For fans and collectors, spring means time for the recurrent belief that this year’s prospect will become the next Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton. Back in the penny stock market days of the card collecting hobby (what we call the overproduction eras well), we looked forward to seeing how our “heroes of tomorrow” were progressing. Was this the year when they’d break out? Players who had big success in spring training sometimes spurred a mini rush to get their cards. Who can forget when hot prospects like Steve Decker or Gary Scott had us pulling their rookie cards?
A player who did have a better career then those two in spite of incredibly lofty expectations was Gregg Jefferies. A heavily hyped New York Mets prospect, Mets fans hoped Jefferies was going to be the player to lead the Mets into the 1990’s and keep them atop the National League East. When his rookie cards arrived in 1988, the hobby’s explosion was in full bloom. A late season call up, he hit .321 in 29 games, helping the Mets win the East.
The earliest sales of the 1988 Donruss Jefferies card (and we need to mention they were short prints in the set) were upwards of $10 in the New York Metropolitan area. Now let that sink in; $10 for a card in a set we can usually barely get $10 for today (personally, I think the 1988 Score of Jefferies is the most attractive of his three rookie cards).
Speculating with allowance money or a 20-dollar bill was a big part of the market and collectors and dealers were riveted, even when his first Topps card arrived in 1989.
Ten years later, when the amount of product produced in that era became known and Jefferies was on his sixth team, it was clear that those cards wouldn’t be putting anyone through college…but at least most people weren’t really out that much.
Today, a year or two before he reached the big leagues, a player such as Jefferies would have had a Bowman Chrome autograph and it would have cost a lot more to ‘invest’ in his cards. Jefferies was so hot as he began his major league career that we can compare him to a player such as Kris Bryant today who is so blazing that his 2013 autographs are helping to carry the 2014 Bowman Chrome product. There are some Gregg Jefferies autographs but needless to say, if autograph cards had existed in the late 1980’s, they would have been smoking hot in the secondary market.
I saw Jefferies play a few minor league games while setting up at various shows and I always thought he was placed into the wrong position. To me, he had the speed to play center field and I think he would have been able to adjust to that position. The Mets tried once in 1989 when they moved second baseman Juan Samuel to center field (talk about a mismatch of skill sets) but I think the Jefferies move would have worked.
Instead, Jefferies became a bit of a journeyman, having his best years with the St. Louis Cardinals, making a couple of All-Star teams. He played 14 seasons in all, ending with a very respectable .289 career average, never becoming the superstar some had projected but also able to put aside the overwhelming expectations that would have melted some young players.
If you were a young collector when Jefferies was the hottest name in the hobby, you probably have fond recollections of that time. Seeing his face inside a pack was the equivalent of landing a ‘big hit’ in one of today’s products. Today you can buy his rookie cards for a buck or two. So even though they aren’t worth a lot—and which cards are from that era?—those memories are what a big part of what collecting is all about.