Now, five years later, Butler, 37, is the Mets' new leadoff hitter and centerfielder. "We've attempted to flush out the problems and not accept the shenanigans that went on here before," says Dallas Green, who begins his third season as Met manager with a 101-136 record. "We can turn it around with people of quality. Not just nice guys, but guys with good work ethics and God-given ability. Brett brings that. The little guy obviously doesn't have power, but he has great speed and the ability to create havoc on the bases."
Last season, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the little guy batted a career-high .314, scored 79 runs and stole 27 bases, two more than the entire Met team. He led the National League in triples with nine, and as a leadoff batter had a .402 on-base percentage—84 points higher than that of shortstop Jose Vizcaino, who led off for New York. Nevertheless the Dodgers decided to go with a younger, less-expensive outfield this season, and Butler wound up back on the free-agent market.
This time Butler and the Mets liked what they saw in each other. "Things are different here now," Butler says. "With improved pitching [the Mets added free-agent righthander Pete Harnisch] and defense we have a chance of winning."
When Gregg Jefferies played his first full major league season, with the Mets in 1989, he was a second baseman. Upon being traded to Kansas City before the start of the '92 season, he became a third baseman. A year later he went to St. Louis and was moved to first base. Now, after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Philadelphia PHILLIES, Jefferies is playing another new position—leftfield.
"In my mind it's where he should have been from the start," says Phillie general manager Lee Thomas. "Playing outfield will help his hitting because he won't be as concerned with being in the action." In the off-season Jefferies worked on his defense with San Francisco's Darren Lewis, a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, and he now feels comfortable in his new position.
With the addition of Jefferies, who batted .325 for the Cardinals last year, the Phillies will have one of the more potent offenses in the league. "The starting pitchers should sprint to the mound to pitch for this team," says pitcher Curt Schilling. "We're going to score a lot of runs." But so will the opposition if the Phillies' ailing rotation—Tommy Greene (sore shoulder) and Bobby Munoz (elbow sprain)—doesn't get help in a hurry.
One team that should have a healthier outlook heading into the season is the MARLINS, who have high expect at ions for rookie catcher Charles Johnson. A first-round pick in the 1992 amateur draft. Johnson hit 28 homers for Double A Portland (Maine) last season and has a large following in Florida, having grown up in Fort Pierce and played at the University of Miami.
"He is so good defensively at blocking balls, throwing and handling the staff," says Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski. "He still has to learn how to hit major league pitching, but he has the skill to eventually hit 20 home runs a season."
This year the Marlins added experience by signing free agents like Pendleton, pitchers John Burkett and Bobby Witt, and Miami resident Andre Dawson, but overall the team is still young. Once or twice a week Dawson might be in leftfield, a position he hasn't played since his days at Florida A&M nearly 20 years ago...when he was a teammate of Johnson 'a father.