Thursday, June 19, 2014

Card #64: Lynn Jones

Who Can It Be Now?
Lynn Morris Jones was born on January 1, 1953 in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  Meadville is in the Pittsburgh/Youngstown, Ohio region in the western corner of Pennsylvania. As Jones told the Lakeland (FL) Ledger in 1979, "Scouts don't get up that way much."  As a result, Jones was not drafted coming out of high school and matriculated at Thiel College (pronounced "teel") in Greenville, Pennsylvania.  

He finally got noticed at Thiel by the Cincinnati Reds and was drafted in the 10th round of the 1974 June Amateur Draft -- 7 picks after Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was drafted by the Detroit Tigers.  Jones signed immediately and was assigned to Seattle in the Northwest League in 1974.

As that 1979 story about Jones mentioned, while the Reds gave him a chance to play professional baseball, that chance was tempered by the fact that the Reds weren't exactly promoting Jones on any kind of fast track.  Jones made it to Double-A ball in 1975 at the age of 22 at Trois-Rivieres -- apparently the Quebecer version of Pittsburgh, since his 1982 Topps card calls it "Three Rivers" -- on the strength of his second year in the Northwest League being a 13 HR year with a .336/.433/.611 slash line.  He stayed in Pittsburgh-Quebec until 1977.  

Jones complained about this career stagnation in 1979, saying, "I felt like they didn't really have plans for me, but I kept progressing through the system.  I was playing well enough so they kept moving me up."  When he got to Triple-A in 1978, he was told that he would be a defensive substitute there but that he should not expect to play regularly.  When injuries hit the big league team, however, the Triple-A roster got shuffled around and Jones got regular playing time that he parlayed into a .328/.386/.459 slash line, 9 homers, 62 RBI, and 20 steals in 532 plate appearances.  

Despite the good year in Triple-A in 1978, the Reds did not add Jones to their 40-man major league roster and left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.  The Detroit Tigers snapped Jones up and kept him on their roster all year.  Thus, at the age of 26, Jones got the opportunity to be in the major leagues for a complete year.  He hit reasonably well as the Tigers backup rightfielder, splitting time with Jerry Morales.  

When 1980 rolled around, he was splitting time in center field for the first month of the season with rookie Kirk Gibson.  Then, his knee started swelling up on him; he wasn't even sure how he got hurt.  Surgery to repair the knee came next, followed by rehabilitation in Triple-A before getting called back up to the big league team in September.  

Nonetheless, Jones did not lose his confidence.  In spring training in 1981, he declared to the Lakeland Ledger that, "To myself, I'm a better outfielder than anybody we've got.  And I think I can hit.  The only thing I can't do is hit with power.  But after I got hurt, the whole thing changed.  I don't know where I stand now.  I don't know if I'll make the club or not." He added, "It's frustrating, but I don't feel down about it. I think I can play, and I think I have a good attitude.  I'll do whatever I'm asked."

Sparky Anderson must have disagreed with Jones on Jones being anything more than a fourth outfielder.  Who can blame Sparky with guys like Steve Kemp, Al Cowens, and Kirk Gibson in front of Jones?  Those three outfielders saw the majority of time for the Tigers, with Jones filling in for those times when Gibson was hurt with one of his various ailments like "not being able to hit a curveball."  

1982 did not go much better for Jones.  Relegated to fourth/fifth outfielder status behind Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon, Glenn Wilson, and Kirk Gibson, Jones came to bat just 150 times all season.  Even he recognized that he was not going to get to play behind those guys, telling the Ludington Daily News in June of 1982 that, "when you look at the outfielders we have on this club, it's obvious that I'm not going to play very much this year.  I still think I can, and do, play a role with this club.  But I'm not going to help the team by complaining all the time ... I like this team and I'm comfortable."  

That comfort ran out after the 1983 season.  He came to bat just 70 times all year for the Tigers that season.  In an interview in October of 1984 with the Eugene Register-Guard, he alluded to problems that he had with the GM in Detroit:  "The general manager and I had our differences in Detroit. They told me if I didn't sign a contract, they'd send me to Triple A. The contract had a raise in it, but not even a cost-of-living raise."  After that year, he signed with the Kansas City Royals.

He played sparingly for the rest of his career in Kansas City, amassing just 332 plate appearances in 224 games for the Royals over three seasons with a .228/.278/.288 slash line.  While he watched his former team the Detroit Tigers win the World Series in 1984, he got to enjoy winning his own World Series ring in 1985 with the Royals.  He went 2-for-3 in the Series against the Cardinals with a double and a triple.  He retired after the 1986 season.

MUSTACHE CHECK: Oh yeah.  A major crumb catcher.

Trivial Pursuit
Some players are front runners and some are mop-up men.  Jones definitely qualifies as a front runner.  In his 527 career games, the teams on which he played finished with a record of 316 wins and 211 losses -- a .600 winning percentage.  That winning percentage is good enough for fifteenth overall for those players playing between 1957 and 2006 whose teams won at least 200 games in which they appeared.  Now that is trivial.

Totally Gnarly
In 2004, Jones was serving as the first base coach for the Boston Red Sox under manager Terry Francona.  Jones was at home working on his water softener when, well, let the Boston Globe tell the story (with my emphasis added):
The Sox lost first base coach Lynn Jones for at least a few games to an eye injury he suffered working on a water softener at his home in Conneautville, Pa., about 90 miles east of Cleveland. Jones lost control of a screwdriver, which stuck him in the eye. He was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was expected to receive stitches.
Thankfully for Jones, it was not so serious as to cost him any of his vision and, further, he kept his job the next year coming off the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory.

Family Ties
Lynn's brother Darryl Jones played 18 games at the age of 28 in 1979 for the New York Yankees. Jones will have one of his numbers that he wore with the Yankees retired in the near future, however, since Jones wore number 2 that year -- 16 years before some kid named Jeter made it his.

A Few Minutes With Tony L.
Certainly, Lynn Jones was never a guy who struck fear in the hearts of pitchers facing him. Putting up a career slugging percentage of .321 does not make many pitchers fear him. He did, however, feast on Brewers pitchers in the 85 plate appearances he had against them -- lifetime percentages of .313/.329/.388 are nothing to sneeze at.

Jones became a "baseball man" after his career ended.  He was the Royals first base coach in 1990 before he became a minor league manager in the Florida Marlins system.  He spent several successful years with the Kane County Cougars -- with the team reaching the postseason twice while he was managing them.  In 2001, the Marlins made him their first base coach.  He did that for a year before managing the Macon Braves in 2002.  The Red Sox then hired him in 2003 to be a coach for the major league team.  The Reds hired him in 2006 at the end of his Red Sox tenure to be their outfield/baserunning/roving instructor for their minor league clubs.  He stayed with the Reds two years before returning to the Atlanta Braves system for three years in the same role.

That said, Jones is doing pretty well these days, it seems.  His wife is on Twitter and has a family photo as her Twitter icon.  Last year, Jones moved back to Western Pennsylvania and went back to his alma mater, Thiel College, to become a member of its baseball coaching staff.

Who says you can't go home?

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