RIP to Calvin Jones, a former No. 1 draft pick who went on to pitch professionally all around the world, including 2 seasons in Major League Baseball. He died on February 12 at age 58 from cancer. Jones played for the Seattle Mariners in 1991 and 1992, but perhaps his biggest contribution to baseball history came in his role as a Dodgers scout in 2006.
Calvin Douglas Jones was born in Compton, Calif., on September 26, 1963. He started playing Little League when he was 7 on a team that his father coached. However, baseball — and everything else — didn’t come easy. During his playing career, Jones used to show off a T-shaped scar that started in his lower back and ran down his hip. “I show this to all the guys. They know I’m from Compton and they think I got stabbed in a gang fight,” he said, laughing.
The truth was, Jones had a dermoid tumor near his hip, and it took six childhood surgeries before it was finally found and treated in high school. Jones had to relearn how to walk as a high school junior at Verbum Dei High School, a boy’s Jesuit high school in Los Angeles. He resumed pitching that spring. His one concession to the surgery was that he gave up playing football for a year, but he quickly established his baseball potential and became one of the top pitchers in the Camino Real League.
“I think that he is going to be one of the premier pitchers to come out of this league,” Verbum Dei coach Pete Morado said of Jones in 1981. Jones ended up with a 14-2 record and 1.50 ERA and routinely threw double-digit strikeout performances on the mound. He finished 1981 by being an All-League and All-California Interscholastic Federation selection as well as the MVP of the Camino Real League. He then attended University of California-Riverside, where he redshirted as a freshman and pitched sparingly as a sophomore. When budget cuts cost him his scholarship, Jones transferred to Chaffey Junior College. The 20-year-old stood 6-foot-3 and had a fastball in the low 90s and a glare that could match Goose Gossage for pure intimidation. He struck out 210 batters in 145 innings in his lone year at Chaffey. The Seattle Mariners chose him as the first overall pick of the 1984 Amateur Draft – Regular Phase. That draft was for junior college players, college dropouts and high school athletes who graduated in January.
The Mariners kept Jones as a starting pitcher when he began pitching professionally in 1984 with Bellingham, a Low-A affiliate in the Northwest League. He got off to a great start, with a 5-0 record in 10 appearances (9 starts). He worked 59-2/3 innings and struck out 59 batters, to go with a fine 2.41 ERA. Along with a dymanic fastball, he featured a very effective forkball. “I thought of the forkball when I was watching the 1982 World Series with Bruce Sutter of the St. Louis Cardinals,” he explained to the Wasau Daily Herald in 1985. “It’s like a knuckleball in that it’s hard to control. You have an idea where you want to put it, but you can’t control it.”
Because Jones played so little in his first two years of college, the Mariners took it slow with him. His first full seasons in the minors were a little uneven. He lost 11 games in 1985 and then won 11 in ’86. He went 2-9 with an ERA near 5 for Double-A Chattanooga in 1987 as he started 10 games and relieved in 16 others. Jones made himself into a valuable reliever for Vermont of the Double-A Eastern League in 1988, as he had a 7-5 record and 2.64 ERA before injuring his elbow in August. He also spent part of the year as the roommate of rising Mariners prospect Ken Griffey Jr.
Jones was pretty unsurprised when Griffey lived up to the considerable hype surrounding him. He had a chance to watch Griffey at the Arizona Instructional League after he was drafted. “We were standing around and I said to him, ‘Let me see you hit one out to the opposite field,’ He says, ‘OK,’ steps up and then he does it,” Jones recalled. In a separate interview, he said, “Even watching him play catch, you can see he’s got all the talent in the world. He’s the best high school player I ever saw.”
Jones moved back to Class-A San Bernardino to get some save opportunities and perfect his forkball. He was quickly promoted to Double-A Williamsport, but he appeared in just 5 games before back injuries — a side effect of his tumor surgery in high school — brought his season to an early end. He bounced back to have an excellent season for San Bernardino in 1990, but by then, he was 26 years old and still pitching in Class-A ball. Still, he wasn’t about to give up.
“I really haven’t gotten down,” he said. “Who knows what to say about other things, but you’ve always got tomorrow to come back to in baseball.”
Jones was 27 years old going into the 1991 season, and the Mariners decided to move him to Triple-A for the first time in his career. He didn’t pitch particularly well for the Calgary Cannons, but when pitcher Scott Bankhead went on the 15-day disabled list in mid-June, Jones got the call to the majors. His major-league debut came in a 5-1 loss to Detroit on June 14. He relieved Brian Holman and threw 3 innings of scoreless relief, not allowing a baserunner past first base. He was unscored upon in his first four outings, finally giving up a run to the White Sox on July 3. He took the loss and saw his ERA rise to 0.96. Jones was sent back to the minors anyway but returned to Seattle in August, picking up right where he left off. Jones got his first win on August 15, when he held the Oakland A’s to 2 hits over 2-1/3 innings in a comeback 8-6 win for the Mariners. Griffey helped his old roommate out with a home run and double in the win. Jones had a streak in September where he threw 7-2/3 hitless innings, spread out over five games. On the year, he had a 2-2 record and 2 saves in 27 games, with a 2.53 ERA and an ERA+ of 164. He struck out 42 batters in 46-1/3 innings, and he didn’t allow any home runs.
Jones had a poor spring training in 1992, and it carried over into the regular season. He gave up a run in his first appearance without retiring a batter, and after another no-hit streak of 7-2/3 innings, the California Angels rocked him for 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Jones’ control was one of the major factors. He walked 49 batters in 61-2/3 innings with the Mariners, and he also threw 10 wild pitches, tenth-worst among all AL pitchers. He was sent to the minors with a 6 ERA in June and spent the next two months with Calgary. Jones was a little more effective when he came back to Seattle in August, but he still finished the season with a 3-5 record, a 5.69 ERA and a WHIP of 1.573.
Jones was claimed by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft, held in November of 1992. He was released by the Rockies in spring training of 1993 and signed a minor-league contract with Cleveland. He pitched in the Indians’ minor leagues for two seasons and saved 36 games, and he was apparently brought to the majors in September of 1993, though he didn’t appear in any games. Jones also pitched for Triple-A affiliates for the Red Sox, White Sox and Dodgers through 1996 without getting another chance in the majors. In 1996, Jones pitched briefly for the China Times Eagles of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He returned in 1998 to pitch as a closer for the Chinatrust Whales for two seasons, the Olmecas de Tabasco in the Mexican League in 2000 and for Newark and Camden of the independent Atlantic League in 2001 and 2002. He retired as a pitcher after the 2002 season, when he was 38 years old.
In Jones’ two seasons in the major leagues, Jones appeared in 65 games, with 1 start. He had a record of 5 wins, 7 losses and 2 saves, and an ERA of 4.33. He had 91 strikeouts and 76 walks in 108 innings. Opposing batters hit .219 off him, with 8 home runs. He also had a 52-47 record in the minors with 65 saves and 39 saves while pitching in China and Mexico.
After his playing career, Jones became a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His biggest feat during his time with the Dodgers was his tireless work to land Clayton Kershaw as the team’s Number One pick in the 2006 draft. Scott Miller wrote about the whole saga for Bleacher Report, and it’s a fascinating look at the work that goes into a big draft pick. Jones was careful to show interest but not too much interest in Kershaw, lest he tip his hand to other scouts. He fought for Kershaw to be the Dodgers’ top pick, even over the objections of Tommy Lasorda. Jones later left the scouting job to work in home construction, which kept him closer to his family. He also was involved in instructing young baseball players, and several of his former students and their families posted messages about his influence on social media.
For more information: Orange County Register