Part of the Dodgers’ switch-hitting infield of the mid-1960s with Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills, and Wes Parker, Lefebvre had good power for a second baseman. His 12 homers as a rookie in 1965 were the lowest total to lead a pennant winner since 1947. On May 7 the following year, he homered from both sides of the plate in the same game, and his homer off Dave McNally in the 1966 World Series opener provided one of the two runs the Dodgers would score all series in a four-game sweep by the Orioles.
Lefebvre played in Japan from 1973 to 1976 and later coached the Dodgers, Giants, and A’s. A short career detour in the late ’60s saw him appear in a few TV shows (including a role as one of the Joker’s henchmen in an episode of Batman) but after retirement Lefebvre returned to baseball. He was named the Mariners’ manager in the winter of 1988 after gaining respect as the batting coach of the AL champion A’s.
In Seattle, Lefebvre met with mixed success. After two losing seasons, his focused and studied approach led the Mariners to a winning record (83-79) for the first time in franchise history. But his strong personality, ruthless intensity and what some considered questionable motivational tactics rubbed a few Mariners the wrong way. Slugger Jay Buhner, who resented Lefebvre’s decision to bench him late in the 1991 season, was stunned to hear his manager publicly challenge GM Woody Woodward to fulfill his preseason promise to acquire a new right-handed power hitter.
Such vocal differences of opinion soured Woodward’s relationship with Lefebvre, who was let go after the season. As Seattle collapsed to a 64-98 record the following season, Lefebvre took the helm of the Chicago Cubs and quickly won the respect of key players Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace, even though he angered George Bell by criticizing the slugger’s defense. “You want defense, you play Doug Dascenzo,” Bell replied. “You want two, three home runs, you play me.”
In Chicago, Lefebvre again righted an underachieving club, taking the Cubs over the .500 mark for the first time in eleven years in 1993 despite the defection of defending Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux to Atlanta before the season. But even so, Lefebvre’s team didn’t meet GM Larry Himes’s lofty expectations, and Lefebvre got the axe.
One of Lefebvre’s most memorable moments with the Cubs came when he invited the columnist George Will to address his team before a workout. “I never really understood the deficit until he was done talking,” said coach Tom Trebelhorn. “He put us 45 minutes behind our workout schedule – now I understand how the deficit began.”
Lefebvre joined the Brewers as batting coach in 1999 and was named interim manager of the team when Phil Garner was fired in mid-August.