HE SAVED A CAREER : Doug Jones Found It Tougher Getting to Big Leagues Than to All-Star Game

Times Staff Writer

The term all-star is not necessarily all-encompassing. Purportedly major league baseball's last bastion of democracy--and you Bay Area ballot-box stuffers know better, don't you?--the All-Star game is not without its caste system.

There are All-Stars by acclamation (Ozzie Smith) and there are All-Stars by attrition (Kurt Stillwell). There are All-Stars who belong (Dave Winfield), All-Stars who don't (Terry Steinbach), All-Stars with the right connections (Tim Laudner) and All-Stars required because the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves must be represented (Harold Reynolds, Gerald Perry).

And now, thanks to Doug Jones of the Cleveland Indians, we have a new breed of designation in tonight's All-Star game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium.

All-Star by accident.

Without question, Jones belongs on the American League's pitching staff. Already this season, Jones has saved 20 games, set a major league record with 15 saves in 15 appearances, compiled a 2.34 earned-run average and limited opposing hitters to a batting average of .179, best in the AL.

The thing is, none of this should have happened--at least not according to the best-laid plans of the Cleveland Indians.

In 1985, the Indians signed Jones, then 27, after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers and after the Indians watched him pitch 39 games for double-A Waterbury, Conn. Immediately after the season, the Indians offered him a job as a minor league pitching instructor.

In 1986, with Jones refusing to give up the resin bag, he earned a promotion to triple-A Maine, where he led the International League in ERA (2.09) while saving 9 games and surrendering 105 hits in 116 innings.

But the Indians said Jones didn't throw hard enough and didn't recall him until the play-out-the-string days of September, when rosters can be expanded to 40 players.

In 1987, Jones made the Indians' opening-day roster. He pitched in seven games, then was sent back to triple A. Upon returning to Cleveland in late June, he wound up leading the club in ERA (3.15) and saves (8).

Deliverance at last?

By the time the Indians arrived in Tucson to open their 1988 spring training camp, Jones wasn't even on the club's 40-player roster--scratched to accommodate free-agent signees Dan Schatzeder and Ron Kittle.

And on the final day of camp, Jones, a non-roster invitee, had to survive a three-player pitchoff with Ron Mathis and Charlie Scott for the last spot on Cleveland's staff.

Is it any wonder that Jones, a major league record later, answers questions about his 1988 All-Star selection with a bittersweet, "It's all kind of relative"?

Says Jones: "This is all so new to me, I don't want to overreact. Some guys spend two or three years in the majors and then they're chosen. I hadn't done anything before this year. Before this, I'd only been given a couple sniffs."

Jones, 31, would have preferred a different route to Cincinnati. This overnight-sensation-after-10-years-in-the-minors stuff doesn't cut it with him.

"It's tough supporting a family on a minor league salary," said Jones, who was married in 1982 and became a father in 1984. "We stayed with a lot of other families during the off-season. We shared a lot of apartments. We needed to save money, always paying attention to those kinds of things."

One of his biggest obstacles, Jones says, was Pat Corrales, the hard-boiled former catcher who managed the Indians from mid-1983 to mid-1987. When Corrales looked at Cleveland pitching prospects, he was looking for the next Sam McDowell--not some flimflam man whose best pitch remains the changeup.

"I heard through the grapevine that he didn't think I threw hard enough," Jones said. "He said, 'The guy throws a 70-mile-an-hour fastball and that's never going to make it in the big leagues.' I don't know where he got that. My fastball was always in the upper 80s.

"I was a little frustrated. At midseason (of 1986), they were looking for someone to take the place of (injured) Ernie Camacho. Instead of me, they called up a guy who threw hard but was a fair-to-middling pitcher--a .500 record, a 4.00-plus ERA. They called him up to replace Ernie Camacho, who was our stopper, and he pitches six or seven games and never gets in after the seventh inning. They use him as a long-to-middle reliever.

"Those things built up the frustration . . . You see it so many times--this person getting called up and this person getting overlooked. You start having doubts in the system. You start wondering what you're doing there."

Especially when you're trying to advance in an organization, and that organization asks you to strongly consider another line of work.

Uh, Doug, as a pitching prospect, we'd think you'd make one heck of a coach.

"At the end of '85, the organization was in the process of redoing its coaching staffs on all the minor league teams," Jones said. "They asked me if I'd be interested in being the pitching instructor at Waterbury.

"Actually, I was kind of flattered . . . (But) I don't think I ever wanted to quit."

Jones decided to keep pitching--only with fewer pitches.

Before, he had tried to get by as a master of deception, the man of a thousand pitches.

"When I was with the Brewers' organization, I threw everything--fastball, curveball, screwball, slider, forkball, knuckler," he said. "I'd throw sidearm, three-quarters, over the top. I'd spin around like (Luis) Tiant. My whole thing was to throw off the timing of the hitters.

"The hitters hated to face me--but I was also only a .500 pitcher."

At Waterbury and Maine, Jones adopted the philosophy of more being less and sliced his repertoire to two: fastball and changeup.

"I always was a control pitcher and in double A, the word got out about me--'Just swing at the strike zone because Jones is always going to be around the plate,' " he said. "After getting knocked around, I decided, 'They're going to kill me--or I'm going to be successful.'

"One night they wanted me to pitch the last three innings. I warmed up as hard as I could and threw as hard as I could. And I just breezed, breaking a couple of bats here and there.

"But I was so tired, I couldn't walk off the field. So, I decided to go with a changeup, which I can deliver just like a fastball. And that's all I throw now--fastballs and changeups."

Of course, he can still throw them sidearm, three-quarters and over the the top, changing speeds all the while.

For 15 glorious games this summer, Jones had the rest of the AL baffled. Fifteen times he left the Cleveland bullpen and 15 times he saved a game, breaking the record of 13 straight saves set in 1987 by Steve Bedrosian of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The streak ended July 4, but not by Jones' doing. Jones worked three scoreless innings, but the game remained tied and Jones left with no decision. The next day, however, he earned his 20th save, meaning he has converted 16 of his last 16 save opportunities.

And how did this great baseball moment go down in Cleveland?

"I've never seen a quieter major league record," said Rick Minch, the Indians' publicity director. "I'm sure with Bedrosian it was a circus. It must have been crazy. But this was almost nothing--and we were in New York when Doug set it.

"I know I didn't have any extra (credential) requests to see Doug Jones save a game. I think it's because nobody knows who he is. And, he's quiet to begin with."

That's one way of putting it. Sportswriters in Cleveland, exasperated after interview attempts with Jones, have put it many other ways. Dull, he has been called. Unflappable. Emotionless. Dry. Phlegmatic, even.

Watching Jones sit in the Indians dugout for a live remote with radio station WWWE's Bruce Drennan is to watch a head-on collision between fire and ice.

Drennan, sort of a cross between Morton Downey Jr. and Harry Caray, bludgeons Jones with a nonstop assault: "How 'bout making that All-Star team? What about Carter and Julio not making it? When are you leaving for Cincinnati?"

Jones softly answers each question, his eyes focused on the dugout steps until his sentence has expired. Interview over, Jones stands, rolls his eyes and walks toward a reporter. "I call him my alter-ego," Jones says with a grin.

Cleveland's boring bullpen ace? Jones says he can live with the label. Boring is how he makes his living.

"I'm low-key in the respect that I can't do my job if I'm too emotionally charged up," he said. "If I'm too pumped up, I lose concentration and let outside circumstances affect me.

"Take Oil Can Boyd. He's just the opposite. He's got to be very emotionally involved on the mound. He needs that adrenaline flow all the time.

"Then there are guys like Dan Quisenberry, guys who just go out and do the job. It's just personality. Different things affect different people different ways."

Did the save streak excited him?

"Not really," Jones said. "That was nice. I got a lot of attention I normally wouldn't have had. After a while, it's hard not to follow it.

"I hate to say I'm an 'old veteran,' but I've been around long enough to know you can't let it affect you. It's like when somebody asked me after I made the All-Star team, 'Do you realize how much money you can negotiate for next year?' I don't even want to think about it. If you worry about endorsements and salary, that's going to affect you on the field--and we're trying to build a contender out of this club."

The Indians are getting there, although they wouldn't be close without Jones. And that's how Cleveland almost began the 1988 season.

Entering the final week of spring training, Jones was 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA. He was the club's top relief pitcher the previous season, but that had little bearing on Hank Peters, Cleveland's new general manager, who was assessing the Indians' talent on what he saw in Tucson.

Two days before breaking camp, Cleveland Manager Doc Edwards told Jones: "Don't put your bags on the truck. We're not sure yet."

Jones had to outpitch a pair of rookies, Mathis and Scott, on the final day of the exhibition season to qualify for a trip north.

Looking back, Jones concedes: "I wasn't putting out very hard in the spring. I thought I had the club made. That was a mistake. Doc was trying to build a fire under me. He told me, 'I know what you can do, it's just a matter of showing the front office what you can do.' "

So Jones had to prove himself. Again.

Three months later, he finds himself in Cincinnati, set to pitch in his first All-Star game. On the day of his selection, Jones was asked if a 10-year minor league apprenticeship had finally paid off, if all of this was ultimately worth the wait.

Ten years. A lot can happen in 10 years. You can be told you throw too slowly, you can be ignored, you can be all but forgotten. You can even be asked to quit.

"Well," Jones answered, grinning beneath a droopy mustache, "it's getting close."

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