Aug 3, 2016

Mets All Time Left Fielder: Cleon Jones (Part 2- The Seventies & Beyond)

Cleon Jones (Part Two):
In 1970 Cleon started the season with a pair of hits & an RBI in the 5-3 Opening Day win in Pittsburgh. In the first two weeks he hit well, but found himself at the .200 mark at the end of May, although he did have 20 RBIs.

On May 30th Jones helped the Mets come from behind by driving in runs in both the 6th & 8th innings of Houston's Larry Dierker. After his 8th inning triple, he then scored what was the winning run on Ken Boswell's base hit. Jones struggled as he was only batting .214 entering June.

From June 12th through the 23rd he drove in nine runs & hit safely in eight of nine games. On June 24th Jones drove in four runs in the first game of the Mets double header sweep at Wrigley Field. On August 1st Jones' three run HR against San Diego helped Tom Seaver to win #16 on the year, beating the Padres 4-2. He brought the average up to .260 by the end of August & drove in twenty runs on the month, having his best production of the season.

In September as the Mets competed in the pennant race, Jones had a 23 game hit streak lasting to mid September which brought him up to .285. On September 2nd he tied the game with an 8th inning HR off that years Rookie of the Year Carl Morton, in Montreal. The Mets went on to win the game. He drove in seven runs in the next four days which included two double headers.

On September 10th he had a walk off triple against the Phillies Joe Hoerner in the Mets 3-2 at Shea Stadium. The Mets finished the season in third place after fading in late September.

For the year Jones hit .277 with 10 HRs, 25 doubles, a career high 8 triples, 63 RBIs & a .352 on base %. He grounded into 23 double plays (first in the league) while striking out 87 times in 506 at bats. In left field he was third in fielding (.980%) with 10 assists.

In 1971 Jones got himself started with a three run HR against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 5-2 win at Shea on April 18th. In May he hit HRs in back to back games at the series in Pittsburgh, gathering six hits & four RBIs in the three game set.

In the month he had a seven & eight game hit streak, hitting safely in 15 of 16 games. He was batting .297 in June went he got injured & missed ten games.

When he returned he brought his average up over .300 & remained there the rest of the year. He hit a three run HR & had four RBIs in the second game of a double header on July 5th against the Expos at Shea Stadium.

In that double header sweep of the Expos he tied an NL record by drawing six walks in the two games, helping the Mets sweep both games. He then drove in a pair of runs in two straight games at the Astrodome a week later. He returned to Shea with a five RBI day that included two doubles, against the same Houston team. He finished the month with 20 RBIs, a nine game, seven game & six game hit streak, batting near .340 for the month.

In August he had two walk off HRs in the same week at Shea Stadium on home stand against the San Diego Padres & L.A. Dodgers. He went into September batting .330 riding on a nine game hit streak. He contributed to the Mets four game win streak at the start of the month by driving in five runs He closed out the year driving in runs in three straight games of the final week & hitting in seven straight. The Mets once again finished third but Jones was the teams best hitter.

He led the team in batting (.319) finishing seventh in the batting race. He also led the club in doubles (24) RBIs (69) hits (16) triples (6) on base % (.382), tied with Bud Harrelson for steals (28) & tied with Ed Kranepool & Tommie Agee for HRs (14). In left field he posted a .980 fielding % (4th in the league) had four assists, making just five errors in 230 chances.

Injuries limited him to 106 games (346 at bats) in 1972, as his average dropped to its lowest since becoming a regular outfielder, hitting only .245 with a .345 on base %, 5 HRs & 15 doubles. He did drive in 52 runs & scored 39 runs as well. Injuries would plague him for the rest of his career as well.

On Opening Day 1973 Cleon hit two HRs off the Phillies Steve Carlton, scoring all three Mets runs as Tom Seaver beat the Phillies on a five hit eight strike out performance in 7.2 innings of work. Tug McGraw come on for the save.

But then Jones sprained his wrist diving for a ball on April 19th, when he came off the DL he was hit on the elbow by a pitch and missed more time not returning to the lineup until July 7th. On the year the injuries would have him miss 70 games.

There were many injuries to the strating players that year & the Mets fell to last place. But the Division was tight all around, as no one ran away with it and everyone including the Mets stayed close in the hunt.

Slumping in early August, his team mates began complaining about him being lazy, and then manager Yogi Berra approached Jones in a San Diego hotel. Berra said “The team needs you & I need you” Yogi then cracked a smile saying “What are you trying to do get me fired?”

Jones immediately started to hit. He returned just in time leading the Mets offense throughout September to another Miracle NL East finish. He closed out August hitting safely in nine of eleven games driving in six runs.

On August 31st his 10th inning RBI single broke a 3-3 tie in St. Louis leading the Mets to a 6-3 win. The start of September was modest but on 19th he hit two HRs & drove in five runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium, and from there he went on fire.

Cleon hit six HRs in the final two weeks of the season, driving in 17 runs, leading the Mets to an incredible come back to win the NL Eastern title. On September 19th he hit two HRs & drove in five runs at Shea Stadium, helping the Mets to a 7-3 win over the first place Pirates. The win was the 12th for pitcher George Stone (12-2) and more importantly brought the Mets within 1 1/2 games of first place. although there were three the Cardinals & Expos just as close.

Ironically it was a fielding play the next night that Jones made, that once again put him in the middle of things suggesting that another miracle season was in the making. On September 20, 1973, long time New York legend Willie Mays announced that he would retire at the end of the season. The Mets were in the middle of a three-game series with those first-place Pirates.

The Ball Off the Wall Game: With the game tied 3-3 in the ninth inning, the Pirates had Richie Zisk on at first when Dave Augustine hit what seemed to be a sure HR ball. But the ball hit the top of the fence and bounced back into Jones's glove.

Jones threw a perfect relay strike to third baseman Wayne Garrett, who turned and fired home to Ron Hodges nailing Ritchie Zisk at the plate. The Mets won it in the bottom of the 13th inning, and took over first place the next day in a 10-2 win where Jones had two more RBIs.

In that home series against the Pirates Jones had five hits, two HRs, a walk & eight RBIs. As the Mets fought four teams to stay atop the East, Jones hit a HR & drove in two runs on September 23rd beating the contending St Louis Cardinals 5-2. The win all but eliminated them from the hunt as they faded from there.

The next night as the Montreal Expos came to town (just three game back) Jones hit a 6th inning HR off their ace Steve Rodgers, to break a 1-1 tie. It was the only two runs the Mets scored as he lead Tug McGraw & the Mets to a 2-1 win.

The season came down to a rainy four game series at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. On September 30th in the second game of a double header, Jones hit a 6th inning HR off Fergie Jenkins putting the Mets up 5-2. From there they went on to win the game 9-2 needing only one more win to cinch the NL East.

In the final game of the season he hit a 2nd inning HR off Burt Hooton putting New York on the board first. Jones also walked twice in the game. The Mets went on to win it 6-4 as Tom Seaver earned his 19th win of the year, topping off his second Cy Young Award season. In the final two games Jones hit HRs & drove in three runs as the Mets won the NL Eastern title.

Post Season: In the 1973 NLCS against the Cincinnati Big Red Machine, Cleon continued his hot hitting, batting .300 going 6 for 20, with two doubles and driving in three runs.

In Game #2 at Riverfront Stadium, he hit a 9th inning single off Reds pitcher Tom Hall that scored Felix Millan giving the Mets a 2-0 lead. He then scored on Jerry Grote’s single as the Mets won the game on Jon Matlack's two hit shutout.

In Game # 3, where the famous Bud Harrelson Pete Rose brawl occurred, Cleon had two more hits with a walk and a run scored. His 4th inning single drove in Felix Millan with the Mets eight run of the game, irking the heavily favored Reds to the delight of the She Stadium crowd. The Mets won the game 9-2 taking a 2-1 series lead.

In Game #4 the Mets were held to just three hits & Cleon was 0-5. In the Game #5 clincher at Shea, he singled in the first inning off Reds ace Jack Billingham. He then scored a run on Ed Kranepool’s big two run single, driving the Shea crowd crazy. After the Reds tied it up, Jones then doubled in the 5th inning off Billingham, driving home Wayne Garrett to put the Mets ahead 3-2.

In the 6th inning he drove in Tom Seaver who had doubled to lead off the inning, giving the Mets a 7-2 lead that they would hold on to. They won the NL pennant surprising the Reds & advanced to the World Series.

In the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, Jones had a good Series, considering the awful Oakland sun problems he faced in left field. The sun was brutual in the first two games, causing outfielders to hide their eyes, misjudge fly balls & make errors. He hit .286 going (8 -28) with two doubles, a HR one RBI & five runs scored.

In Game #2, he rapped out three hits, including a solo HR off Vida Blue in the 2nd inning in the Mets wild 10-7 win.

In the top of the 12th inning he singled to load the bases and later scored on a fielding error by Mike Andrews as the Mets went ahead 10-6. Jones scored three runs in the 12 inning marathon as the Mets evened up the Series.

In Game #3 he caught a touch of the flu and was seen throwing up in the outfield on national TV, next to centerfielder Don Hahn. He went 0-5 in the game but recovered to go 1-3 with a walk the next night as the Mets won 6-1 tying the Series at two games each.

In Game #5 at Shea Stadium he led off the 2nd inning with a double against Vida Blue and later scored on John Milner’s base hit for one of only two Met runs on the night. The Mets won 2-0 on Jerry Koosman & Tug McGraw’s three hit shutout performance.

Back in Oakland Jones went hitless in Games six & seven, as the A’s pitching shut down the Mets taking the Series four games to three. 1973

Cleon had a good start to the 1974 season, finishing April with a .318 batting average. He didn't hit his first HR until May 11th. In his next game he hit a three run shot against the Cards Bob Gibson in St. Louis leading the Mets to a 5-3 win. His two run HR in the first inning on May 25th, off Doc Ellis in Pittsburgh led the Mets to a 4-3 win.

On June 6th he singled in the home 7th, tying up the game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Mets went on to another ne run victory, when John Milner homered off Pedro Borbon in the 8th.

On June 26th his top of the 12th inning base hit scored Milner in what was the game winning run against the Chicago Cubs. Three days later he hit a HR & drove in three runs in the Mets 4-0 win over the Cardinals at Shea.

Jones may have slowed up a bit but still hit consistently, adding an eleven game hit streak to finish June & go into July with. He hit HRs in each of the first two games of July, leading to Mets wins & a three of four series win of the Phils.

In the first game of a Fourth of July double header, Jones drove in four runs. He cleared the bases with a base loaded double off Ron Schuler leading Jon Matlack to a 5-3 win. He hit four HRs in the month & drove in 18 runs, including an 8th inning game winning RBI double off the Pirates Bruce Kison on July 30th.

He slowed down considerably on the field and on the bases, due to nagging injuries. He missed another week and a half of action in early September as well. He only had three stolen bases with one triple on the year.

He was still one of the clubs top hitters, leading the team in doubles (24) coming in second in batting to Eddie Kranepool (.282). He was third on the club in RBIs (60) hits (130) & HRs (tied with Wayne Garrett with 13). He posted a .342 on base % drawing only 38 walks.

The Mets finished a dismal fifth that year, disappointing after their pennant year of 1973. In the outfield his .977% was fourth among left fielders & he also made eight assists. It turned out to be his last season as a full time player.

Drama & Dismissal: In the 1974/1975 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 centerfielder 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.

Quotes- "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 it certainly should have been handled better, and was blown way out of proportion. But this also had to due with the period in history it occured. 

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.

Jones may have not been the best player in Mets history but he is certainly one of the most important. He was voted on the Mets All Time team as the clubs best left fielder.
It was an honor that Jones said meant a lot to him. Cleon’s legacy still lives beyond making the final catch in the 1969 Series as he ranks high on top of most Mets all time records:

He is fourth on the all time Mets list in hits (1118) triples (33) sac flies (41) & hit by pitches (39).

He is fifth in at bats (4223) & games played (1201). Jones ranks seventh in runs scored (563). Jones is eighth in RBIs (521) & total bases (1715).

He ranks ninth in extra base hits (308).
Jones is tenth in doubles (182). He is thirteenth in walks (335) fourteenth in stolen bases (91) & fifteenth in HRs (93) on the Mets All time list. 

Honors: Jones was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1991 as its sixth member. He was ranked as the All Time Mets left Fielder & one of the clubs top fifty players. He is also a member of the Mobile Alabama Hall of Fame. He has appeared at Mets fantasy camps, was on hand for the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium & appeared at the 1969 Mets, 40th anniversary reunions.

Jones appeared with other members of the '69 Mets on Everybody Loves Raymond's TV show in 1999. In the film Men in Black three he is mentioned & depicted catching the fly ball of final out of the 1969 World Series.

Cleon was best man for Tommie Agee at his 1985 wedding. He also spoke at the 2002 induction of Tommie Agee into the Mets Hall of Fame. Cleon said it was the easiest thing he ever had to do because he lived the story book life with Agee.

They were both inspirations to each other and were more like brothers than friends.

Cleon's wife during his Mets years Angela, is a cousin to Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

Drama: More trouble involving Cleon occurred in 1985. A judge in Mobile, Alabama told Cleon Jones he was letting him off easy in handing the former Met outfielder a 10-year suspended sentence & five years probation on guilty pleas to first-degree assault charges.

Jones pleaded guilty to assaulting Bondena Taylor, 27 and her uncle, Howard Coleman, 49, in a shooting incident in August 1985.

Retirement: Things got better for Cleon; he became the baseball coach at Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama for 11 years. He also served as a Mets minor league roving batting instructor for a time.

Jones also coached women's softball at Bishop State in 1994, compiling a 46-16 record. "Baseball is my life and I welcome this challenge." he said when he took the role on.

He ran a fast food business at one time & was a community helper in Mobile for kids as well as the elderly.

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