Fielder Jones: From the Hall of Fame Library player files

Fielder Jones, American Tobacco Company card (Library of Congress)

Since we've previous looked at the files of a pitcher (Eddie Cicotte), an outfielder (Johnny Mostil) and an infielder (Luke Appling), the time is nigh to take a crack at a skipper.

Enter Fielder Jones, an original White Sox who began his South Side career as an outfielder in 1901, before being named player-manager in 1904. He held that position until the (first) end of his career in 1908.

Why Fielder Jones?

Ninety-nine years before Ozzie Guillen steered his White Sox to a surprising World Series title, Fielder (yes, that is his first name) Allison (yes, that's his middle name) Jones accomplished the same feat with the team known as "The Hitless Wonders." Leaning on pitching and defense, the 1906 White Sox finished dead last in batting average (.230) and OPS (.588), yet somehow scraped together the third-most runs in the American League while allowing the fewest.

They rode that formula to first place AL. Their 93-58 record was good enough to win the pennant by three games, but it paled in comparison to their opponent in the World Series -- the juggernaut Cubs, who ran away with the NL with 116 wins. Nevertheless, the White Sox pulled off a major upset with a victory in six games, exploding for 16 runs over the final two games after scoring just six over the first four.

As a White Sox OG and the skipper of the franchise's first World Series winner -- one that beat the Cubs, no less -- Jones is a pretty important figure in White Sox history. Also, since he managed over the first two decades of the 20th century, we're going to get some more of that old-timey baseball writing, like we saw in Eddie Cicotte's clips.

 

As a player

Jones broke into the big leagues with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1896, and batted .354 his rookie year. The Bridegrooms won only 58 games that year, good for a 10th-place finish, but they would go on to change their name to the Superbas and win the title in 1899 and 1900.

When the American League formed, Charles Comiskey and Clark Griffith persuaded him to make the jump. He became entrenched in center field:

"Jones was an exceptionally fast and graceful outfielder who covered the vast territory between Tip O'Neill and Pat Dougherty in left and [Ed] Hahn in right like a circus tent. He ahd a powerful and accurate right arm. His left handedness was confined to batting."

He didn't lack for confidence, either:

"I recall Jones catching the fly ending the first World Series game in '06 and giving Nick Altrock a 2-1 victory over Three-Fingered Brown after each had yielded no more than four hits. He danced a little jig and clapped his hands as the ball arched toward them. That might have been counting chickens, etc., but he was always sure of himself. He was pleased. That one was in."

As a manager: Strategy

Jones stayed in Brooklyn long enough to play for Ned Hanlon, whom Bill James called "the great-grandfather of most modern major league managers." Hanlon was an active manager, popularizing the hit-and-run and running teams ragged in general. Likewise, Jones' teams made the most out of their hitters by getting on base any way they could (for all their lousy hitting, they could draw a walk), and taking it from there.

Jones was a master at getting one run so important in those days. The Sox played close to the vest. A base on balls, a sacrifice, a passed ball and a long fly was a rally.

Hmm... that sounds a little bit like the Wild Pitch Offense. Sure enough, the White Sox led the league in sac bunts with 226. The Cleveland Naps were second with 191.

Fielder's men ran the bases. They swwiped 209 bases in '06, Jones purloining 26 himself.

Baseball-Reference.com has the Sox stealing 216, but the point stands. Plus, purloining is a great word. Later, when he came back to baseball and took a job in St. Louis, he reflected on his 1906 White Sox saying:

I have a different job facing me than I had with the White Sox. They were a club that a manager could depend upon. Called 'The Hitless Wonders' it is true that their batting was light. But they hit at the right time as you will notice if you look up their record. Every man knew his business. Baseball was at their fingertips. They won because they were good ball players and a good ball player can't be manufactured out of batting averages."

As a manager: Demeanor

Hanlon was considered a "ruffian" according to The Bill James' Guide to Baseball Managers, and Jones had a hard-assed approach, himself. Especially when it came to umpires:

Jones was also a champion umpire baiter. He wore a path from his outpost to the plate jawing about decisions. Whenever he suspected his side had been given the worst of it, down would go his glove, and he'd start for the umpire-in-chief with a determined look on his face. Frequently he was suspended for days.

But given that Jones left the Sox with a career record of 427-293 (.593 winning percentage), he was able to strike the right balance:

Cool, calm, calculating mercilessly sarcastic at times, but generally equable of temper, is Jones.

And here's a description of Jones that would make a great epitaph, courtesy of Connie Mack:

"He was the highly strung type, but as cool as a lime rickey in a tight spot."

Departure

Jones' White Sox  fell a game short of the AL Pennant in 1908, when he made the controversial choice of pitching Doc White on two days' rest over Frank Smith (who ditched the team during the season) and Ed Walsh (who had pitched a ton, as you'll see). White didn't make it out of the first inning, and the Sox were eliminated from contention on the final day of the season by a score of 7-0.

Burned out, he decided that he needed extra incentive to stay in the game. He asked Comiskey for a $20,000 and a partnership in the club, and when Comiskey didn't grant him that, he retired to look after timber interests in the Pacific Northwest. It was a pretty amicable split, though, considering the personalities involved:

"The relationship between Comiskey and his manager had been intimate amd each had hgh regard for the other, but both were strong-minded and wouldn't yield an inch."

Additional reading

In one of my all-time favorite baseball books, Cait Murphy's Crazy '08, she describes Jones' last big White Sox decision as such:

The Tigers's veteran ace, Wild Bill Donovan, is more or less rested, and definitely ready. But who will pitch for the Sox? Walsh is willing; Walsh is always willing. In the last nine days, he has thrown five complete games, and relieved in one. He's been briliant, but Fielder Jones thinks he is out of gas. The choice, then, comes down to Frank Smith, who pitched six innings three days before, and Doc White, the dentist who had pitched a complete game two days before. Smith has a significantly lower ERA than White and has given up fifty fewer hits in almost exactly the same number of innings. Logically, the call should go to Deserter Smith. There is one big strike against him, though -- that infuriating midseason walkout. Jones is a zero-tolerance kind of guy; umps dread to see him coming in from center field to give them hell, and he is also hard on his players, prone to find them for dumb mistakes and drinking. Walking off for a month in the middle of a pennant race is simply unforgivable. White gets the ball.

But while Jones asserted his authority as such, he was also an advocate for player rights, saying the reserve clause rendered ballplayers "human chattel."

*According to Rich Lindberg's Total White Sox, Jones is credited with devising "motion plays" (like the wheel play) to thwart hit-and-runs and drag bunts.

*In Chris Jaffe's Evaluating Baseball's Managers, he writes that Jones lined up specific starters to face specific teams more than anybody.

Instead, Jones targeted his southpaws, Altrock and White, at particular teams with an intensity unmatched by any other manager in baseball history.  In Altrock’s 134 starts under Jones, 39 came against the Red Sox.  Meanwhile, from 1904-07 he faced the Senators only four times.

That was moderate compared to how Jones managed Doc White.  After facing New York ten times in 1904, he saw them nine more times the next year.  When Detroit’s left-handed Ty Cobb emerged as the game’s next great hitter, Jones used White against the Tigers at every possible opportunity.  In 1907-08, White saw them in eighteen of his 72 starts.  Alternately, for three years, White never faced Washington.  On July 30, 1907, in his 115th start under Jones, he finally took the hill against them.  The next year, coinciding with the emergence of left-handed hitting outfielder Clyde Milan in Washington, Jones constantly had White face them.  That was the only in time any twentieth century pitcher started eleven against one rival.

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