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.

These days Jefferson (follow him on Twitter @ReggieJefferson) works as a player agent with SFX Baseball Group, one of the leading representative groups for MLB players.

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.

AndyHHS: In 1994, you became the 1st player to ever pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez, during his first cup of coffee with the Mariners. Was it
obvious back then that he would be so good?

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.

I was behind Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco at the start of the season, but I remember just continuing to work hard and when I got my shot I made the most of it and hit .347

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


Comments

Reggie Jefferson: the High Heat Stats interview @ReggieJefferson — 28 Comments

  1. Cool stuff. I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in April, saw that he made the Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame this year. He played all of 1988 there and part of the previous year. The team had a nice display of memorabilia from his time with the team.

    Reggie’s actually on my list of guys, 1990 Nashville Sound, did his research-based feature back in 2010.

    Steve
    Greatest21Days.com

  2. I lived in Iowa City when Reggie played for Cedar Rapids and remember him clearly. He may not have grown to his full height then but he was still the biggest guy on the field by far as a general rule. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2nd or 3rd time I saw him play that he really impressed me- because of his size I had been assuming that he was a 23 or 24 year old playing against mostly 20 year olds. When I realized he was only 18 or 19 I knew he had a chance to be something special.

  3. Interesting insights into the Japanese players. You do also wonder whether the posting system means we tend to get people after their peak years, so the age-related declines in athletic ability might have a even more disproportionate impact on players who don’t have the size/strength to start with. Off point, on size and speed, but I remember reading that when Brooks Brothers opened it’s first Tokyo store they had to re-cut some of the sizes, particularly for the suits, as the bottom end of the men’s suit cuts (now, not lower than 37/29) just didn’t fit the average adult male. Given the interesting interview, I forgive Reggie’s playing time with the Red Sox.

  4. I was watching the Reds @ Phils Retro-90s gm last night and thought to myself, they had to get the Reds Unis wrong. I thought the lettering on the player names was way bigger then it was in the early 90s.

    After viewing the UD card at the top, I stand corrected.

    cool interview. solid Qs and interesting insights from Jefferson.

  5. “Fenway is a great park for hitters. If you use the entire field as a left-handed hitter you will be successful there.”

    It’s good to hear that from someone who lived it. Some people seem to think the park in general and the Monster in particular mainly benefit righty hitters, even though the evidence screams otherwise.

    Nice work, Andy.

    • Most reports say that Jefferson was told he was going to be left off the ’99 playoff roster and “quit on the spot” at the end of the year. I’m not sure if that’s totally true, especially because I think his contract was up anyway.

      Then, recently, when the team had its 100 Years of Fenway celebration, he was not present despite the fact that a bazillion former Red Sox were. It seems unlikely that current ownership would hold anything against him. It’s not clear if he was invited or not, or if he declined, or what. I didn’t really want to ask him because it seemed sort of classless on my part.

        • There was some dispute in the 1999 season about him being sent down for a rehab assignment and then not being recalled because the Red Sox did not have either a position or a roster spot for him. The union got involved-he was in his walk year, he wasn’t old, and there was no real indication he couldn’t still play/hit. The Red Sox just didn’t want him on the ML roster, and they didn’t want to release him during the season.

          • Mike L:
            Re the 1999 BoSox, how about Darren Lewis posting an OPS+ of 57 ! That mark is good for 2nd worst all-time among players qualified for the batting title in a single season where they played at least 60% of their games in CF. Exceeded by only…….the great Willie Taveras.

            I was not aware of Jefferson being held hostage by the Red Sox. Thanks for the insight.

            Just curious: Based on your Japanese mens’ suits comments, did you ever wholesale clothing – trunk shows type of stuff? Retail sales?

          • Paul E. As my wife and kids will attest I am no clothes horse and would probably be laughed out of a store if i applied for a job. I do, however, have a memory like an attic. Lots of random boxes of useless information. I’m pretty sure i read the Japanese Brooks Brothers story in the Wall Street Journal some time in the eighties.

  6. Terrific interview, Andy, great job. Only three men have DH’ed for the Red Sox more than Reggie J.: David Ortiz, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. Pretty good company.

  7. Can anyone explain to me Reggie’s answer to why he stopped switch-hitting? He said it was because of his defensive position (1B/DH) and he wouldn’t have stopped switch-hitting if he had been an “up the middle” defender. I don’t see the connection.

    • I suspect it was simply because he was inept as a right-handed batter. I wonder if instead of trying to switch-hit he tried to learn to hit lefties as a lefty he may have had a better career perhaps as a full-time player.

    • Doug, I also found that answer intriguing. My take is that (as a 1B/DH) he was expected to hit for power, and his aggressive swing was designed to do so. Had he been a middle-infielder, he could have shortened his swing, gone strictly for contact, etc.

      Remember that he played a lot before the Steroids Era, before the expectation that anybody on the field could and should have a lot of power.

      • Andy, your comment about the Steroids Era puzzles me a little. Jefferson played from 1991-1999, and the Bash Brothers were definitely juicing during that time. Steroids were endemic in football in the 1980s-I remember Pete Gent’s “The Franchise” talking about how lineman had been doing them since high school.
        I’m not at all suggesting Jefferson took steroids, just wondering where we really come down in defining the steroids era?

        • 1993 is when offense took off and when perceptions changed about what players were capable of. Jefferson was indoctrinated in the big leagues before that. That’s all I was trying to say.

    • Thanks guys.

      Taking Reggie at his word that he stopped switch-hitting in 1994, his 1993 splits are a good indication why – .270/.321/.417 batting left vs. .196/.283/.262 batting right.

      Not a good thing (whatever position you play) when your platoon “advantage” haa you batting under .200 with a higher OBP than SLG. Might as well bat from your natural side if that’s all you can do.

  8. I don’t have anything insightful to add, but this was a good interview from both the Q side and the A side. Thanks to both parties!

  9. I have often wondered what became of Jefferson, so thanks very much for this article. Why am I browsing the internet looking for Reggie Jefferson info today? The last game I ever saw in person at old Cleveland Stadium was 21 years ago today, and Reggie won it with a walk-off solo homer off of David Cone. It was the ESPN Sunday night game, so others may remember that moment, but it was especially sweet and meaningful for me.

    It’s still hard to believe a guy who could hit like that had his career cut short, and for such mysterious reasons to this day. I’m still curious, but glad to know that Jefferson seems to be successful and at peace with things.

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