Monday, June 18, 2012

Q & A With Cleon Jones

Cleon Jones enjoying a slice of pizza named after him.
The Cleon(patra) Jones.
Cleon Jones was on hand Friday night for a Mets alumni event and to be honored by Two Boots, a Cajun-Italian inspired restaurant, who named one of their famous pizzas after the former Met. Jones was nice enough to take a few minutes to talk about the 1969 team and share some good stories.

On the 1969 team and Gil Hodges:
We were just having fun. From Seaver, Koosman, Agee, and Harrison...we were the worst team in baseball the year before, and we thought we were getting better. We never thought that we were good enough to win a world series, or even get there in the playoffs. But Gil Hodges kept telling us that we were good enough, and that's why I maintain the fact that sometimes the manager makes a difference. This particular year, he made all the difference in the world, because if not for Gil Hodges, it could have been Davey Johnson, it could have been Casey Stengel, it could have been any manager, if not for Gil  Hodges we would not be talking about the '69 Mets. That's how good he made us.

Finding out the team got Donn Clendenon:
We knew about a month before he came over. We thought he was probably going to be with the ball club, and we knew at that time that we were weak against left-handed pitching. We were pretty good against right-handed pitching ,and we thought by getting Donn, he would make us stronger against left-handed pitching. Never in my life did I think that he would make that much of a difference. He made a difference on the field and in the clubhouse. He became one of my leaders. He called himself a lawyer, and he was a clubhouse lawyer. He got on made for a close-knit type atmosphere because we were always competing against one another...and even pulling our families together. We did a lot of family things with our entire family. We were family long before the Pittsburgh Pirates became a family, and that's because of Gil Hodges and Clendenon.

Comparing to the 2012 Mets:  
I just came out of the clubhouse, and these guys are having fun in the clubhouse. Therefore, they like one another, and when you like one another, you're going to do a better job as a team. I would put this group in the same level as the '69 Mets. As a matter of fact, they're probably more talented than we were. I won't say anything about the manager because I've never dealt with the manager. I don't know who he is, I know his name, but I don't know what his philosophy is, or how he's in control of the team. [Jerry] Koosman saw Gil Hodges smile in a photo and said, 'He never smiled like that around us!'

Competing for a batting title:
I was having fun, and we were better than we were the year before. That meant we were winning somewhere. Gil Hodges was callous man. I was hitting around .360, leading everybody by about 20 points, and I came in for a fly ball, and cracked a rib, but I didn't know it was cracked. I contained the play and it got worse and worse. Finally I had to come sit down for about two weeks. When I came back I wasn't the same the entire year. '69 was a miracle year for the Mets. It was a miracle year for me. No doubt in my mind I would have lead the league in hitting that year had I been free of injury, because I was in a zone like I've never been before of since then. It didn't matter who was pitching. I knew I was going to get my hit because we were playing that kind of ball, and we were winning. It's easy to contribute to your stats when you're winning. That's what was taking place at that particular time.

Hodges taking him out of the outfield:
It wasn't what everybody thought it was. Gil Hodges was a just individual, he would never embarrass anyone. We had just had a talk in Montreal, I had sprained my ankle, and we had a talk in his office. I said, 'I don't want to come out of the lineup unless I'm hurting the team. If I get to the point where I'm hurting the team, then take me out of the lineup.' We were playing Houston here, and it rained all day, all night. The field was soaked. They were taking the tar to us. They were hitting everything we threw up there. They were just beating us pretty good. We come into the dugout and we acted like we were liking it, I guess. Everybody was still doing their same, normal things, and we weren't concentrating one what we should do, or how we are going to get out of this. He got tired of that.

When he came out of the dugout, I was totally surprised. I thought he was coming to take the pitcher out. Then he passed the pitchers mound, so I'm like 'What the hell did Buddy do?' Buddy was our shortstop. He passed Buddy. When he passed Buddy, I'm looking around. He came up to me and said, 'I don't like the way you ran at that last ball.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'I don't like the way you ran at the last ball.' I said, 'A left-handed batter hit a ball down the line. That's a double, Gil.' I said, 'Look down.' He looked down and my feet was on the wall and his feet was on the wall. I said, 'You can't ever get out here.' He said, 'You have a bad ankle, so you probably need to come out of the game anyway.' I said okay. Everybody got all excited about he was reprimanding me, I wasn't hustling, but that never happened. He wasn't that kind of a person.                       

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