Tuesday, March 5, 2013

#509 - Jesse Jefferson

This happy guy looks like he’s photographed in spring training just before his rookie year is to begin. I am unsure as to the specific setting but it looks very nice with the trees all over. Jesse looks like he’s trying an interesting pitching move here since it appears he just delivered one into the dugout. He was a bit wild but this would seem a bit extreme. He would have a pretty good rookie season, especially in his first start in which he went ten innings in a 2-1 win over the Red Sox. His debut came in June after he put up a pretty decent season in Triple A where the only real demerit to his stats was his nearly walk an inning. Walks would be a problem throughout his career and despite a pretty good arsenal of pitches his rookie season would generally be his best. Down the road he would give Oscar Gamble a run for the money afro-wise.

 Jesse Jefferson grew up in Midlothian Virginia, about twenty miles outside Richmond. There he played hoops and ball and was taken out of high school by the Orioles in the ’68 draft. That first summer in Rookie ball he blew people away – 99 strikeouts in 69 innings – but also walked a bunch and gave up lots of runs. ‘69 was more of the same at that level though he pitched a couple good games of long relief in A ball. ’70 was all A and while the walks stayed high he managed to pull two runs off his ERA. In ’71 Jesse moved to Double A and there seemed to wrangle his control, producing a good ERA to support his first winning record. After another good beginning at that level to the ’72 season he got promoted mid-year to Triple A where he once again shaved a run off his ERA. After his start in Triple A in ’73 he was done with the minors for a long time.

Jefferson’s rookie year had Baltimore brass cautiously optimistic about his future. But ’74 was a tough follow-up year. He didn’t get his first start until July and was relegated mostly to middle relief work, going 1-0 with a 4.40 ERA in only 57 innings. In ’75 his time declined even more and by mid-season Jesse had only thrown eight innings. He was then traded to the White Sox for Tony Muser. The Sox were hurting for effective pitching and they put Jesse into the rotation immediately with not great results: a 5-9 record with a 5.10 ERA and 94 walks in 108 innings. He then began ’76 in that spot but a terrible start took him out of the rotation as his innings dropped. After finishing the year 2-5 with an ERA approaching 9.00, Jesse was taken by the Blue Jays in that winter’s expansion draft. Jefferson would spend the next two seasons in Toronto’s rotation, getting over 30 starts each year. Given the infield behind him, his ERA of about 4.35 during that time wasn’t too bad. He also pulled his walk totals down a bunch and went a combined 16-33 those two years. In ’79, though, his ERA took off again and he became a swing guy, finishing with a 2-10 record and a 5.51 ERA. He maintained that role – and unfortunately about that record – in ’80 and that September was placed on waivers. Picked up by Pittsburgh he had a nice start to end the season. He then signed with California as a free agent, again did some swing work, and put up one of his better seasons, going 2-4 with a 3.62 ERA and a big discount to his walk totals. But his contract was only for a year and he signed back with Baltimore but was released during spring training of ’82. In ’83 he attempted a comeback with the Angels in Triple A and then retired. Up top he went 39-81 with a 4.81 ERA, 25 complete games, and four shutouts. In the minors Jesse was 40-53 with a 3.74 ERA.

Jefferson liked his hometown and he resided there during his career and at least immediately thereafter. He was a driver for the sanitation department in Midlothian for lots of years and seems to have been regarded as a nice guy. He passed away in 2011 from prostate cancer at only 62. There is a pretty touching tribute to him by Sam Ewing, a DH/outfielder/catcher on the early Toronto teams, on one of the online memorial websites.

Jesse has a great flowing signature and boy, is he loaded up on those presidential names. Topps rips him off a bit with that ERA his rookie year though. His real one was 4.11 and it was corrected on later cards.

This is another hook-up that is surprisingly short:

1. Jefferson and Ron Fairly ’77 Blue Jays;
2. Fairly was on the ’73 Expos.

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