It just dawned on me that the radical differences in shifting descriptions are probably boomerang and post-boomerang shifters.
Boomerang shifter--nice shifting, a bit of free-play but effective:
Later, non-boomerang shifter--stiff, shifts like a truck but looks cleaner:
People on Badweb said that if I changed the spline position on the shift-shaft and adjusted the tie rod to get everything to have 90 degree angles that it would clear up. That would make perfect sense because the geometry of this is all kinds of screwed up. No clue if it came from the factory that way or if the PO did it (like the shift peg repair he did?
If I'm not mistaken, the 1999 has the earlier boomerang shifter. If it does, I'd leave it alone.