March 12 – Happy Birthday Ruppert Jones
The day before Thurman Munson died on August 2, 1979, the Yankees had traded Mickey Rivers to Texas for Oscar Gamble. Then, during the 1979 offseason they went searching for a new catcher and a new center fielder. They didn’t waste much time, taking care of both needs on the same day. On November 1, 1979 New York traded for Toronto’s Rick Cerone to take Munson’s place behind the plate and they sent four players to the Mariners for Seattle’s starting center fielder, Ruppert Jones. “Rupe” was 25 years old at the time of that trade and had been in the big leagues since 1976. He was originally drafted by the Royals and later selected by Seattle in the 1976 expansion draft.
He made the All Star team during his rookie season of 1977, hitting 24 home runs. After getting hurt the following year and slumping badly at the plate, Jones had rebounded in 1979, hitting 21 dingers, scoring 109 runs and stealing 33 bases. It turned out to be the best season of his 12-year career, which explains why New York had to send Seattle four players including Jim Beattie, one of the team’s top pitching prospects at the time. I remember not being thrilled with either deal. The Yanks had to give up Chris Chambliss to get the weak-hitting Cerone and although the New York sports media had nice things to say about Jones, starting in center field in Seattle was a lot different than starting in center field in Yankee Stadium. The guy was a left-handed hitter with lots of pop so I was hoping he’d develop into a classic Yankee Stadium power broker but he never really got the chance.
Dick Howser was the Yankees new Manager in 1980 and he ended up doing a masterful job with that team. Cerone helped him by having a career year but Jones was a disaster in pinstripes. He was hurt much of the season and when he could play, he hit just .223. By the end of the year, Howser had made switch-hitting Bobby Brown his starter in center and Jones was left off the postseason roster.
Howser was infamously let go by George Steinbrenner after the Yankees lost the 1980 ALDS to the Royals. It was a chaotic Yankee front office that then traded Jones to San Diego for Padres center-fielder Jerry Mumphrey on the final day of New York’s 1981 spring training season.
Jones was actually a solid big league player, who played well for Seattle and San Diego but could not get it going as a Yankee. He retired after the 1987 season with 1,103 big league hits, 147 career home runs and a .250 lifetime batting average.