According to a 1974 Ocala Star profile of Mets scout Julian Morgan, when he first started recruiting talent for the franchise in 1962, a prep coach pulled him aside and said, "You could probably sign our whole team and win more games." To which Morgan responded, "Give us time. It takes time to build an organization."
Who knows if Morgan was actually that Zen in the moment. Or if he even actually dispensed that sage bit of wisdom. In any event, he wasn't wrong. It may have taken the better part of a decade, but by the Star piece ran, the Mets were coming off two World Series appearances in a five-year span and one of Morgan's finds from his first summer on the job was a key reason for that. On July 5, 1962, he signed a high school outfielder from Mobile County, Alabama who desperately wanted to play pro baseball like his neighbors Hank Aaron and Tommie Agee. Using the kid's eagerness to his advantage, Morgan inked the 19-year-old Cleon Jones for a mere thousand bucks, or 1/60th of what the Cleveland Indians offered his good friend Agee to sign.
Like all good investments, the minuscule amount of capital the Mets put up paid huge dividends. Within a year of joining the organization, Jones had earned a brief September look. He was up for good by late 1965, though it wasn't until Gil Hodges took over as manager that he was guaranteed a starting spot. That faith paid off, as Jones turned in his best season to date in 1968, posting a team-leading 4.4 oWAR.
The '69 campaign was miraculous for all members of the Mets organization, but Jones likely had the most charmed year of all. Backed by a then-Mets record .340 batting average, Cleon made the All-Star team and racked up seven wins above replacement, which placed him among the league's top five most valuable position players. While the pitching staff gets most of the credit for the team's transformation from lovable losers into World Series champions, the turnaround wouldn't have been possible without the great play of Jones, a rebound season from his old pal Tommie Agee and the solid Art Shamsky/Ron Swoboda platoon in right. Together, the four accrued 14.6 bWAR, more than any other starting outfield in the National League that year save for Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente/Willie Stargell/Matty Alou alignment.
Jones, like the Mets, couldn't find the same magic in 1970, though. His K-rate crept up from a career-low 10.8% to slightly above his 14.8% career average and when Cleon he did make contact, the hits didn't find real estate at the same pace (a .313 BABIP versus .367 in '69). His 1971 season split the difference. His rate and counting stats both improved and Jones again led the offense in bWAR (4.8), but it proved to be a last hurrah rather than a return to form. He struggled with injuries for the remainder of his career, dragging him down to replacement level and ultimately forcing him to call it quits at age 33. At the time of his retirement, Jones was the Mets' career leader in hits, runs, total bases, homers, and RBI. Deservedly, he became the sixth member of the team elected to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1991.
Sidearmer Jeff Innis celebrates the big 5-0 today. The Mets were the only team Innis played for during his seven-year career, slinging 360 innings from an arm angle just a click above waist-high. Only the perpetual Pedro Feliciano, with his (as of this writing) eight years and 372 frames of service time, has spent longer as the exclusive property of the Mets. Fun fact: The back of Innis's 1992 Topps card, "he hopes one today join the Federal Bureau of Investigation." Less fun fact: According to a SABR bio published in 2012, Innis's main source of income since retiring has been "selling commercial insurance to businesses."
Game of Note
July 5, 1965 was a big day for rookie Ron Swoboda. The slugging outfielder was single-handedly responsible for five of the six runs the Mets scored in a doubleheader sweep of the Cubs. In first inning of the day half, he cracked a three-run homer to provide Warren Spahn and reliever Larry Bearnarth with all the support they'd need in a 3-2 victory. Rocky went deep again in the second inning of game two to back starter Tom Parsons, who twirled a six-hit shutout. With the long balls, his 14th and 15th on the season, Swoboda passed Jim Hickman to set a new record for most homers by a Mets rookie. He'd finish the year with 19, which remained the mark for freshman excellent until Darryl Strawberry pushed the present record to 26 in 1983.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors on this date in 1975 to become the first black man to win a singles title at Wimbledon. Twenty-two years later, the USTA honored Ashe and all his accomplishments by naming the new U.S. Open facility, built directly across the street from the plot of land the Mets have called home since 1964, after the Tennis Hall of Famer.