Mets’ Cleon Jones Shares Amazin’ Baseball Life In New Book
There isn't much Cleon Jones hasn't seen in baseball.
The first thing that came to mind when I heard that Cleon Jones had a book being published about his 13-season career as an MLB player, is what took so long for him to tell his story to writer Gary Kaschak?
Coming Home - My Amazin' Life With The New York Mets (triumphbooks.com) is long overdue.
Before I give you some of the highlights I rediscovered as a long, longtime Mets' fan, there's a personal experience I shared with Jones 41 years back that should be told.
During the 1981 baseball season, I was hired as assistant general manager/director of public relations for the Little Falls Mets of the Class-A New York-Pennsylvania League.
During the 1981 baseball season, I was hired as assistant general manager/director of public relations for the Little Falls Mets of the Class-A New York-Pennsylvania League. Little Falls, tucked away in the Central New York sleepy city located in Herkimer County, was one of six minor league affiliates the Mets either operated or partnered with. During mid-season, our club made a routine road trip to Elmira (NY), to play the Boston Red Sox affiliate.
This would be the only road trip I was scheduled to make during the season. What a treat. With team general manager LaMott Smith at the wheel, me riding shotgun in the front seat, Mets' World Series hero Jones was our passenger. 150 miles ahead of us to the state's Southern Tier where Dunn Field is, the Sox's home field resting on the banks of the Chemung River, I had to hold back my excitement of having uninterrupted private time (no cell phones yet, kids) with the man who I pretended to be more than once when playing stickball in the streets of my Queens neighborhood as a teen. I carefully selected questions to ask without forgetting my official capacity.
As in most instances when good times are in play, time has a way of moving along quicker than otherwise. My ride with Jones did just that. I remember him answering my question about what pitcher (if any) did he feel was his toughest adversary. Without hesitation, Jones selects the late, great hall of fame St. Louis Cardinals' hurler Bob Gibson. Something about knocking batters down, and drilling a ball at their ears are what his lengthy answer developed to.
Did I feel proud, or what? The future member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame rode with me. Or, should I say, I rode with Jones? What a lasting treat for me.
Coming Home - My Amazin' Life With The New York Mets just brings back wonderful Mets memories of a magical time in the franchise's history. And of course, the magical, miracle 1969 championship season is detailed by Jones. What a season 1969 was for the Mets' all-star leftfielder.
He hit .340, which for Jones was third best in the National League in 1969 (trailing only Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente). The Mets won 100 games that season, eight games ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the Eastern Division.
Jones captures Game 5 of the Series in great detail. Leading off the sixth inning, Jones tells a first-person account of how Baltimore Orioles' pitcher Dave McNally threw a pitch that struck him in the foot. Mets' skipper Gil Hodges emerges from the dugout to argue with home plate umpire Lou DiMuro that the ball did in fact hit his star hitter. The infamous shoe polish smudged ball had the call reversed.
The Mets captured their first World Series championship that day, when Orioles' second baseman (and future Mets' manager) Davey Johnson hit a fly ball to Jones for the third out in the top of the 9th inning of Game 5. Jones got under the ball, made a partial knee-drop while squeezing the ball into his mitt. Thus, the legend of the 'Miracle Mets' began.
So much of Jones life, before signing with the Mets and after his playing days, are also fascinating travels that readers of Coming Home - My Amazin' Life With The New York Mets are treated to. You understand, from Jones' perspective, what it was like as a Met when losing was expected. You also get insight on how this mentally did a complete turnaround with the hiring of Hodges for the 1968 season.
When Jones was called up late in the 1963 season, where he was inserted into a half dozen games by manager Casey Stengel, his description of being in the the Mets' home park ( the Polo Grounds) is priceless. This was also the first time Jones had seen an MLB stadium. He was also on the field for the last game ever played at the famed stadium in Manhattan. Jones' first-person tales of the early years of the Mets is gripping.
Did you know that while in high school, Jones was a four-season star athlete? How Jones went from high school in Mobile, Alabama to being signed by Mets' scout Clyde Gray for $10,000. is also exciting to learn. As a kid playing baseball in his neighborhood sandlots, future MLB stars Amos Otis, Willie McCovey, Tommie Agee, and Tommie Aaron were his teammates and opponents.
The great Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who was eight years ahead of Jones in school, is among so many greats that learned to love baseball in the Mobile area. Future Hall of Famer Billy Williams also called Mobile home.
The great Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who was eight years ahead of Jones in school, is among so many greats that learned to love baseball in the Mobile area.
When reading why Jones' father disappeared from his life at age one, and then doesn't see him again until he was 13-years-old, this is a story that will remain with you for sometime.
What is Africatown, and how does Jones identify with it will blow you away.
Great names in Mets history come roaring back to readers, as Jones details how the championship team of 1969 (and the 1973 National League Pennant championship Mets, as well) was won. Ed Kranepool, Duffy Dyer, Donn Clendenon, and Nolan Ryan lead the pack of teammates spoken of by Jones.
So much Mets history packed in 239 pages. Coming Home - My Amazin' Life With The New York Mets by Cleon Jones is a wonderful trip down memory lane every baseball fan needs to travel.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.