July 27th 1975: After the Mets 1973 Pennant season, the 1974 follow up was a disaster. The club finished 71-91 in fifth place.
In the off season the club made some moves to improve run production.
They acquired slugger Dave Kingmam, who would set a club record hitting 36 HRs. They also got Del Unser from Philadelphia in the Tug McGraw trade, Unser became the everyday center fielder batting .294. They also got another outfielder; Gene Clines from Pittsburgh, he hit just .227. One of the biggest names to arrive was veteran Joe Torre. Torre a native New Yorker was at the twilight of his career but the Mets had been after him for years. Torre had his worst season in 1975 batting just .247 with six HRs.
In Spring Training 1975 there were a bunch of players now fighting for outfield & first base spots on the club. Ten year veteran outfielder, Cleon Jones was there as well assuming the left field job was still his. But Jones injured his knee. At the time the Mets were holding their Spring Training in St. Petersburg. Jones stayed in Florida to rehab the knee as the team went North for the start of the '75 season.
On May 6th St. Petersburg Police, found Cleon Jones with a young woman, asleep in a van. News reports at the time say the two were both sleeping in the nude. At first Jones told the police he was a laborer who worked at the Mets Spring Training complex. But he later admitted the truth, that he was Cleon Jones the baseball player.
Some reports say the woman was still a teenager, but the St. Petersburg newspaper of the time says she was 21 years old. The woman, named Sharon Ann was an unemployed waitress; she was charged with indecent exposure, possession of marijuana and possession of two marijuana pipes.
Jones was 32 at the time, and still married. He too was charged for indecent exposure, but was eventually released on his own recognizance. He was fined a record sum at that time of $2000 by the ball club.
The Mets organization was upset at the bad press & wanted the matter addressed to the media. To clear the issue up, Mets C.E.O.; M. Donald Grant, had Jones publicly apologize in a press conference with his wife Angela at his side. "I have promised the management that if they permit me to rejoin the team where I can regain the confidence of everyone & the support of my family, no one will regret having done so." It was the beginning of the end for Jones.
Looking back this situation could have been handled better, and was blown way out of proportion due to the times.
Jones was off the DL & back with the club by the end of May. On May 27th he same in as a pinch hitter & singled off Dodges pitcher; Burt Hooton in a 10-4 Mets Loss. On May31st, he got his first start & went 3-3 with a double & RBI in a Mets 7-2 win. In June he got just eight starts in the outfield, he was batting .282 but had driven in just two runs since his return & had hit no HRs.
Manager Yogi Berra claimed, Jones had been late for work outs numerous times, but he overlooked it.
On June 18th, in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium, Jones was sent in to pinch hit in the 8th inning. Manager,Yogi Berra then told him to play left field for the 9th inning. Jones refused to go, saying he still had to wrap his knee up. He had made the second out of the inning & still had not wrapped his knee. He shouted "get someone else out there".
The two got into a shouting match and Jones stormed off into the club house. On his way he threw his glove and knocked down a towel rack.
Berra was furious. The usually lax manager wouldn’t let the situation die; he demanded the organization support him to discipline Jones. By July, Cleon was upset about his lack of playing time & was batting just .240.
Quotes: Berra said “It was the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me as manager. I had to change my whole line up around because of him”.
He told the club, it was either him or Jones. M. Donald Grant tried to convince Berra otherwise but to no avail, as Yogi stood his ground. The club waited four days then suspended Jones for four days.
They attempted to trade him, but he vetoed an original deal going to Chicago. Then on July 27th, the Mets gave Cleon Jones his unconditional release.
Mets General Manager Joe McDonald said: "Having exhausted all avenues in attempting to reconcile the problem, we are offering Cleon Jones his unconditional release. We see nothing to be gained in going to arbitration proceedings. Regardless of the result, the problem would not be resolved.
Yogi Berra said "I'm glad its over. I'm relieved. I feel I did the right thing. I feel the way Joe does, I wish Cleon all the luck in the world. He's got talent if he wants to play."
Berra dismissed race being an issue, saying he would do the same thing with any player. Marvin Miller, head of the players Union, filed a grievance against the Mets ball club. After a ten year Mets career, Cleon Jones was gone, leaving behind many club records.
Within two weeks the Mets' upper management fired Yogi Berra, replacing him with coach Roy McMillan. It was agreed at the time it was only for the rest of the season as McMillan did not want the job permanently. On August 9th the Mets were 58-54 in fourth place seven 1/2 games back. They finished the year at 82-80 in third place.
On April 3rd, 1976 Cleon Jones signed a deal with the Chicago White Sox. He would appear in just 12 games with them, batting .200 (8-40) with three RBIs. On May 3rd he was released & eventually retired at age 33.