Reggie Jefferson: the High Heat Stats interview @ReggieJefferson
Reggie Jefferson played 9 seasons in the majors and is the closest to a .300 hitter you’ll ever see. With 637 hits in 2,123 career at-bats, his final MLB batting average is 0.300047. Jefferson also had a lot of power, posting a career .474 SLG and 112 OPS+.
Jefferson played for 4 teams in the big leagues plus 1 year in Japan. In 320 games for Boston from 1996 to 1998, he hit .327/.372/.524 with a 127 OPS, including a wicked awesome 1996 in which he batted .347 with a 143 OPS+.
Read below to find out how a front-office blunder cost the Reds his rights, which player on the stacked early 1990′s Indians he thinks is the best, and why he gave up switch-hitting.
Jefferson (virtually) sat down with us to answer a few questions about his career.
Andy at High Heat Stats: How did you come to start in professional baseball at such a young age? (just 17 with the Reds in 1986)
Reggie Jefferson: I have a late birthday (September) and was always one of the younger kids in my class. I played that first summer at age 17 so it allowed me to get into professional ball at a younger age than most American players
AndyHHS: Is it true that somebody in the Reds front office accidentally designated you for assignment instead of putting you on the disabled list? In a trillion dollar industry, it’s unbelievable a team could be so careless with one of its assets.
RJ: Yes, to make a long story short that is what happened! I had been on the DL with an illness and wasn’t ready to play. Instead of keeping me on the DL, I was designated for assignment. The mistake forced a trade to Cleveland.
AndyHHS: You were a big part of the 1993 Indians, an exciting team featuring you among many great young players, including Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, and Albert Belle. Did you sense that the team was poised to do special things, and who did you think were the best players?
RJ: Yes it was obvious there was some great talent on that team. We all knew that Cleveland was going to be a team to be reckoned with in the coming years.
All those guys you named were great players, but from the very first time I saw Manny Ramirez take BP, I knew I was watching something extra special.
I didn’t get to stay around for the good years, but it worked out well for me getting traded and I joke that all Cleveland Indians fans should love me because I was in the trade that brought them Omar Vizquel.
RJ: Wow I never knew that!!!! Yes Alex was a special player from day 1. I can’t tell you I could project the Offensive numbers he’s put up, but the one thing that stood out to me about Alex from other young shortstops I’ve seen is when he came to big-league camp at age 18,
I was amazed at his defense. I thought he was big league ready at 18 and I’ve never seen a young shortstop that I could say that about.
AndyHHS: You didn’t walk all that much in the majors but hit .300 with an awesome career .350 batting average on balls put in play (only 2 players–John Kruk and Derek Jeter–had a higher BAbip over the years of your career.) Was your batting approach designed to be so aggressive?
RJ: Yes it was. My strength was the ability to hit the ball to all fields. So it didn’t bother me where a pitcher threw me.
I had the mind-set that I was going to hit the ball where it was pitched. For a guy with a big strike zone like I had, that approach won’t allow you to walk much but it made me a really good hitter.
AndyHHS: What was your opinion on walks–did you go so far as to avoid them, or just feel that you’d help your team more by putting the ball in play? (One can argue that walks are more important for players who don’t hit as well as you did, and that the overall value put on walks within MLB wasn’t very high during your career.)
RJ: I think for the big power guys and the top of the order guys walks are fine. I didn’t really fall into either of those categories.
I think opposing pitchers respected my ability, but they weren’t pitching around Reggie Jefferson so I had to swing the bat.
I also Pinch-hit a lot early in my career and there’s an aggressive approach you have to have to succeed in that role.
AndyHHS: From June 16 to July 21 of 1996, you were a beast for the Red Sox, hitting .412/.467/.711 over 29 games, with 7 HR and 28 RBI. This incredible hot streak cemented your reputation as a great major-league hitter. Was there any particular thing that made the difference for you during that stretch?
RJ: That was the hottest streak I can remember in my career. I just saw the ball so well that year.
What’s ironic is I think I was the last position player from the opening day roster to get into a game that year.
AndyHHS: In Fenway Park for your career, you batted .345 with a fantastic .544 slugging percentage–amazing numbers considering that was your home park for half your career. What made hitting there so great for you?
RJ: Fenway is a great park for hitters. If you use the entire field as a Left-handed hitter you will be successful there.
I also loved the home crowd there and fed off their energy.
AndyHHS: You switch hit for a while in the majors but gave up batting righty after 1996 despite hitting .320/.393/.440 that year against lefties. Why did you quit switch hitting?
RJ: I actually gave up switch-hitting during the 1994 season, so those numbers were as a left-handed hitter.
I made the decision to give it up because I was a 1B/DH type guy and was better from the Left side of the plate.
If I had been an up the middle defender, I would have never stopped switch-hitting.
AndyHHS: There are a lot of varied accounts about what happened at the end of your major-league career in 1999. Any comment?
RJ: No comment, it’s in the past and would take too long to explain.
I will say that playing for the Sox was the highlight of my career and I loved every minute of being on those teams.
AndyHHS: You played one season in Japan. How does the talent compare to MLB and how did you like living there?
RJ: My take on Japan when I played there has proven to be true over the last ten years.
I felt there were many pitchers over there that could do well in the Major Leagues, but not many position players.
The size and speed of the major league player makes it hard for a Japanese position player to succeed as a everyday player over here.
The Japanese are passionate baseball fans and really support their baseball.
AndyHHS: What have you been busy with since your playing days, and what drives your passion today?
RJ: Baseball is my passion and it drives me every day. I work with the SFX Baseball Group as a player agent and really enjoy it.
I know the passion and dedication it takes to make it to the majors and want to help others live their dream as I did.
What a great guy! Please follow the one and only Reggie Jefferson on Twitter @ReggieJefferson
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