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Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, #16: Cleon Jones

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Cleon Jones was a Met of the near-lifer variety and the best hitter on the 1969 Miracle Mets team.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

16. Cleon Jones

Home runs as a Met: 93
Home run rate: 1 per 50.4 Plate Appearances (2%)

I grew up in the Binghamton area and was about 11 years old when it was announced that the Mets’ Double-A affiliate was moving to town. I basically went out of my mind with joy. Most of that region’s baseball fans favor the other team from New York, and here, finally, I would have my team to root for—a minor-league version, anyway—just a few miles from my parents’ house.

For the first time in my life, I could watch lots of professional baseball in person. Indeed, over those first few seasons, I caught who-knows-how-many games at that cool little ballpark down by the rail yard and the Brandywine Highway overpass. Some of my best memories from my otherwise awkward and neurotic adolescence were forged there.

Minor league baseball is such pure and simple fun. For five or ten bucks or so, you can hang out outside and watch amazing baseball players—most of whom aren’t quite amazing or lucky enough to ever make the majors—play a simple, beautiful, ultimately low-stakes game. And it’s also fan-conscious in a way that MLB is not. There are lots of silly promos and cheap beer and goofy antics, but there is also a special intimacy around the minor league game. There’s a simple enjoyment of both possibility and history that is enchanting for all fans, grizzled and burgeoning alike.

Before a game one night, there was a tribute event that commemorated the 1969 World Series Championship team, and a bunch of players from that team were on hand to meet fans and sign autographs. At a time in my life when I was trading baseball cards and geeking out about collecting and archiving minor league autographs—“these could be collector’s items some day!”—the chance to actually meet former major-league Mets, let alone players from that team, was an opportunity of mind-boggling proportions.

I remember taking in the sight of guys like Cleon Jones at their autograph stations around the field, and I remember feeling like they made everything around them seem small. Their presence filled the park in a way I couldn’t have prepared for; I felt overwhelmed. Somehow, I mustered the gumption to put one foot in front of the other and approach Jones’s station. He was standing when I finally got up to him, and he took the baseball I handed him and looked down at me and asked, “how ya doin’, young man?” and scrawled his signature with a big C I can still see him scrawl with his pen as I stammered my response with my heart pounding hard in my chest.

Jones, like a few others, is a former Met whose name you just know, even if, like me, you never saw him play. A big reason for that is that Jones spent over a decade with the Mets. In fact, with the exception of his last season—all of 12 games and 47 plate appearances with the Cubs—Jones was a Met for his entire career.

Longevity isn’t the only reason Mets fans of all ages know about Jones, though. He was quite good in his prime and had a solid, if unspectacular, career. Above all else, though, it is that Jones’ very best season came in 1969 (.340/.422/.482, 151 OPS+) and that Jones was the guy who caught the final out of the 1969 World Series with that understated stiff-armed flourish we can all picture in our mind’s eye.

I don’t get back to the ballpark in Binghamton very often these days. I picked up a Rumble Ponies cap this offseason, though, and I plan to wear it to a game this summer when my wife and I bring our newborn son back east for a visit. I know that when I climb the steps and look out over the field and become flooded with memory from 25 years ago, just as I always do when I go back there, that memory of Cleon Jones will rise to the fore, just as it always has.

Cleon Jones (with the Mets)

Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
1963 6 15 0 -23
1965 30 76 1 7
1966 139 537 8 94
1967 129 446 5 77
1968 147 552 14 137
1969 137 558 12 151
1970 134 574 10 106
1971 136 568 14 144
1972 106 415 5 84
1973 92 379 11 98
1974 124 510 13 114
1975 21 53 0 55