"KNOW YOUR PLACE, ROOK!"The post it heard 'round Washington.
Those who read this story of the Mets latest attempt to put Lastings Milledge's attitude on the path of the straight and narrow will certainly harken back to the days of Timo Perez, who was so hated by his teammates they let Rockies pitchers throw at his head twice (and Jay Payton once) after Perez "showboated" on a home run (which was more of a "thank goodness we finally have a chance to break this 200 game losing streak" kind of celebration.
But you'll also think back a little further to one Gregg Jefferies. If you think Lastings got hype...well you don't know hype unless you've been through the Gregg Jefferies Experience. Jefferies was a phenom of unmatched proportions when he came up through the Mets system in the mid-80's. His father (whom I suspect help create the stereotype of the "little league father") was more Jefferies' coach than father...putting him through all sorts of drills which included 1,000 swings a day from each side of the plate in a swimming pool (at least it wasn't a shallow gene pool). His rise through the minors were so documented, that when he finally came up in the last part of 1987, all Gregg Jefferies baseball cards had skyrocketed in value. New York may be a designated "baseball town" nowadays, but you couldn't combine the hype that surrounded David Wright, Jose Reyes, Mike Pelfrey with Milledge's hype, and come up with the promise that surrounded Gregg Jefferies.
And when Jefferies tore up the league in September of '88 and basically took over Howard Johnson's job in the playoffs? Jefferies was a baseball messiah! In fact, he was so much the baseball lord that the Mets were ready to trade Howard Johnson to Seattle for Mark Langston (instead, Langston was wheeled to Montreal for Randy Johnson later in the '89 season, satisfying Seattle's need for a Johnson). But instead, Jefferies went to second base to spell the end of Wally Backman's time as a Met.
Whatever ill feelings about the popular Backman being pushed out the door combined with the fact that Jefferies couldn't catch the ball (I guess you really can't do defensive drills in a swimming pool), and Jefferies ultra-competitive, ultra-sensitive attitude created problems in the room. It led to, among other things, a note scrawled next to Jefferies name on the lineup card which read "Are We Trying"?
The Mets' commitment to Jefferies worked kind of like the butterfly effect on the franchise. Mets management was so much in Gregg's corner that anybody in the clubhouse who was against him was gone. The man who allegedly scribbled the query next to his name was traded for John Franco. Another man who would later get into a large brawl with Jefferies during a Phillies/Mets game at Shea was traded for Juan Samuel. Was that a coincidence? Maybe, but remember that you're talking to the conspiracy theorist here. What wasn't a coincidence was that one of those trades set the franchise back valuable years. And putting the needs of one over the needs of many, as the Mets did with Jefferies, set the franchise back even further.
What we know now about Mets management tells us that they will not make that same mistake with Milledge...at least we hope so. Certainly, they have documented history to learn from.