Tampa Bay Devil Rays rightfielder Jose Cruz Jr. takes aim on a fastball in front of palm trees, fans and Fred McGriff at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. Islander Photo: Steve Huntington
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Todd Jones: The Birdie Tebbetts 'Smart Player of the Week'
While pondering this column during the off-season, I originally thought I would honor the memory of Anna Maria Major Leaguer Birdie Tebbetts with either the "Smart Player" or "Smart Play of the Week." I would describe something notable that I saw on the field and include it with whatever other ramblings I could sneak past my editor. But so far, the honor has applied to attaching his name to the pursuit of baseball knowledge in the form of a trivia question. Now this time I've got my Birdie Tebbetts Smart Player of the Week, but let's continue with a weekly question, too. Hey, why not? It's fun and it's informative.
Question: Which player has played in at least a hundred games in each of the last six seasons, for six different teams? That's over a hundred games a year, and every year for a new team. Hint: He went to the World Series with two of them, in 2001 and 2002. (Answer at end.)
Todd Jones has been one of the premiere closers in the game. His 184 career saves places him 12th among active pitchers and one more will break a tie with Kent Tekulve and Steve Bedrosian to put him at No. 35 all-time.
But he had a rough year in 2003, split between the Colorado Rockies and the Boston Red Sox. For a veteran these days, that often results in a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Jones is hoping to make the most of it with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
What distinguishes him from the other players is that he writes a regular column for The Sporting News titled "The Closer." While few players become members of the media while still in their playing days, almost none do it with the printed word.
Jones was asked recently what keeps him going with his baseball career. "What keeps me pushing is that ... the game's trying to run me out of the game. I've got some things left that I still want to try to accomplish. I have every intention of making this team and helping the ball club any way I can. I still want to pitch. I still enjoy it. It still stinks when I give up runs and it still feels great when I do good."
Asked if it was still fun to report to spring training, Jones said, "Oh yeah. You know, it's funny when you're from age 31 to 35, you don't like to talk about your age. Then when you get to 35, you wear it like a badge. Because when you look around at the guys in the clubhouse, you wonder how many will be playing when they're 35.
"I've had a lot of fun on this side of the fence, coming in as a non-roster invitee and having to prove myself all over again. The Devil Rays said they would give me a chance, and all I can do is take a man at his word. So if I get that chance, I think I can pitch on the team. We'll see."
I asked him if he enjoyed writing his baseball column. "Yeah, I really do. Some weeks it ends up being therapeutic. Some weeks it ends up getting me out of trouble and some weeks it ends up getting me in trouble."
Jones opened up a hornet's nest last spring when he wrote that he would not want a gay teammate.
"But I mainly do it for my 9-year-old son and my 6-year-old daughter. When there are things that I forget [from] when I played, I can always go back and look. I've really enjoyed it. For a while I was a bad writer and didn't really know what to write about. As I get a little older and have a chance to play with a lot of guys, I'm always going to run into a story. I was in Detroit and if I had a block I could always go to Ernie Harwell. And now I can go to Zimmer here."
So does he see writing, or electronic media, as a career after his playing days? "No, I don't think so. My draw is that I'm a player. I'm a current player that can complete a sentence and finish an idea. I'm not a big enough name to have any juice after I'm done. [But] I mean, if they want to give me the back page of Sports Illustrated, I'll take it."
In a meeting earlier this month, Jones cautioned his teammates in talking with the media about steroids: "This whole controversy, the steroids issue, was started by the players running their mouth, from Tony Gwynn to Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco. Now there are current players. You know, why not build up the game? Be a representative of the game that's been good to you. Don't try to blow it up. I do that enough when I'm out there pitching. I don't need to do it when I'm done, or bitter, or got an ax to grind, or social agenda, or whatever. I just think guys should respect the game and clean it up if it needs cleaning up. Address it and then move on, because it's a great game. I hate to see people automatically assume 50 home runs [were made] with a needle. It's tough to hear."
Todd Jones shared this insight with fellow Devil Rays even before the players union warning to curb their tongues. "Yeah, they put a gag order and they should. There is so much media with the Internet and print, radio and TV, you guys have to fill it. You put a microphone in front of a young guy and he'll just babble and babble. You got to try and help him out and not let him hang himself."
And it doesn't even have to be a young guy, I chimed in, though clearly Jones is one who knows what he's talking about.
Songwriter Chuck Brodsky sings songs about baseball, among other subjects. He has nine of them in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Sound Recordings Library. One of Brodsky's CDs, Baseball Ballads, contains amazing songs about baseball's clown prince Max Patkin, Fred Merkle, Moe Berg, Dick Allen, and Dock Ellis' no-hitter on LSD. The Philadelphia native is doing a Florida tour this month (what a coincidence!), which brings him to the Sarasota Sailing Squadron this Monday evening, March 29. For information, call 377-9256.
Mr. 1-year Contract
Answer: Reggie Sanders (Cincinnati, San Diego, Atlanta, Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, 1998-2003). He can make it seven teams in seven years this year with St. Louis.