As a whole, Tracy Jones’ stay in the major leagues may have been more brief than he would’ve liked as a whole.
However, the former Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder, who played six seasons with five different teams, certainly has a personality that reflects an individual who has learned a great deal about his time in and around Major League Baseball.
And that is arguably more valuable than his overall playing experience.
Jones, a 1983 first-round draft choice in the secondary phase of the MLB Draft by the Reds, spoke to individuals from the Portsmouth and Ironton areas, as well as the area encompassing Morehead, Ky., at Buffalo Wild Wings in Portsmouth on Tuesday evening as part of the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame Portsmouth Chapter meeting.
From the outset of the chapter meeting, Jones’ overall humor and the manner in which his stories were told allowed every person in attendance to feel the raw emotions of the years that Jones put in at the highest level of the sport.
“I wish that I would’ve had better experiences in the Major Leagues,” Jones said. “It was all kind of a flash, and there were so many bad things that happened in the big leagues. The positives, however, were in Cincinnati. I wish that there were more highlights, I wish that I would’ve played in the World Series, and I wish that I would’ve played better on a personal level, but all in all, I can’t complain. I was fortunate to be among the few who have made it to the big leagues.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Like the vast majority of parents, Jones’ excitement about his own playing days were only enhanced by the current play of his own child, Hunter.
Tracy, who opened the meeting by saying that he was “off his game” due to watching his son, via his own laptop, strikeout, then pop a flyball up in the air on a 3-2 count in his first pair of at-bats with the Harrisburg Senators — the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals — on Tuesday evening, opened the session by talking about Hunter, who is in his eighth season in the minor leagues after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2010 draft out of Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Calif., and his appreciation for Hunter’s improved dedication to the game.
“It was a lot different (from my time to his),” Jones said. “I know that I couldn’t have made it to the big leagues if I was drafted out of high school, which Hunter was. It only took me three years and I was in the big leagues, whereas Hunter keeps grinding it out. I’m very proud of him. To be able to do what he’s done, and to get better and better, is great. It beats carrying a lunch pail to work.”
PLAYING DAYS WITH REDS
In the Reds’ system, the elder Jones foray to the major leagues ultimately took just two years before reaching the majors. However, even after hitting in the .360 range during Spring Training in 1986, Jones had to sweat bullets.
The 6-3, 180-pounder beat out two additional teammates for the 25th and final spot on the big league roster for the 1986 unit after a funny encounter with Pete Rose when Jones hopped on the bus after Rose, in response to Jones question of whether he made the team or not, said, ‘Get on the bus before I change my mind.’
“Pete gave me an opportunity to play in the big leagues,” Jones said. “I think that he really liked me. He mentions me a lot during speeches because we had so many run-ins together. People say that I played a lot like Pete, and I did try to hustle and do a lot of what Pete did when he played in the big leagues. I have a lot of good memories of him.”
Jones responded to Rose’s confidence in him with strong play as the outfielder hit .349 and posted an on-base-plus-slugging mark of .860 in 1986, then responded with his best overall season as a major leaguer in 1987 by collecting a .290 batting average and posting career-highs in games played (117), home runs (10), RBI (44), stolen bases (31), and total bases (157), all according to Baseball Reference.
At the time Jones made his ascent, Cincinnati began to re-establish itself as a perennial contender in the National League following three consecutive losing seasons from 1982 to 1984.
The Reds, who played in the National League West Division from 1969 to 1994, posted four consecutive winning seasons from 1985 to 1988, including two with Jones at the center of the storm in 1986 and 1987, but fell shy of making the playoffs in each season because the divisional winners were the only teams to make the playoffs during that span of play.
“We always needed pitching,” Jones said. “We were always a pitcher or two short. We had the position ballplayers. When we would play against other teams, I’d sit and look at Kal (Daniels), Paul O’Neill, or Eric Davis, and (Barry) Larkin, and think, ‘Boy, we have better position ballplayers than these other teams.’ We were just missing some pitching. We just never got the pitchers that we needed in the late 80s, and we finished in second place three years in a row.”
THE GREATNESS OF JR.
After being traded away from Cincinnati in 1988, Jones bounced around between Montreal, San Francisco, and Detroit before landing in Seattle, where Jones had the neat experience of playing with Ken Griffey, Jr. — who ended up in Cincinnati from 2000 to 2008 — and Ken Griffey, Sr. — who was an integral part of the Big Red Machine — at the same time.
In Jones’ final season in 1991, Seattle posted its first winning season in franchise history (83-79) as the young talent, such as Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Alex Cora, among others, came to the forefront.
“He was baseball in Seattle,” Jones said of Griffey, Jr. “But we had some great players on that team. The team that I played on in 1991 was actually the first team in franchise history that finished above .500. Griffey was on that team, and of course, he was the star, but you had Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Omar Vizquel, and Harold Reynolds among many others. There were some really good ballplayers on that team, but also great guys. They were all truly great people.”
While his playing experiences weren’t exactly what he expected, Jones considers himself a lucky man.
Since his playing career ended after the 1991 season, Jones has started his own insurance company, Tracy Jones Financial, and has served as a radio personality in the Cincinnati area for nearly a decade in multiple facets.
“Everything’s good,” Jones said. “I’m a very lucky person. I have a great wife, I’ve invested my money and have done pretty well. I’m happy and healthy. I’m in pretty good shape. I have a great kid and a great dog. We just got a new dog. Tuck is his name. He was a rescue dog from California. There was a guy walking three dogs. He was a homeless person, and my wife happened to see him and said, ‘Hey, can we take one of these dogs?’ Our dog had recently died, so she got the dog and then had it shipped to us in Cincinnati, which is where we got him.”
His comfortable life today, however, hasn’t stopped Jones from staying around and observing the game that he loves.
“It’s a long way to the top,” Jones said when asked about his advice to youngsters who aspire to be major leaguers. “You’ve got to be really, really good and you’ve got to be really, really lucky. It’s just as much luck as it is having the talent, but if you think that you can make it, first-year players make $550,000. That’s something that pays the bills. However, you better be 100 percent committed, because if you’re not, and you don’t have the natural talent of a Ken Griffey, Jr., you won’t make it.”
In addition to Jones, John Erardi, a two-time Ohio Associated Press Sportswriter of the Year, also spoke to the crowd in attendance. His newest book, Tony Perez: From Cuba to Cooperstown, was on sale at the chapter meeting, and marked the seventh published book of his career.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT