I’ve Got Lefebvre

Scan 134

It was one of the most memorable moments in television history. Or at least it was to my nine-year old self.

In the pilot episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, radio disc jockey John Caravella is informed by new program director Andy Travis that, effective immediately, the station was changing its format from easy listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Caravella, who once worked at one of Los Angeles’ most successful radio stations but was fired for saying “booger” on the air, suddenly became unsure of himself. It had been quite some time since he had worked at a rock station. After the firing, he had been a nomad on the radio dial and eventually landed in Cincinnati, at the only station who would hire him. So he told Travis that he didn’t have any records. Andy then handed him a stack of vinyl and, after further objections from Caravella, gave the veteran DJ his vote of confidence.

What came next was spectacular. The breaking of an ‘elevator music’ record; the diabolical laughter while queuing up the next (rock) record; the pulling of the needle across the easy-listening LP he had just played.

Caravella, suddenly alive, becomes a rock and roll evangelist.

“Alright Cincinnati, it is time for this town to get down! You’ve got Johnny- Dr. Johnny Fever- and I’m burning up in here! Whoo! We all in critical condition, babies, but you can tell me where it hurts, because I got the healing prescription here from the big ‘KRP musical medicine cabinet. Now I’m talking about your 50,000 watt intensive care unit, babies! So just sit right down, relax, open your ears real wide and say, ‘give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it!'”  

Fever then goes into full geek-out mode as he begins blasting Ted Nugent’s Queen of the Forest. A few seconds into the song, the Doctor mutes the record, grabs the mic and throws on his shades. “I almost forgot, fellow babies: BOOGER!” 

Like the fictional Johnny Fever character, Jim Lefebvre enjoyed success in the City of Angels.

A native of Los Angeles, Jim Lefebvre signed with his home-town Dodgers out of Morningside High School in Inglewood and would rocket through the team’s farm system.

Debuting just three seasons after graduating high school, Jim won the 1965 N.L. Rookie of the Year award while starting at second base for the team that would go on to win the World Series. Unfortunately for Jim, an injury to his foot limited him to only the first three games of the Series.

Avoiding the “sophomore slump,” Lefebvre actually improved upon his award-winning rookie campaign to help lead the Dodgers back to the World Series. There would be no parade this time, however, as the Dodgers were swept by the Orioles in the Fall Classic. Jim did provide one of the few bright spots for the NL champs, who hit a collective .142 and scored but 2 runs during the Series, by homering in game 1 off of Orioles ace Dave McNally.

Jim’s career would forever be changed come the 1967 season, when the Dodgers moved him off second-base and over to the hot corner. The shift, triggered by a concern over his lack of range, left the golden boy feeling uneasy- and his offensive production began to slip. The Dodgers also used him for a few games at first-base that season, ushering in his new role as a utility player. It would be his role for the rest of his major league career.

It should be noted that it was during his Dodger career that Jim began acting, with roles on television series such as Batman and Gilligan’s Island, as well as the movie Riot on Sunset Strip. Following his playing career, Lefebvre returned to the screen, landing roles on Alice, M*A*S*H, Knight Rider and St. Elsewhere. Unfortunately, a role as Dr. Johnny Fever’s brother never surfaced.

Anyway, after learning that the Lotte Orions (Japanese League) were interested in him- and tired of his role as a part-time player- Jim was able to come to an agreement for a buyout with the Dodgers following the ’72 season.

Like his time with the Dodgers, Jim’s career in Japan didn’t quite live up to expectations. Jim’s new manager (Masaichi Kaneda) predicted his new import would win the league’s Triple Crown his first year with the Orions. It wasn’t to happen, as he fell short in all three categories. A leg injury – not to mention a demotion to the minors- cut short his 1974 season, but Lefebvre was able to come back and play in five of the six games in the Nippon Series, which the Orion won 4 games to 2. In winning, Lefebvre became the first player to win both a World Series and the Nippon Series.

Like so many other players, Jim’s journey led him in to scouting, coaching and eventually, managing following his playing career. After stints with the Dodgers, Giants and A’s organizations, Jim was hired to manage the Mariners, whose sinking ship he captained from 1989-1991. Frenchy, as he was known, took a bad Mariners team and guided them to an improve record each of the three seasons he spent there, culminating in the franchise’s first-ever season above .500 (83-79 in 1991). The improvement made under Jim’s watch wasn’t enough to save his job, as the team handed Jim his pink slip following that ’91 season.

Shortly after his dismissal, Lefebvre was hired to take over a Cubs team that was worse than the club he left in Seattle. And just like the improvements his Mariners team showed, Jim’s Cubs team improved upon each previous season.

Despite winning 84 games in 1993, the Cubs fired Lefebvre after just two seasons and, like Caravella, he became a nomad himself…taking jobs as an instructor or coach with the Brewers- where he would eventually serve as interim manager in 1999, as well as with the A’s, Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Padres organizations.

In 2005, Jim was hired to coach the Chinese national team, whom he led in both the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Summer Olympic Games at Beijing.

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