So here we are at number ten on the countdown. That’s right ten players to go. In the coming week and a half you will see players that are expected to be on this leg of this journey , as well as a couple of names that might surprise you. Number ten is a man whose name should come as a surprise for being so high on this list.. He was one of the best hitting and fielding outfielder is Mets history. He is none other than Cleon Jones .
Cleon Joseph Jones was born in Plateau Alabama on August 4, 1942. As a teenager, Cleon attended the Mobile County Training School in Mobile, Alabama, where he excelled at both football and baseball. He went to college at Alabama A&M University. He was signed by the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1963 and was immediately assigned to their minor league affiliate , The Raleigh Mets of the Carolina League. There Cleon hit over.300, and was soon promoted to the Mets Single A team- the Auburn Mets of the New York-Penn League. Cleon had impressed the Mets front office so much , that they promoted him as a September call-up. Cleon at that point hadn’t seen a day at either double or triple A !! During this time, Cleon batted .133 , with two hits in fifteen at bats.
Cleon would spend the entire ’64 season at the Mets AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons to work on both his hitting and Fielding. Cleon won a spot on the Mets roster coming out of Spring training. In his first month of the season, he struggled at the plate , batting .156. Jones was demoted to Buffalo in early May. That September , Cleon was recalled from the minors and his struggles at the plate continued. He finished the season with a .149 batting average.
In 1966, Cleon Jones won the starting center fielders job coming out of Spring training. He finally was able to stay the entire season with the Mets, batting .275 with eight home runs and 57 RBIs. He also swiped s 16 stolen bases that season.After the season ended, Cleon finished in a tie for fourth for the National League Rookie of the Year vote.
Iin 1967, Jones struggled at the plate. He was eventually platooned with fellow outfielder, Larry Stahl. He finished the season with a .246 with 5 homers and 30 RBI’s in 129 games. In 1968 Cleon graciously shifted to left field after the Mets obtained his friend from childhood, Tommie Agee from the Chicago White Sox. Jones started off that season in a left field platoon with Art Shamsky. Cleon started of the season slow, but by the second month he started to find his groove. He ended the season with a then career high batting average of .297 batting average, with 14 homers and 55 RBIs.
In 1969 , Jones was unstoppable. In the first half of the season, Cleon was on fire at the plate. He had a batting average of .341 with ten home runs and 56 RBIs. That year he was selected to his first – and only All-Star Game. He was the starting left fielder that year, and he went 2-4 with two runs scored. The N.L defeated the A.L by the score of 9–3 .
A small bit of controversey would take place in the middle of the season when the Mets played a doubleheader against the lowly Houston Astros. The Mets lost the first game by the score of 16–3. By the third inning of the second game the Mets were already losing by the score of 7–0 when then Mets manager, Gil Hodges came out of the dugout, and walked all the way out to left field. He went on to take Cleon out of the game and replaced him with Ron Swoboda. There was some speculation that Cleon was taken out of the game because he dogged the previous play against Astros batter, Johnny Edwards, but Cleon to this day maintains it is because Gil thought he was unable to play because he had re-aggravated a previous injury. After that game , Cleon was absent from the Mets lineup for a couple of games. But whether he was benched or rested in still unclear.
The Mets ended up winning the National League East Division that year with the record of 100-62. Cleon set the long time Mets record for batting average at .340 ( it would stand for 30 years until John Olerud eclipsed it in 1999). Cleon also had 12 homers and 75 RBIs that season. In the playoff’s, Cleon owned the Atlanta Braves pitching. Jones batted a amazing .429 i, helping propel the Mets to a 3 game sweep over the Braves in the NLCS.
During ’69 World Series, Cleon was in the middle of one of the most controversial calls ever.In game 5 Cleon led off the sixth inning by being hit in the foot with a Dave McNally pitch. The home plate umpire, Lou DiMuro said that the ball missed Cleon. Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to argue the call, and “produced” the baseball which had a shoepolish smudge on it. DiMuro reversed himself , and awarded Cleon first base. The next batter up, Donn Clendenon, hit a two run homer which reduced the Mets deficit to one run. The game would be tied on a Al Weiss solo shot, but the Mets pulled ahead when Jones doubled to start the inning, and was plated on a Ron Swoboda double. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets led the Orioles by the score of 5-3. Cleon secured his place in Mets history when he caught the final out of the game which ironically was hit by future Mets manager, Davy Johnson as the Mets went on to win their World Series.
Cleon ended the ’70 season with mediocre numbers. He batted .277 with 10 homers and 63 RBIs that season. In 1971, Cleon would rebound with the seventh best batting average in the league (.319)with 14 homers and 69 RBIs.
In 1972,had one of his worst seasons ever as a Met. He was platooned with rookie outfielder , John Milner in the outfield and he attempted to play first base. His batting average dipped to a.245 while his power numbers went down drastically.
In the 1973 Cleon would play in only 95 games due to injuries. But when he returned to the lineup his offense rebounded slightly. He finished the year with a batting average of .260 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in his limited duty. One of Cleon’s finest moments of that season came when he was the catalyst for the now famous “Ball on the Wall Play”. In which he Cleon was able to cleanly field what looked to be a home run by Pittsburgh Pirates batter, Dave Augustine. Jones grabbed the ball which hit he top of the wall and accurately threw the ball to relay man, Wayne Garrett, who threw home to catcher Ron Hodges to nail base runner Richie Zisk at the plate. The Mets would win that game in the bottom half of that inning and would come within a game of the first place Pirates.
The Mets won the Eastern Division title on the last day of the season winning 82 games and they went on to upset the dreaded Cincinnati Reds in the 1973 NCLS. Cleon hit .300 in the five game series.
Unfortunately the Mets lost to the Oakland A’s in seven games in the ’73 World Series. Cleon hit .286 with a home run and one RBI for the series.
Just before the start of the ’75 season, Cleon suffered a knee injury and was unable to break camp with the team. Cleon was down in extended Spring training getting himself into game shape when he was busted by St Petersburg Florida Police indecent exposure. He was found in his van with a woman that was not his wife. This sent shock waves through the New York Media. Cleon was quickly cleared of all charges, but then Mets president, M. Donald Grant fined Jones $2,000,and forced him to apologize publicly at a press conference. Many fans as well as members of the media felt that Grant purposely embarrassed Jones in public because the two men disliked each other.
Shortly after the incident, Cleon was proclaimed healthy and subsequently rejoined the Met. He was used primarily as a pinch hitter, and he struggled at the plate hitting .240. That July Cleon was was released by the Mets after he had a physical altercation with Mets manager, Yogi Berra. It has been reported that Yogi gave a ultimatum that eith Jones goes or he’s quit. ironically Yogi would be fired before the seasons end.
Before the start of the ’76 season, Cleon signed with the Chicago White Sox.After playing in the first 13 games of the season, The White Sox released him. He tried to make a brief comeback with the Mets , but Cleon retired soon after.
In 1991, Cleon Jones was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame . To this day Cleon is among the team’s all-time leaders in games played, at bats, and hits. Cleon was on hand for both the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium as well as the 40 year anniversary of the ’69 World Championship team.
In his 12 year career with the Mets , Cleon has a batting average of .281 with 93 homers and 521 RBIs.
Tomorrow we will profile at number nine the player that quite possibly had the most heart stopping hit in post season history.
And with that said … HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!!
Mets alumni celebrating birthdays today include :
Original Mets back up catcher from the ’62 season, Sammy Taylor is 88 (1933).Sammy played two seasons with the Mets before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Jesse Gonder.
Mets Starting pitcher from the ’94 season, Pete Smith is 45 (1966). In his lone season as a Mets Pete went 4-10 with a ERA of 5.55. It is no wonder that he wasn’t a Met in the ’95 season.
And as you still bask in the positive feelings from yesterdays tie against the Atlanta Braves, Just remember that there are just 33 Pete Falcone days to go until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami, and only 40 days until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn was seen camped out by the Dairy Queen in Port St Lucie !!!