential in everything Jefferies did----Sports Illustrated profile, March 21, 1988.

One of the main reasons that Hernandez was perceived to be a ringleader of the anti-Jefferies sentiment appeared to be jealousy. The two players were actually mirror images of one another in many ways. By the quirky player/broadcaster's own admission, Hernandez's father was the biggest influence in his career (along with Whitey Herzog, Ken Boyer and Lou Brock); so for him to have struggled his way up the big league food chain to stardom and nearly failing; then seeing Jefferies have everything handed to him must have grated Hernandez even further as he realized his career was beginning to wind down.

Hernandez, seeing himself as a "players' player" and still a bit immature himself, could and should have stepped in with and for Jefferies rather than to rain down more behind-his-back ridicule and foment the way the rookie was hazed. The hazing went beyond the normal stuff that goes on and is more an initiation and acceptance than outright abuse.

With bullies like Strawberry at the height of his powers and Johnson making things worse by continually defending Jefferies and writing his name in the lineup as 1989 unfolded, things got worse. Jefferies wasn't hitting; the club was transitioning from the Hernandez/Gary Carter days to younger players; Strawberry's off-field issues were manifesting themselves into a terrible season; they again faded down the stretch and blew a playoff spot to a far inferior Cubs team.

In retrospect, you can examine what happened and all the participants----Davey Johnson, Hernandez, Strawberry, Roger McDowell, Jefferies----would admit that they should've and could've done things differently. Jefferies said that many of the veteran teammates he ran into years later apologized to him.

It was bad timing for all. That Jefferies's career never developed as it should've (he had Hall of Fame talent) may have been a byproduct of the way he was developed. Bottom line, he was immature; but then, so were his veteran teammates and it didn't work for anyone. Hernandez and Carter were allowed to leave after 1989; Johnson was fired early in 1990; Strawberry went home to Los Angeles after 1990; Jefferies was traded to the Royals after 1991 for Bret Saberhagen (and, interestingly, Bill Pecota); the team was gradually broken up as a perceived failure considering the age and talent level from 1984-1990. Even without the Wild Card available, that collection should've won three World Series----at least.

Hindsight is 20/20.

But there's a similar dynamic occurring right now with the Cardinals and Colby Rasmus.

Rasmus's behavior is nowhere near the level of Jefferies in terms of tantrums, but he's unhappy with his role in St. Louis; the implication is that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa doesn't like him; a veteran team that was expected to contend for a World Series is faltering; and Rasmus has invited the ire of the entire clubhouse with the revelation that he's asked to be traded twice.

What's made things worse is that the leader of the Cardinals clubhouse, Albert Pujols, is known to be above reproach in behavior and leadership----unlike Hernandez, there's not going to be an underlying reason for his antipathy toward the young player; and when Pujols speaks publicly about the issue, given his regal Joe DiMaggio-style manner, it's an even greater stake through Rasmus and puts a prominent focus on a young player struggling with his station.

Looking at his numbers, there's no reason for Rasmus to not be playing every day. Is La Russa being La Russa and subtly picking on a player he dislikes? In most managerial situations, a manager is not as comfortable as La Russa to be able to take ancillary, off-field factors and bench a player whom they need to compete; but La Russa's doghouse tends to only have an entrance and the exit is I-70 out of St. Louis. You saw it with Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds most recently, but those players weren't young, inexpensive and the jewel of a somewhat unproductive farm system. Other managers, if they dislike a player, will write his name in the lineup anyway because it behooves them to do so if, for no other reason, than to keep their jobs. La Russa is unbeholden to such restraints.

But maybe he should be.

The Cardinals are underachieving and La Russa is only on a year-by-year contract. He's become an institution in St. Louis and even if GM John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt have had enough of him, it's unfeasible to make a change for next year. The Cardinals team as currently constructed is pretty much what they'll be next year with a tweak here and there----perhaps trading for a closer like Jonathan Broxton (Rasmus could conceivably be part of that type of trade) will be the most drastic change. The foundation of the team----Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright----are locked up contractually and going nowhere (in Pujols's case, he's free agent after next year and they're not letting him leave).

Clearly the issues go deeper than playing time. La Russa was said to be displeased with Rasmus's father's influence in his son's career, but La Russa is being too strident and letting personal feelings interfere in running the team by not putting the best players on the field; and Rasmus is being a baby.

You can read about all of the Cardinals issues

Getting rid of La Russa would be counterproductive. But then, so would Rasmus unless they're getting an commensurate return. If I was Mozeliak, I'd tell La Russa to write Rasmus's name in the lineup every day. Considering La Russa's failure to motivate this team to fulfill their potential and that they're probably not making the playoffs, La Russa's position isn't as strong as it might've been in say 2007 after winning the World Series the year before. One way to look at it is to ask where La Russa's going to go? The jobs maybe or definitely opening up after this season are as follows:

Mets----La Russa isn't going to want to deal with New York at his age.

Dodgers----A possibility, but if the Dodgers are slashing payroll, why would he want to go to Los Angeles amid all the McCourt drama?

Blue Jays----I can't see it.

Brewers----I doubt it.

Cubs----It would be interesting, but can a former Cardinals manager be accepted by the Cubs fans? Even La Russa? No. Plus Lou Piniella just failed with the Cubs, why should they pay another big name manager?


Marlins----They were ready to hire Bobby Valentine, why not La Russa?

I can't imagine La Russa managing elsewhere by choice; nor can I imagine the Cardinals telling him to leave.

They need to get this worked out.


  • Viewer Mail 9.8.2010:

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE The Verducci Effect and the Paul Effect:

The important part, in my opinion, is who Verducci & Co. leave out because they had no problems when plugged into his formula.

You did the right thing by drawing attention to those players, which I believe, sorta balances everything out to even, leaving me to say: SO WHAT?!?!

To me, the biggest factor of all of this is the way Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson got hurt and Barry Zito's effectiveness and velocity disappeared. It's strangely omitted.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jonathan Papelbon:

Re: Papelbon. It's because I want him in the NL where I won't have to look at him make that stupid face every time he pitches against the Yankees.

I think the stupid face would move along with him to the Mets. Getting Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo out of here precludes any and all annoying faces in my eyes.

John Seal (West Coast Spiritual Advisor) writes RE the inverted W:

Actually, it's called the 'inverted W'. Why it isn't just called a 'right-side up M', I don't know. It might sound fancier if we re-named it the 'face-down Sigma', which could serve double-duty as a term for inebriated frat rats.

Maybe they could call it the "Dismembered X"? "The Frankenstein G"?

I actually used the "inverted W" and it raised my velocity and gave me a checkpoint to get my arm in the proper position. (The end result when I released said ball afterward need not be discussed here.) I always had a problem with my arm reaching the proper position using the circle that some (including Tom Seaver) advocate.

I believe that the arm problems resulting from the technique emanate from pitchers like Mark Prior or Aaron Heilman who----naturally due to bodytype or because they're overdoing it----as they raise the elbow above the shoulder using the "inverted W". I always stopped my arm raise at shoulder height, which is what you're supposed to do.

It's more of a case of deviation in pitchers than any indictment against the technique itself. Bob Welch used it after he got to Oakland (I'm sure you'll remember) and it worked quite well for him.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday talking about a lot of stuff. You can download it to I-Tunes via Sal's site; visit him on Facebook and get it directly here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


She-Fan said...

I don't know if La Russa is going anywhere, but I'd rule out the Dodgers. My hunch is that Torre will be back there next year, McCourts or no McCourts.

Jeff said...

There's been talk of getting TLR back to the White Sox, where he should've never left to begin with... so I hear.

The Cardinals (and Rasmus especially) have broken my heart too many times this year. I hope the Reds go all the way.

If nothing else, it'd be a good story to tell.

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