Friday, August 4, 2017

Happy 75th Birthday To Cleon Jones

“Come on down, baby. Come on down.”
As my wife and daughters well know, if we ever had a boy, he would likely have been named Cleon, for Cleon Jones.

In 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets, Cleon batted .340, good for third place in the National League behind Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente.  No Met hitter had ever joined such illustrious company before.  Cleon led the team that year in on-base percentage, slugging, hits, doubles, stolen bases and walks.  He also was the starting left fielder for the National League in the All Star game, getting two hits and scoring a couple of runs. 

And, when the Orioles' second basemen (and future Met manager) Davey Johnson hit a fly ball to left field with two outs in the ninth inning of Game #5 of the World Series (with the Mets up 3 games to 1) he commanded the ball to "come on down, baby, come on down."  And indeed it did.  An indelible image for Met fans, Cleon caught it, went down on one knee and then ran to embrace center fielder Tommie Agee, his lifelong friend.    

Cleon had a couple of decent years after that, including 1971, when he hit over .300, but he was derailed by injuries.  And although he was hurt for much of 1973, he was an important part of that pennant-winning team. And then came 1975, and the abrupt and ignominious end to his Met career.

First, there was his arrest in in Florida, where he remained for an extended spring training after suffering a knee injury.  Cleon was found asleep and unclothed in his car with a 21-year old woman (not his wife) and charged with indecent exposure.  Although the charges were dropped, Donald Grant, the dastardly Met Chairmen of the Board, insisted on humiliating Cleon, fining him heavily and forcing him to publicly apologize. Then, a couple of months later, Cleon got into a heated dispute with manager Yogi Berra that ultimately led to his release.  And that was that.  He signed on with the White Sox in 1976, but they released him too and he retired from baseball.

Cleon Jones was the best hitter in the Mets' first decade. At the time he left, he was their career leader in many offensive categories.  Those have all been overtaken by subsequent Met heroes, but Cleon will always be cherished for his pivotal role on the first great Mets team. 

Happy 75th Birthday to a true Met icon.


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