Cleveland Needs Relief

Tribe re-acquires ace reliever Doug Jones

by Rob Bentz

The Competition was a friendly one, as legend has it.

Veteran relief pitcher Doug Jones, during his first tour with the Cleveland Indians, was competing with teammate Tom Candiotti to test their pitching prowess. No money was at stake–just bragging rights.

These two right-handed pitchers had something to prove. Each guy wanted to show that he had the best stuff. So they got the radar gun ready. Each took the mound, would up, and delivered to the plate. The catchers mitt let out a "crack"–sort of. You see, this friendly competition was different from what you might expect.

Jones and Candiotti wanted to see who could throw s-l-o-w-e-r than the other. That's right, two major league pitchers trying to find out who could deal the slowest.

Seems a bit odd, doesn't it? With all the glamour and the big contracts going to the young flame-throwers, guys who can really bring heat–Jones and Candiotti were tossing popsicles. Ice-cold popsicles. Nothing that even resembled heat.

This unique story seems to parallel the person, and the career, of Doug Jones. He seems to do things in a way that is a bit different from the norm.

The Career
Doug's road to the majors was less than customary. He made his big league debut at 25, pitching 2-2/3 innings in games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982. Jones then struggled through shoulder trouble, and toiled in the minor leagues from 1983 until the end of the 1986 season. That's when he once again ascended a major league mound. This time, he was a member of the Cleveland Indians and 30 years old.

Not many teams are interested in a 30-year-old pitcher who's already had shoulder problems and doesn't even have a full year of big league experience. But the Indians needed pitching, and Jones provided some relief.

In parts of six seasons with the Tribe, Jones racked up some impressive closing numbers.

  • Set an Indians team record with 37 saves in his first full year in the majors
  • Converted 21 consecutive save opportunities in 1988
  • Earned a save in the 1989 All-Star Game
  • Broke his own Indians record, compiling 43 saves in 1990
  • Became the first Indians player to go to three consecutive All-Star games since Sam McDowell in 1968-71.
  • Holds Cleveland’s career saves record with 128

Despite his All-Star success with the Indians, Jones was sent back to the minor leagues on July 24, 1991.

Mr. Jones, welcome to Colorado.
Colorado Springs is a lovely place and all, but it’s not where you’d expect to find a guy one year removed from an All-Star appearance and one month removed from his 34th birthday.

Even though Jones didn’t call the Rocky Mountain State his home for long (he was recalled by the Indians on September 8), he knew his time with the Indians’ organization was over. He’d throw his change-up in another uniform next year.

At the end of 1991, Jones was granted free agency. He signed as a non-roster invitee to spring training with the Houston Astros. They made no promises. He didn’t need any. He had an opportunity to pitch in the majors again and he responded!

Jones turned in the best year of his professional career. He ran in from the bullpen 80 times, compiling an 11-8 record with 36 saves (an Astros record) and a microscopic 1.85 earned run average. He was an All-Star once more, and he even shared The Sporting News NL Fireman of the Year Award with Lee Smith as the top two relief pitchers in the National League.

Jones pitched for the Astros again in 1993. He had 26 saves but didn’t have the brilliant year he had in 1992. After the season, the Astros sent the veteran packing in a trade that sent much-maligned closer Mitch Williams to Houston.

This time, Doug landed in Philadelphia. As before, his pitching welcomed the change of scenery. Handed the job of closer, Jones returned to All-Star form. In his fifth All-Star appearance, Jones picked up the win as the National Leaguers topped their American League counterparts 8-7 in 10 innings. He finished the strike-shortened year with 27 saves and a 2.17 earned run average for the Phils.

Back on the move, Jones hooked up with the Baltimore Orioles for the 1995 season. He got his saves (22), but his ERA ballooned to 5.01. The Orioles decided to go in another direction.

So Jones signed with the Chicago Cubs for 1996. Just 28 appearances into the season, the Cubbies had seen enough of the change-up artist. They released 38-year-old reliever on June 15.

Career finished? Spikes used for the last time?

Not so fast. This is Doug Jones. Remember, he does things a little bit differently.

In less than 2 weeks, the crafty veteran had another shot. He signed a minor-league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. After pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans for a month, Jones got another big league opportunity.

Things had come full circle. The veteran was back with his first major league organization–14 years later.

Jones closed out 1996 with the Brewers by going 5-0 with a 3.41 ERA. Milwaukee brass liked the mustachioed one so much they brought him back for 1997–the Brewers’ best front-office move of the year! Their returning closer, Mike Fetters, started the year on the disabled list, so Jones was back in a familiar spot–closing games. The long-haired hurler exceeded everyone’s expectations with 36 saves, a 2.02 ERA, only 9 walks in 80 1/3 innings, and a string of 25 consecutive saves converted. Jones was awesome!

"His change-up is his best pitch," says former Brewers catcher Kelly Stinnett, now with Arizona. "But I think he was successful last year because of his fastball. He was able to use his fastball."

Ask Doug the key to his success and he makes it sound almost too simple.

"I throw strikes," he explains. "I’m around the plate all the time. Pitching is throwing the hitters’ timing off, so that’s what I try to do. I change speeds a lot and that keeps hitters off balance."

The Man
Just as Doug’s major league journey is unique, so is his life off the pitching mound a touch unusual.

Unlike most late-inning specialists, he’s not one step from the edge. He’s not brash or bold. Behind what appears to be the world’s thickest mustache is a soft-spoken, honest, to-the-point kind of guy. A man who seems to view life as he does pitching–basic.

"All I have control over is my approach to my relationship with Christ." says Jones. "I just have to take the punches and get up and start swinging back. And the way I swing back is to get into the Word, get into fellowship, and be encouraged. It’s not really that hard."

Sounds simple enough. Pretty basic. But what about intense times of struggle?

"The hard times will come, but they’re easier to deal with as long as I keep that approach to life. I know there’s not a lot I can do about it anyway. The rest is in His hands."

That laid-back attitude has served him well as one of the game’s all-time great closers (see "Doug-Out"). He doesn’t get too high after a big save, or too low after a tough loss. Jones goes to work, works hard, and does his job.

Former Indians teammate and current friend Don Gordon describes Jones as "a balanced guy."

"He’s very good at nurturing guys in baseball and taking them under his wing." says Gordon. "I really respect him."

Stinnett adds, "He’s an awesome guy! He’s just a great guy to be around."

Ask Doug about his role with younger players and he responds in his typical quiet, pointed style.

"I think it’s important to show young guys that this (baseball) isn’t why we’re alive," says Jones. "It’s fun, it’s what every childhood dream is about, and it’s a good way to make a living. But that’s where it ends–it’s just a way to make a living.

"My job is to get people out and do my job as best I can. Do it as a Christian should, as unto the Lord."

Not overly impressed by his own baseball success, Jones is as down-to-earth as they come. And there’s no question about the most important thing in his life.

"Baseball is not the only thing in my life, and it’s not what I’m living for. Your relationship with people are more important than anything you do here on earth. And above that is your relationship with Christ–there’s nothing else to live for."

The Result
Remember that friendly competition with Candiotti?

Jones lost.

"He had a curveball that he used to throw real high," recalls Doug. "He got it down to 55 (mph). I could only get it down to 60."

Down to 60? It sure is tough to keep up with this Jones.

Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.

Editor's Note: Doug Jones was traded back to The Cleveland Indians in July.