SLOW-MOTION REPLAY : Randy Jones Wasn’t Very Fast on the Mound, Just Very Good
Randy Jones sat in the Padre dugout and gazed wistfully at the area he used to call his own at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
“There are a lot of fond memories out there,” Jones said. “All those games, those two great years, those standing ovations. It’s fun to sit here and reminisce about the good things.”
During his best times, there wasn’t a better pitcher in baseball. Jones, a left-hander, led the National League in earned-run average (2.24) in 1975. In 1976, he won the Cy Young Award.
The standing ovations that Jones mentioned became standard operating procedure after his big season in 1975.
“In ’76, I made my first opening day start,” he said. “When I went to the bullpen to warm up, I got a standing ovation. It was that way all season--21 home starts, 21 standing ovations. It was just great. I think it was conducive to pitching better.”
Note that Jones started 21 games at home in 1976. That total would constitute two-thirds of a pitcher’s total season today, but Padre pitchers in those days took just three days rest, not four. Jones’ 40 starts led the league, as did his 25 complete games and 315 innings.
There is no telling how many games Jones would have won that season if he had received Grade A support. His record was 22-14, almost the same as his 20-12 of 1975, and half of his defeats were by one run.
Jones wasn’t a hard thrower--far from it. As he put it, “Hitters used to say I was a comfortable oh for four.” But he had a great sinker, a collection of other pitches that kept hitters off balance and control that was next to impeccable.
In Jones’ Cy Young season, he tied Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson’s NL record (set in 1913) of 68 innings without walking a man. The record still stands.
“The streak finally ended when I walked Marc Hill of the Giants on a three-two pitch,” Jones said. “He swears to this day that if he’d known I was going for a record, he would’ve swung. He’s a liar.
“But that was OK, because by only tying Mathewson’s record I put my name beside his in the record book. In that respect, it was more of an honor than breaking the record.”
Jones’ assault on the record book that magical season didn’t end with his pitching. He also set a major league record by handling 112 chances without an error and tied an NL record by starting 12 double plays. They also still stand.
“There’s a little humor in that,” Jones said. “Jim Kaat had won the Gold Glove (for pitchers) before, and they awarded it to him again before it came out that I’d set the records. That leads me to believe that the voting is a little political.”
Another record that Jones set has been in the news of late. It’s the club mark of 92 victories, which Eric Show passed Wednesday with his 93rd victory.
Jones might have won two Cy Young Awards in a row if he had been with a stronger team. Despite leading the league in ERA in 1975, he finished second in the voting to Tom Seaver of the New York Mets, who had won the award twice previously.
“It was a tremendous thrill when I got it the following year,” Jones said. “A much bigger thrill than winning the earned-run title (in ’75). But up to that time, the earned-run title was it, and I beat out Seaver and Andy Messersmith to win it.
“I was ahead going into the last day, and we all pitched that day. John McNamara was our manager then, and he and Ballard Smith (then the Padres’ president) called me in and asked me if I wanted to sit it out. I said no way. I told them I had to pitch. I wanted to earn it.
“I gave up two earned runs in the first inning, then I pitched six shutout innings, and I nosed them out. When I was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh, I got my first standing ovation. Then the crowd kept cheering, and somebody pushed me out there to take a curtain call. What a moment that was.”
Jones, who has lived in Poway since joining the Padres in 1973, is 39 and hasn’t pitched since a nerve problem in his arm forced him into retirement in 1982. He can’t help but regret that his career ended prematurely but is too busy with his business ventures to concern himself with what might have been.
The only thing that bothers him about baseball these days is the slowness with which it is played.
“I see games now, and wish I could get out there and speed things up,” Jones said. “In ’75 and ’76, my games probably averaged two hours. My fastest was 1:27. It was a 1-0 game, and I threw 68 pitches, 47 of them strikes.
“I often threw under a hundred pitches. I had to struggle to get over a hundred. I averaged in the 80s. I wanted to take charge of the game, control the tempo, make things happen. I went after the hitters, and nobody behind me ever got back on his heels. Blink, and I’d be in my windup again.
“When guys take too much time between pitches, the hitters become comfortable. I don’t like that. Sometimes when I was pitching in a TV game, there might be one or two out by the time the commercial was over. They had to slow me down a little bit.”
Nobody had to slow Jones’ pitches.
“I didn’t blast anybody away,” he said. “The hitters made themselves out with ground balls. I averaged 75 to 78 (m.p.h.). I could throw in the 80s, but my sinker wouldn’t sink as much at that speed. I also had a slider and a curve, and I developed a pretty good screwball at the end of my career.”
Jones was born in Fullerton, grew up in Brea and graduated from Chapman College with a degree in business. The Padres drafted him in the fifth round in 1972, and a year later he was in the major leagues. In 20 games with the Padres in 1973, he was 7-6 with a 3.15 ERA.
“I was called up after a month and a half of the season,” he said. “My first appearance was in Shea Stadium, against the Mets in relief. We were getting killed, and our manager, Don Zimmer, decided to let me get my feet wet.
“I went through my first inning one-two-three, but in the next inning, Willie Mays led off with a 600-foot home run. That kind of rattled me. There were two more hits, and I was out of there. Zimmer didn’t leave me in to take a lot of abuse.”
Five days later, Jones made his first start and lost to the Atlanta Braves, 4-3.
“Hank Aaron beat me with a three-run homer in the first inning,” Jones said. “The way he flicked his wrists was unbelievable.”
Although Jones went on that year to establish himself as a major league pitcher, it could hardly be said that success came quickly. His 1974 season was an 8-22 nightmare in which he led the league in defeats and his ERA soared to 4.46.
“The turnaround in my career came when Tom Morgan got my mechanics straightened out,” Jones said. “He was our pitching coach then, and without his input, what I achieved later might never have happened.”
Jones’ rebound from 8-22 to 20-12 earned him the comeback-of-the-year award for 1975. When he won the Cy Young a year later at the age of 26, he seemed set for a long stay at or near the top.
But in Jones’ last start of 1976, something snapped in his forearm, and he was never the same. After slipping to 6-12, 13-14, 11-12 and 5-13, he moved on to the Mets and finished 1-8 and 7-10. He won exactly 100 games, about half as many as he might have if not for the arm trouble.
“To tell the truth, winning a hundred was a goal for me,” he said. “But it was tough the way it happened. I started the ’82 season 7-2, and my arm felt great. I was player of the week one week. I had shut out Houston, and in my next start, my arm snapped like a rubber band. It just exploded. I felt my biceps and it was gone. I didn’t win another game.”
After that, Jones had a few setbacks in business but eventually he found his niche. He is a representative of AGS Sports, a division of AGS Foods, and gives baseball clinics all over the world.
“I tried many things,” he said. “I had some financial struggles, including some with the IRS. It was a typical story. I did some real estate work, investments, that sort of thing.
“Now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Jones said he and two other former Padres, Fred Kendall and Dan Spillner, will be leaving June 22 for a two-month tour of military installations. Among the stops will be Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii.
“I also represent the company for batting cages and pitching machines, and I pitch batting practice. . . . And next year I plan to start camps for kids. I’m really looking forward to that.”
At one time, Jones owned an estate in Poway that covered 13 acres. “In ’79, we bought a whole mountaintop,” he said. “We called it Jones Mountain, and the house had about 5,000 square feet. We had four horses, even chickens. We had fresh eggs every morning.
“It was nice until I got traded to the Mets. Then we sold the place and moved into a neighborhood. With me gone so much, my wife and daughters weren’t happy by themselves.”
Jones and his wife, Martha, have two girls, Staci, 14, and Jami, 12. Both are excellent athletes, and Jones somehow finds time to coach their softball team and help coach their soccer team.
“As much as I travel, I have a unique knack of getting back home by Friday each week,” Jones said. “And I arranged the trip coming up so I won’t leave until the girls’ softball season is over.”