Thursday, December 17, 2009

Group of 79 project - Mack Jones

I don't think too many people know about the career of Mack Jones and it's a bit of a shame. Jones was a very talented outfielder in the 1960's who was maligned by injuries (he never played a full schedule of games in the majors) but was remembered most for two seasons in particular.

Jones was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and assigned to Salinas of the Class C California League. He progressed rapidly and reached the major leagues at age 22 after back-to-back seasons at AAA Louisville where he hit over .300 with double digits in home runs. He could not crack Milwaukee's outfield, though, and split the 1962 and 1963 seasons between the Braves and AAA.

Inexplicably, the Braves never brought Jones up in 1964. The result was his first memorable season. Playing for Syracuse, Jones almost won the league triple crown, hitting .317 with 39 home runs and 102 runs batted in. His average was second in the league to Sandy Valdespino. Jones led the league in homers, triples (18), runs batted in, runs (109), total bases (336), slugging percentage (.630) and stolen base percentage (86.7). Despite only playing this one season in Syracuse, it was enough for Jones to be inducted into Syracuse's Hall of Fame. It would also be Jones' last season in the minors.

The Braves dealt incumbent centerfielder Lee Maye a few weeks into the 1965 season and made Jones the starting centerfielder. He hit 31 home runs for the season, one fewer than his future Hall of Fame teammates Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron hit that year. Six Braves hit 20 or more home runs that season, the first team to accomplish such a feat. A shoulder injury limited Jones to 118 games in 1966 but he still posted an OPS+ of 118 (his lowest during the six year span from 1965-1970).

After another strong season in 1967, the Braves dealt him to the Cincinnati Reds with Jay Ritchie and Jim Beauchamp for Deron Johnson. Injuries hampered him again in 1968 and he was left unprotected in the expansion draft for the Seattle Pilots and Montreal Expos. The Expos made Jones their second pick in the expansion draft and he took the field in 1970 as their first leftfielder.

His 1969 season is his second most memorable. Jones hit 22 home runs and became a fan favorite in Montreal where they named the leftfield bleachers at Jarry Park "Jonesville" in his honor. He also became the first Expo to hit a grand slam.

Jones started slow in 1970 but recovered to have a solid season. The same could not be said in 1971. Jones lost his starting role. He hit two home runs in a game on May 9th but could only muster three extra base hits after that. The Expos released him on July 8th ending his career.

Jones returned home to Atlanta where he met Esther Levon in 1976. They married in 1982 and had two children. Jones developed stomach cancer and passed away in 2004.

Although Jones was a quiet individual, he was a memorable player to fans in at least two cities. I'm glad to give him some exposure, limited it might be, through this project.

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