This is the 20-year anniversary of one of the best trades Dal Maxvill made as Cardinals general manager.
On Feb. 12, 1993, the Cardinals acquired Gregg Jefferies and minor-league outfielder Ed Gerald from the Royals for right fielder Felix Jose and infielder Craig Wilson.
Jefferies, who had made 26 errors at third base for the 1992 Royals and never had played first base in the major leagues, was tabbed to replace departed free-agent first baseman Andres Galarraga.
The move paid off spectacularly.
Jefferies, 26, had a career year for the 1993 Cardinals. He hit .342 in 142 games, with 16 home runs, 83 RBI and 46 stolen bases. He committed only nine errors.
The deal was made because the Cardinals were looking to cut down on the number of runners stranded in scoring position.
Cardinals batters had struck out 996 times in 1992. Jose, who usually batted third or fourth, struck out 100 times. He too often stranded a runner at third base with less than two outs because of his inability to make contact consistently.
“That killed us more than anything last year,” Cardinals manager Joe Torre said to Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch in February 1993.
Jose’s weakness was Jefferies’ strength. “I take pride in being able to do that,” Jefferies said of knocking in runners from third by making contact.
Jefferies struck out just 29 times in 604 at-bats for the 1992 Royals.
Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewksbury hailed the trade: “Having somebody with thunder in the lineup is going to help. It’s not thunder like Jack Clark, but (Jefferies) is going to hit the ball hard a lot.”
Said Torre: “Jefferies is a legitimate good hitter. Felix probably scared people more, but he would swing and miss too often.”
Jefferies never balked at learning to play first base.
“First base is fine,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “There will be some footwork and short hops to deal with, but having played second base and third base can help me with both of those at first base.
“I take as much pride in my defense as I do in my offense … It will be nice taking throws from Ozzie Smith. I can get used to that.”
Though Jefferies was 5 feet 10, short by most first baseman standards, Maxvill noted that Steve Garvey, an all-star first baseman with the Dodgers and Padres, was the same height. “I don’t think that’s a factor,” Maxvill told the New York Times. “Most throws from infielders are in the dirt rather than high.”
Maxvill and Royals general manager Herk Robinson had discussed a Jefferies-for-Jose deal at the 1992 winter meetings. It wasn’t until Maxvill agreed to include Wilson that the deal was made shortly before the 1993 start of spring training.
“We feel he’s a more consistent and more disciplined hitter (than Jose),” Maxvill said of Jefferies. “… We think he can win a batting championship.”
Jefferies placed third in the 1993 National League batting race, behind the Rockies’ Galarraga (.370) and the Padres’ Tony Gwynn (.358). Jefferies had 143 singles (second in the league to the 149 of the Dodgers’ Brett Butler) among his 186 hits in 1993. He struck out just 32 times in 612 plate appearances.
In strike-shortened 1994, Jefferies hit .325 for St. Louis. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Phillies. In two years with the Cardinals, Jefferies overall had a .335 batting average and a .401 on-base percentage.
Today, Jefferies operates the Gregg Jefferies Sports Academy in Pleasanton, Calif.