February 10, 2009


Bats right, throws left: The best players in major league history (Steve Treder, February 10, 2009, Hardball Times)

The fourth-best right-handed batting, left-handed throwing player in major league history

Cleon Jones

Years: 1963-1976
Games: 1,213
Games by position: left field 808, center field 268, right field 106, first base 35
Win shares: 141
Win shares/game: .116

Jones was similar to Mark Carreon in several ways: BR/TL guys of about the same size and build, came up with the Mets, were tried in center field but found better suited to left, and displayed a fluid, calm batting stroke that made spraying line drives to all fields look ridiculously simple. Neither guy exhibited a significant platoon differential, each finding right-handed pitching just as easy to master as the stuff from southpaws.

But unlike Carreon, Jones was a splendid all-around athlete, who ran quite well for a big guy; indeed he'd been a star halfback at Alabama A&M before choosing to play pro baseball. In fact, whether it was fair or not, Jones had a reputation as a guy who wasn't quite getting the most out of his ability, getting by on his natural gifts and suffering lapses of concentration.

One of the more memorable moments of the Mets' storied 1969 season was the time when manager Gil Hodges, frustrated with what he perceived as lackadaisical effort from Jones, called time and slowly walked all the way out to left field to inform Jones that he was being pulled from the game right then and there. Their relationship, shall we say, became rather strained after that.

At any rate, for several years Jones was among the better hitters in the game. But he was always prone to nagging injuries, and after the age of 30 or so he rapidly fell apart.

In one of Zander Hollander's guidebooks we're told that Jones batted righty and threw lefty as "the result of a quirk in his neighborhood field." We aren't told just what this quirk might have been or how it caused Jones to go in that direction; consider me a tad skeptical.

A terrific piece by Mr. Treder about one of my favorite baseball phenomena, but his skepticism about Cleon Jones's home field is misplaced. The story was always told on Mets' broadcasts that when he and Tommie Agee were growing up in Mobile, AL the rightfield fence was so close that you only got credit for a double if you hit it out there, so he flipped around and batted righty.

Now how about a contest? One of the things that makes lefty throwers/righty hitters so peculiar is not just that you face so many more right-handed pitchers but that -- at least in the modern game -- you basically can't play any infield position except first base if you throw lefty. [Note that Pop Tate (who caught 200 games) and Hick Carpenter (who played 3b, 2b, and even ss) from the list played in the 19th century.] Now, every once in awhile--typically in a blowout or if the back-up catcher gets hurt or pinch hit for after replacing the starter, you will see some lefty get stuck behind the plate for an inning or two (I think Benny DiStefano was the last:). But there was, within the past 30 or so years, a Gold Glove winning 1B for the White Sox who not only caught in two games one year but played 13 at 3b in another season. We'll send a review copy of Alex Berenson's new thriller to the first person who can name that player.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2009 8:35 AM
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