Is the Home Run Act of Slugger Jeff Ledbetter Polished Enough for the Pros?

Ever since people first put fences around baseball diamonds, the game’s greatest rewards have gone to batters who send balls sailing over them. So if Jeff Ledbetter’s past proves to be prologue, the major league draft early this month could, for him, be a prelude to paychecks with multiple zeros. At 22, the Florida State senior has shattered virtually every significant power-hitting record in national collegiate history. This year, in 71 games as outfielder, designated hitter and pitcher, he has smashed 42 home runs (the previous NCAA season record was 29), driven in 122 runs (the old record: 120) and compiled an eye-opening .900 slugging percentage (total bases divided by at bats). His batting average was .389, and he also had a 10-1 record as a pitcher.

Remarkably, just two years ago Led-better led his team mainly in tantrums. “I was like bottled-up nitroglycerin,” he admits. The reason was nerves rubbed raw by hangovers. “If there was a party, I was there,” he says. “I used to play doubleheaders after a night of drinking and four hours’ sleep.” Bible studies straightened him out: “That helped me see what I was doing. Was I going to end up some 35-year-old slob sitting in front of the TV, drinking beer and saying how much better I had been than those guys in the majors?”

Big-league ball has always been Jeff’s dream. Growing up in Largo, Fla., he and younger brother Dave, now a relief pitcher at FSU, first practiced with a Ping-Pong ball and a wrapping-paper tube for a bat. “We were obsessed,” says Jeff. In 1978, upon graduating from Largo Senior High, Ledbetter was selected in Round 4 of the draft by the Yankees. “But I was a low-priority pick,” he explains, “and the money they offered didn’t match what I figured an education was worth, so I decided on FSU.” (He’s a communications major.)

This time around, scouts are obviously impressed by his power, though many point out he has profited from the uneven quality of college pitching. Others question his throwing arm as an outfielder. Yet Ledbetter-hit baseballs leap out of stadiums, and for such men are candy bars named. “The only tool he has is tremendous power,” says one baseball executive, “but that’s certainly a draftable commodity.”

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