Randy Jones - 1978 Topps baseball card

Former Padres Southpaw Randy Jones Grilled
Hitters' Hopes To Win NL Cy Young Award In 1976

By Todd Newville

Former major league pitcher Randy Jones enjoys a good barbecue. Always has, really.

Today, the former lefty has his own brand of barbecue sauce which he markets in about 200 locations. He also owns and operates “Randy Jones Baseball Barbecue” at Petco Park in San Diego, where fans can dine on his delicious barbecued delights during Padre games.

There was a time, though, when Jones grilled more than just ribs and chicken legs. He also grilled the fortunes of a few major league hitters while he was on the mound. Thanks to a tantalizing sinkerball, a devastating slider and other off-speed pitches, Jones whetted the appetite of opposing batters with his assortment of juicy offerings.

But, unlike people who eat his barbecue now at Petco Park, Jones’ menu of goodies as a pitcher often left hitters far from satisfied. On the contrary, they usually left the batter’s box feeling empty - unable to get their licks on Jones’ deceptively slow-cooked stuff.

Like the good barbecue chef that he is, Jones left hitters steamed and boiled - in frustration. No need for a moist towelette; a bottle of Tums was a more useful remedy for hitters following an unfulfilling encounter against Jones.

Such a repertoire proved to be Jones’ recipe for success in the majors.

“My success really came from control,” Jones said. “I had a good sinkerball and a slider. I had a curveball I used sparingly on certain hitters. But, I had pinpoint control and I changed speeds very, very well. The combination of that resulted in a lot of ground balls.”

And, a lot of frustrated batters.

Randy Jones was the National League's Cy Young Award winner in 1976 when he was 22-14 with a 2.74 ERA. He also logged 25 complete games.

“I didn’t want to strike out everybody,” added Jones, who worked fast and usually made quick work of his opponents. “I think I averaged about 90 pitches per nine innings in 1976. I made every pitch count and I was a groundball pitcher. Why go 2-2 and 3-2 in the count on everybody? You might as well let them hit the first one instead of waiting four or five pitches. I wanted everybody to hit the baseball because I was a groundball pitcher. That was my philosophy.”

And, it was a good philosophy - especially during a splendid two-year stretch in the mid-1970s when Jones was perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball. But, it took a while for Jones to find the right ingredients to make him a success.

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1974 Topps baseball card)
Jones (who was a 6-foot, 178-pound southpaw) started his professional career from scratch in the minors. Born in Fullerton, Calif., he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1972 amateur draft - plucked off the campus of nearby Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He was assigned to Tri-City (Wash.) in the Class A Northwest League, where he won his only start before moving up to Alexandria (Texas) in the Class AA Texas League.

Hall of Famer Duke Snider was Jones’ manager at Alexandria. Snider (a .295 career hitter) hit 407 homers in his 18-year career spent mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He hit 40 or more homers in a season for five straight years from 1953 to ‘57. Snider was widely regarded as one of the game’s best center fielders in his day along with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

“My first manager when I broke into the Texas League in 1972 was Duke Snider,” Jones said. “He was a great guy. I learned a lot about baseball from him during my first year in the minor leagues. He made a lot of impact on me and my career.”

Former pitcher Warren Hacker also taught Jones some valuable lessons at Alexandria. Hacker was once a stellar big league hurler. He went 15-9 with the Chicago Cubs in 1952 and finished second in the National League that season with a 2.58 ERA, just behind Hoyt Wilhelm’s 2.43 ERA.

“He was an older guy and a former pitcher who helped me with my sinker,” Jones said of Hacker, who died in 2002. “He got me rolling in the right direction with that.”

In 12 games with Alexandria in ‘72, Jones went 3-5 with a 2.91 ERA. He allowed 53 hits and just 13 walks in 68 innings pitched while striking out 63 batters. In 1973 with Alexandria, Jones went 8-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 10 games - allowing 22 walks and 55 hits in 67 innings while striking out 67 hitters.

That’s all the Padres needed to see out of Jones. He was soon called up to the big leagues and made his major league debut on June 16, 1973. With just barely a year of minor league experience under his belt, Jones pitched an inning-and-a-third in a 10-2 loss to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium.

Jones came into the game in relief of Rich Troedson and got the first batter he faced (the Mets’ Ted Martinez) to ground out. He also gave up a solo home run to the legendary Hall of Famer Mays in the sixth inning - one of four hits Jones surrendered that day. But, things got a little better for Jones.

He ended up going 7-6 during his rookie season with a 3.16 ERA in 20 games for San Diego. Jones (who was named to the Topps Rookie All-Star team) allowed 37 walks and 129 hits while striking out 77 in 139-2/3 innings of work. He tossed six complete games and even tossed his first shutout - a 9-0 victory over the Mets on Aug. 14 in which he allowed eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1975 Topps baseball card)

The next year with San Diego was awfully rough for Jones. In ‘74, he went 8-22 with a 4.45 ERA, along with 124 strikeouts and 78 walks in 208 innings pitched. The Padres finished dead last in the National League’s West Division with a 60-102 record. With the help of pitching coach Tom Morgan, Jones tweaked his delivery and altered his pitching technique.

Morgan had a rather distinguished 12-year major league career, which he spent mostly with the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. With a career record of 67-47, Morgan’s best year was in 1954, when he went 11-5 for the Yanks with a 3.34 ERA in 32 games. His four shutouts ranked second in the American League that year behind only Mike Garcia of the Cleveland Indians and Virgil “Fire” Trucks of the Chicago White Sox - each with five.

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1976 Topps baseball card)
“Tom Morgan was my pitching coach in ‘75,” said Jones, now 56. “He told me to throw a little bit across my body to hide the ball better and add deception to my pitches to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. I just kept my front side closed and it worked very well for me. I give him a lot of credit for turning me around. It made all the difference in the world once I got it down and understood what he wanted me to do.”

In 1975, Jones fashioned a 20-12 record for the Padres along with a league-leading 2.24 ERA. He became just the second pitcher since 1950 to win 20 games in one season after losing 20 games the previous year with a winning percentage below .500. The only other hurler to do that was Dick Ellsworth of the Chicago Cubs, who was 9-20 in ‘62 before going 22-10 in ‘63.

Tom Seaver of the Mets was the only pitcher in the National League in ‘75 who had more wins (22) than Jones, who also finished second in the Senior Circuit with 285 innings pitched, 18 complete games, and six shutouts. Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers led all those categories in ‘75 with 322 innings, 19 complete games, and seven shutouts.

Jones was tabbed as the Comeback Player of the Year in ‘75 by The Sporting News. Jones (with seven first-place votes and 80 points) finished second to Seaver (15 first-place votes, 98 points) for the Cy Young Award.

“I had an awfully good year in ‘75,” Jones said. “I had six shutouts, won the ERA title, had 18 complete games, and pitched 285 innings. I had a good year but I think there was some East Coast bias with Tom Seaver. The year before, I lost 22 games. So, it was a good comeback for me. But, I was certainly outdistanced in votes (for the Cy Young Award) by Mr. Seaver.”

In ’76, Jones improved upon his previous campaign and - this time - won the Cy Young Award, becoming the first major award winner in Padres history. He went 22-14 with a 2.74 ERA. He led the National League in victories and also topped the NL charts with an amazing 25 complete games and a whopping 315 innings pitched. He tied Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles for the most wins in the majors.

Jones also finished ‘76 with five shutouts. Only John “The Count” Montefusco with the San Francisco Giants and Jon Matlack of the Mets tossed more with six shutouts each. Jones also ranked sixth in ERA and, while he did allow a league-leading 274 hits, he also issued just 50 walks all year long. That translated into 7.82 hits-per-nine-innings (10th lowest in the NL) and 1.43 bases-on-balls-per-nine-innings (3rd lowest in the league.)

Jones got the save during the National League’s 6-3 victory over the American League in the 1975 All-Star Game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Then, he started and won the 1976 All-Star Game - a 7-1 victory for the Nationals at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium. Jones pitched three innings, allowing no runs on two hits while striking out one and walking one.

Randy Jones led the National League in 1975 with a 2.24 ERA and finished second to Tom Seaver for the Cy Young Award.

Jones got to start the ‘76 All-Star Game thanks to racking up a National League-record 16 wins before the break. His victory total should have been higher at season’s end. Following the break, he lost seven games by one run - two by 1-0 scores.

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1977 Topps baseball card)
Still, Jones became the first NL pitcher in 26 years to win at least 20 games in a season while striking out fewer than 100 batters as he struck out just 93 hitters. He also became just the second pitcher to win a Cy Young Award after finishing second for the honor the year before. Mike Marshall with the Dodgers in ‘74 was the first to do that.

“When you win the Cy Young Award,” Jones said, “you’re the best of the best that year. It was very satisfying for me, my teammates, and the City of San Diego when I won it. There is a lot of pride in it. You don’t just go out and do it by yourself. There is some intense satisfaction in winning that.”

Jones’ command of the strike zone was amazing in ‘76. On May 17, he walked Steve Ontiveros of the Giants in the eighth inning of a 12-2 victory. He didn’t issue another bases on balls until June 22, when he walked San Francisco’s Marc Hill leading off the eighth inning. Jones went 68 innings without walking a single batter - tying Christy Mathewson’s then-NL record. Mathewson also had 68 straight innings without a walk in 1913. Greg Maddux (with 72-1/3 innings in 2001 with the Atlanta Braves) now holds that mark.

Jones was denied a Gold Glove in ‘76 as Jim Kaat of the Philadelphia Phillies won the 15th of his record 16 Gold Gloves that season. But, Jones put on a fielding clinic of sorts, setting a National League record with the most chances (112) in a season without an error among pitchers. He also tied a couple of NL records for the highest fielding percentage (1.000) in a season and for the most double plays (12) in a season by a pitcher.

“Being a groundball pitcher meant that I needed to field my position well,” said Jones, who once had three assists in one inning on Sept. 28, 1975. “I always anticipated that sinkerball being hit right back at me. That way they never surprised me. I anticipated them. I don’t have a Gold Glove because they gave it to Jim Kaat. It was frustrating because I still hold the major league record for no errors and the most chances in a season. But, I feel good about my fielding. Not winning a Gold Glove was just one of those things that was out of my control.”

Another thing that was out of Jones’ control was an arm injury that occurred during his last start of that tremendous ‘76 season. Jones was pitching on his home turf, where he was 13-5 with a dazzling 1.89 ERA and just 23 walks in 21 starts in ‘76. When he delivered a pitch during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 28, his career took a dramatic and painful turn.

“I snapped a nerve in my arm,” Jones recalled. “I threw a slider against Cincinnati and felt something funny in my arm. It wouldn’t go away so I came out of the game. Two days later, I noticed my biceps muscle was gone due to the nerve damage.”

Dr. Frank Jobe (the same doctor who performed career-saving elbow surgery on Tommy John in 1974) cut open Jones’ arm and found the severed nerve. But, there was nothing that could be done to repair the damage.

Randy Jones tied Jim Palmer in 1976 for the major league lead in victories with 22 wins.

“It affected my career from then on,” Jones said. “I snapped it four more times which finally ended my career. I probably pitched too many innings that year - almost two seasons worth with the way baseball is now. I’m not sure any team will have 25 complete games these days. My arm doesn’t give me too many problems now. Sometimes it does here and there if I put too much stress on it. But, it’s pretty much back to normal.”

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1979 Topps baseball card)
In 1977, Jones went 6-12 with a 4.58 ERA over 147-1/3 innings. In ’78, he had a 13-14 record with a 2.88 ERA over 253 innings of work. In ’79, he was 11-12 with a 3.63 ERA and 263 innings pitched. Jones became the first pitcher in Padres history that season to steal a base when he swiped second against the Mets during a 5-4 victory on May 13. While he wasn’t nearly as dominating as he was during his Cy Young Award-winning campaign, Jones still proved to be an effective competitor despite his arm troubles.

In 1980, Jones had a nice 3.91 ERA and tossed a club-record three straight shutouts in May. But, he was just 5-13 overall and pitched just 154-1/3 innings because of his injured wing. That precipitated a trade in the off-season on Dec. 15 as Jones was traded to the Mets for pitcher John Pacella and utility man Jose Moreno.

In 1981, Jones was 1-8 for New York with a 4.85 ERA in 12 starts. In ’82, he was 7-10 with a 4.60 ERA in 28 games before the Mets released him in November. The Pittsburgh Pirates decided to give Jones one last chance, but they released him during Spring Training in ’83.

Jones finished his 10-year major league pitching career with a 100-123 record along with a 3.42 ERA and 19 shutouts. He struck out 735 batters while walking just 503 in 1,933 innings pitched. He walked just 2.34 batters per nine innings. He is second behind only Eric Show (100) in Padres history with 92 victories and he’s fourth all-time with a 3.30 ERA. Only Trevor Hoffman (2.69), Dave Dravecky (3.12), and Bruce Hurst (3.27) have lower ERAs as Padres.

Jones ranks first among all-time San Diego pitchers with 253 games started, 1,766 innings pitched, 71 complete games, and 18 shutouts. In 1999, Jones (along with former Padres slugger Nate Colbert and owner Ray Kroc) was one of the charter inductees into the Padres Hall of Fame.

In addition, his number “35” was retired by the Padres in 1997. Steve Garvey’s No. 6 in 1989, Tony Gwynn’s No. 19 in 2002, and Dave Winfield’s No. 31 in 2001 are the other three numbers retired by San Diego.

“That feels great and I was really honored by that,” Jones said of having his number retired. “My great years were here. I have a great rapport with the team and the fans and the people in the city. It’s certainly an honor to have your number retired and to be in the Padres Hall of Fame. It‘s something I‘m really proud of.”

When Garvey was with the Dodgers, Jones felt like he was the toughest out for him. Garvey (a four-time Gold Glove winner at first base and the 1974 National League MVP) hit .354 against Jones in his career, getting 28 hits in 79 at-bats. Ironically, it was Garvey - not Jones - who got to enjoy the Padres first NL pennant in 1984 when San Diego lost to Detroit in a five-game World Series.

Randy Jones made the cover of Sports Illustrated when he entered the 1976 All-Star Game with a National League-record 16 wins before the break.

Others who were prime nemeses for Jones during his tenure in the big leagues were Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench and outfielder George Foster of the Reds along with Richie Zisk of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bench (a two-time MVP and a 10-time Gold Glove winner) hit just .247 (18-for-73) against Jones.

However, Bench slammed seven home runs - including three in one game off Jones on May 29, 1980, to help the Reds to a 5-3 victory. Foster (.360) and Zisk (.333) had good averages against the Padres standout.

Randy Jones had his No. 35 retired by the Padres in 1997. He ranks first in San Diego history in games started, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. He's also second in wins and fourth in career ERA as a Padre.
“On and off, a lot of guys were tough outs for me like Johnny Bench, George Foster, and Richie Zisk,” Jones said. “But, my toughest out over my 10 years in the majors was Steve Garvey when he was with the Dodgers. He was always a thorn in my side. We battled all the time and played each other 18 times a year. It was a fun battle but he was a tough hitter for me to get out.”

The aforementioned Seaver, along with Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, and Nolan Ryan, are all enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and certainly represented admirable adversaries for Jones. All were big winners during their careers as Carlton (329), Sutton (324), Ryan (324), and Seaver (311) each are in the exclusive 300-win club.

Ryan also tops the charts with 5,714 strikeouts while Carlton (4,136), Seaver (3,640), and Sutton (3,574) rank high on the all-time list. In addition to those four, Jones mentioned Messersmith, Kaat, and Rick Reuschel as opposing pitchers who were tough to beat when they had their game in high gear.

Messersmith was 130-99 over his 12-year career and twice won 20 games in a season - with the California Angels in 1971 and the Dodgers in ’74. Kaat (in addition to his fielding prowess) won 283 games in his illustrious 25-year career - going 25-13 with the Minnesota Twins in 1966. Reuschel won 214 games in his 19 years spent mostly with the Cubs and Giants.

“Tom Seaver, Andy Messersmith, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan - they definitely brought my game up a level when I’d go against them,” Jones marveled. “Rick Reuschel when he was with the Cubs did, too. Jim Kaat with the Phillies at that time was tough to beat, too. I remember we had an hour-and-27-minute game one night. We just grabbed the ball and threw it. I beat him 3-1 that day and it was a quick game.”

The game Jones referred to happened on May 4, 1977. It actually lasted 1 hour, 29 minutes and the Padres beat Kaat and the Phils 4-1. But, Jones’ point is well taken. Even though he wasn’t blessed with an overpowering fastball, opponents still marveled at his finesse and his ability to work efficiently.

Joe Torre, who has managed the Yankees to four World Series titles since 1996, was also the National League MVP in 1971 when he hit .363 with 230 hits and 137 RBI. He faced Jones several times as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals and Mets, hitting .263 (10-for-38) against the curly-blond lefty.

Torre once told Newsweek magazine in 1976 that Jones “looks so easy to hit - and that’s probably his biggest asset.”

When Jones was in his prime, fans packed Jack Murphy Stadium to watch him pitch. He was routinely greeted with standing ovations - even when he was just walking out to the bullpen to warm up before games.

During Jones’ tenure with the Padres, the club never rose above fourth place in the NL’s West Division. Their best finish was in ’78, when the Friars finished fourth with a record of 84-78. But, Jones’ mastery on the mound in the mid-1970s helped make being a Padres fan cool.

And, it was easy to support a guy like Jones, who with his “Karl Marx hairdo” (as announcer Jerry Coleman once termed it) and local ties, became the first homegrown talent featured in a Padres uniform.

Randy Jones (as he appeared on his 1983 Topps baseball card)

“The fans got behind me and supported me,” Jones said. “They counted the days until I pitched again. We had great crowds and it seemed everybody stepped it up a notch when we got those big crowds. It was a lot of fun.

Randy Jones ended his 10-year career in a Mets uniform with a lifetime 100-123 record and a 3.42 ERA.
“The response I got from the fans for what I did was superb. It was magical to get all those standing ovations. We averaged about 24,000 people but when I pitched we were close to 40,000 or 42,000 when I pitched at home. When I won the Cy Young Award, the impact it made on baseball here in San Diego put them on the map. Those are magical memories that I remember a lot.”

A Padres pitcher has never thrown a no-hitter. The Mets, Colorado Rockies, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the only other current major league teams who have never had a pitcher toss a no-hitter.

Jones came close twice by throwing a pair of one-hitters. “One of these days somebody will get one,” Jones said of the Padres. “It’s going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully, I’m around when it happens because I’d like to see it.”

Jones has been selling barbecue at Padres games since 1992. His line of sauce comes from a secret family recipe he borrowed from his grandfather, who developed it in the 1930s in Weatherford, Texas. Jones likens himself to former Orioles slugger Boog Powell, who also operates his own barbecue restaurant at Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

“I’ve been (selling barbecue) for the last 14 years,“ Jones said. “I suppose I’m the Boog Powell of the West. We have a lot of fun with that.”

Besides his line of barbecue sauce and restaurant operations at Petco Park, Jones stays busy doing a sports radio show in the San Diego area. He also hosts his own outdoor television show called “Randy Jones’ Strike Zone” on the Outdoor Channel.

Each week on his cable TV program, Jones goes fishing or hunting with a famous sports personality. He’s gone tuna fishing in Cabo San Lucas with Padres manager Bruce Bochy and duck hunting in Arkansas with former pitcher Rick Wise. Former outfielder Tom Brunansky and San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees have also been guests on Jones’ show.

Today, Randy Jones likes to fish and has his own outdoor show on the Outdoor Channel called "Randy Jones' Strike Zone" where he hunts and fishes with sports celebs each week.

“I just take the local guys and go fishing with them or something,” said Jones, who is also a spokesperson for the Padres and operates occasional baseball camps and clinics for youngsters when time permits.

Randy Jones and a fishing buddy troll the waters of a huge lake in search of a big catch.
Jones has been married to his wife Marie for 35 years and they have two daughters named Staci (31) and Jami (29). He looks back on his baseball career with nothing but fond memories.

“I have no regrets at all,” Jones said. “I played in a wonderful era when it still wasn’t all about the money. We had a true passion for the game. I think we played the game right. Today, the big money is fine and good for them. But, I think it leads to more complacency with the players. Baseball is more about the money than anything these days and not about the love for the game anymore.”

Jones certainly gave San Diego fans lots to love during his prime years on the mound. His pitching exploits are sure to give them something to reminisce about while they enjoy eating his barbecue ribs during the ballgame.

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