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Randy Jones

July 15, 2008
 Untitled 
This card, featuring the awesome cap-obliterating power of Randy Jones’ Eurfro, celebrates the pinnacle of Jones’ career: his starting assignment in the 1976 All-Star Game. Later that year he was awarded the National League Cy Young award, capping a two-year period in which he was the best pitcher in the league (he’d finished second in the Cy Young voting the year before), but that award was based primarily on his staggering achievements prior to the All-Star break. In other words, the pale junk-tossing star known as Randy Jones never shined brighter than when he took the mound to start the 1976 All-Star Game with more victories, 16, than any pitcher had ever had at the time of the midsummer classic.

Aside from the All-Star Game matchup ten years later between dueling phenoms Doc Gooden and Roger Clemens, I don’t think there has been an All-Star Game starting pitching matchup with as much juice to it as the one in 1976. On the one hand, you had Jones, who though perhaps generally forgotten now was at that moment thought to be both an elite pitcher and, more specifically, in stunningly good shape for a run at the already seemingly unreachable plateau of 30 wins for the season. And on the other hand, of course, you had another curly-haired pitcher who just happened to be the most exciting, entertaining, charismatic, and infectiously joyful rookie who ever lived.

That was the first All-Star Game I ever watched, and though I was amazed by Randy Jones’ 16-3 midseason record my attention was focused more intensely on his opponent, Mark Fidrych, whom I’d watched for the first time a couple weeks earlier, on Monday Night Baseball, talking to the baseball and mowing down the Yankees as 47,000 Tigers fans laughed and roared.

Jones ended up faring better in the All-Star Game than Fidrych, but it didn’t really matter to me. When I was a kid the All-Star Game meant a chance to see the stars from my baseball cards basking in the bright lights, laughing, happy to be there. It was about the moment itself, free of consequences. My brother and I got to stay up past our bedtime to watch the whole game, and it was always the best night of the summer, no matter what happened.

Apart from such rare moments, life tends toward disappointment as surely as water tends to run downhill. Randy Jones compiled a 6-11 won-loss record after the All-Star Game, falling well short of 30 wins, and went 43-69 after 1976. Fidrych cooled to 10-7 after the break, narrowly failing to win 20 for the year, and after 1976 went 10-10 during the sporadic appearances that comprised the remainder of his career. The divebombing career arcs of Jones and Fidrych, though by virtue of their brief high peaks more pronounced than most, are still closer to the rule than to the exception. Things fall apart.

But when Jones and Fidrych faced off in 1976 they did so in a game that was outside the schedule, outside the standings, outside the inevitable progression toward disappointment. The players wanted to do well, but the result of the game did not matter. It was meaningless. It was a sanctuary. Randy Jones will always be 16-3. Mark Fidrych will always be 21 years old.

19 comments

  1. 1.  Barry Zito’s teacher! So cool. I’ve got this card.


  2. 2.  1 : I had to check into that. From Barry Zito on his own website:

    “When I was 12 years old, my parents arranged for me to take pitching lessons from Randy Jones, a Cy Young Award winner from the San Diego Padres. Randy first taught me how to throw the curve ball. Sometimes when Randy was teaching me things, my mind would wander and he got my attention by spitting his tobacco juice right on my shoes. I didn’t like that very much but he certainly got me to pay attention.”


  3. 3.  FYI: There are new comments on an old Bob Stanley (Red Sox) post, plus the Lee Mazzilli discussion continues, focusing on the plethora of pop culture figures from that era who looked like him.


  4. 4.  That is such a sweet card! I was 10 in the 1986 game, and remember Dodger hero Fernando Valenzuela relieving the Doc and striking out the first 5 men he faced (6 straight dating back to his last batter faced in 1985). I love the All-Star Game.


  5. 5.  The second I saw “Randy Jones” in the Toaster sidebar, I knew EXACTLY which card it was going to be.

    Zing!

    Dang, Josh, how do you constantly do this to me?

    Your writing is like a very good vintage scotch. Thanks again.


  6. 6.  http://tinyurl.com/66624q


  7. 7.  Back in the mid 1970s, I went to a Padre game down at the Murph with my dad and some family friends. I was about 5 or 6 years old. Before the game, Randy Jones was signing autographs. I was all excited because my last name is also Jones. I couldn’t wait to tell him–I had no clue that Jones was that familiar of a name. Anyway, Randy Jones was really nice to me when I told him, and he responded: “Are your descendents also from Wales, like me?”

    So, as much as I root against the Padres (being a Dodger fan), I have fond memories of Randy Jones.


  8. 8.  4 : Yeah, I remember that Hubbelesque streak by Fernando. I think the coolest thing in an All-Star game is a pitcher on a ridiculous roll.

    5 : Speaking of things that are like booze, Merle Haggard’s voice reminds me of bourbon, but that could be because I drank a lot of it when I was first immersing myself in his music.

    6 : Interesting piece, Cliff. Seems like injuries played a big part in the decline of the more well-known flashes, including the guys mentioned here.

    7 : Great story. When he asked you if you were from Wales, did you (5 or 6 years old) think he was asking you if you were from whales?


  9. 9.  I had no idea John C. Reilly pitched for the Padres.

    Terrific piece, Josh. But since we’re discussing Fernando already anyway, I have to toss his hat in the ring for the title of “most exciting, entertaining, charismatic, and infectiously joyful rookie who ever lived.” I’m biased, of course.


  10. 10.  9 : Point taken. Fernando was pretty cool in ’81.


  11. 11.  My comment on Jones resembling John C. Reilly comes not from this card so much, as from this photo that I saw for the first time today, courtesy of Paul Lukas’ Uni Watch:

    There are just all kinds of things going on in that photo spread. Randy Jones looking like John C. Reilly. Steve Garvey looking perfect from the hairline down and ridiculous from the hairline up. Pete Rose looking particularly scummy. And a group shot of what has got to be the most spectacular defensive outfield of all time.


  12. 12.  I have two lasting memories of Randy Jones. In 1976 my family went on a rare “hotel” vacation to San Diego (we normally went camping) and attended a Padre game which turned out to be Jones’ 20th victory of the season. My second memory was meeting Jones at his Randy Jones BBQ stand at Jack Murphy Stadium in the mid-90’s. By this point he bore little resemblance to the young man pictured in the baseball card.


  13. 13.  Randy Jones, whose number was retired by the Padres, has also got to be one of the least legitimate retired numbers ever, along with Steve Garvey (Padres), Hank Aaron (Brewers), Don Wilson (Astros), Jim Umbricht (Astros, died of cancer), and Fred Hutchinson (Reds, died of cancer).

    (That’s setting aside the truly phony retired numbers like Gene Autry in Anaheim, Carl Barger in Florida, and “The Fans” in Cleveland.)


  14. 14.  I knew that you’ve written about Jones previously, Josh. It was in one of the unsortable entries; the one about 1976 Victory Leaders. I need to peruse some of the recent comments.

    Hasta


  15. 15.  That uniform of Randy Jones is positively vulgar.


  16. 16.  My high school baseball team wore uniforms of that style. Our colors were (and still are) gold and brown.


  17. 17.  The Pads should go back to brown and gold. But not those uniforms, oh no.


  18. 18.  13 Curious as to why you didn’t mention the death of Wilson, but mentioned the death of Umbricht & Hutchinson.


  19. 19.  Randy Jones went on to become teammates with Lee Mazzilli on the 1981 Mets.



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