This man spent the late ’80s as one of the brighter prospects in the Phillies’ system. He was compared to Kal Daniels and Tony Gwynn, but had problems with his knees even before playing on the AstroTurf of Veterans Stadium. After winning the 1986 Paul Owens Award as the best player in the Phillies’ minor league system, playing for Clearwater, where he won the Florida State League batting title (.371) and also led the league in runs scored (76) and triples (12), he had knee and hamstring injuries in 1986, playing for Maine. The Phillies wrote about his later injuries:
“He was limited to 12 games in 1989 with the Phillies after injuring his right knee while making a play in the outfield on April 18. The next season, he sustained an injury to his left knee. In each case, Jones tore a ligament.”
The Associated Press had described a sparkling moment in his first big league game, in 1988, in a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers:
Ron Jones, recalled from the minors Thursday, homered in his second major league at-bat, in the Phillies’ fourth.
But 19 years ago, in late June 1990, came the injury that effectively ended his career. USA Today wrote:
The Philadelphia Phillies have not had a whole lot of luck in their bid to remain a factor in the NL East. The latest blow was toughest of all.
Outfielder Ron Jones ripped a tendon and damaged cartilage in his left knee Saturday. It’s the same kind of injury he had to his right knee at the start of last season, only more severe.
The first injury cost him the rest of 1989. This one might cost his career. He already has had surgery.
“Now he’s out another year,” Phillies manager Nick Leyva said Sunday. “In a two-year period, we’re talking about playing only two months. That makes it tough. You lose a lot. How much time before your baseball reflexes go?”
Jones was batting .276 with three home runs and seven RBI in 24 games. A left-handed hitter, he showed enough potential to draw comparisons to Kal Daniels and even Tony Gwynn.
If he can come back, he’ll probably have to do so in the AL, where he can be a designated hitter.
Jones wound up his career in 1991 with the Phillies, apparently used exclusively as a pinch-hitter (he went 4-26 in 28 games with four singles and two walks). He died three years ago in Houston, on June 4, 2006. After the death, both the Phillies and a blogger in New England remembered him:
During his season and a half in Old Orchard Beach, Jones made a habit of hanging around in the parking lot after Guides games, sitting on the hood of his pickup truck, enjoying a beverage or two, and shooting the breeze with anyone who wanted an autograph, to talk baseball, or just to say hi to a ballplayer. My dad and I got to know him well enough that he’d greet us by name when he ran into one of us at the ballpark or around town.
Jones has similarities to Cliff Young of the Indians: both had pretty anonymous names, played in the late ’80s and early ’90s, were black men from Texas, had pretty marginal careers marred by injury, died early in life, and are, honestly, probably remembered now as much for their deaths as for their careers. Still, the distinction of making a big league roster isn’t shared by many people alive or dead.