Friday, September 26, 2008

I'll miss Todd Jones


Behind all the baseball and football news this week, especially with the firing of a Mr. Matt Millen, I almost glossed over the headline. I'm glad I didn't.

Todd Jones
is retiring.

To most sports fans, it's not big news. Especially not during this busy time of the sports year. But to anyone who has followed the Tigers, it should strike a chord. Todd Jones has been a big part of the organization — through a lot of bad, and that magical 2006 season.

Jones, 40, is hanging up No. 59 as the Tigers' career saves leader with 235, and he ranks 14th on the game's all-time list with 319. He's never been dominant, never been a strikeout king, never made things easy, but that is part of what made him so entertaining to watch.

And, bottom line, he almost always got the job done. Even during this lost season, he was efficient — even if the fans' booing said otherwise. He converted 18 of 21 save opportunities. Unfortunately, one of the blown saves resulted in the Tigers' most devastating losses of the season and led to Jones' demotion from his role the following night. Just weeks later, a shoulder injury placed him on the disabled list, and ultimately ended his career.

The Tigers missed him. It's not like his presence on the mound would have magically rescued the sinking ship, but Detroit's other relievers were a combined 15-for-39 when trying to save games. In one word, moribund. Fernando Rodney did his best, but converted just 11 of 17 opportunities.

Some pitchers just aren't cut out to be closers.

Todd Jones was.

Here's what I'll miss about him:

His ability to make almost any situation interesting. If the Tigers led by a run, he'd often give up a base hit. If they led by three runs, he'd give up two hits. There was never a dull moment with Jonesy on the mound.

But for most of his 16-year career, he didn't walk a lot of batters. Nothing infuriates me more than relievers who come in and walk the leadoff hitter. It always seems to lead to trouble. Jones challenged batters, and if they beat him, then kudos to them. But he didn't give away free passes.

More than his pitching, Jones' personality is priceless. In an age of defensive, arrogant athletes, Jones never masked who he was. He was always quick to accept the blame for a loss — even if it wasn't his fault — and if he stunk, that's exactly what he said.

Jones never jumped on his teammates, even when they made costly errors that led to blown saves. He was the ultimate team guy, just along for the ride, or "Rollercoaster" — the nickname his penchant for drama created.

And he didn't let the game dominate his life. With the injury at his age, Jones had an inkling it was time to go, time to spend more time with his family, so he made his decision and he'll stick with it. There will be no Brett Favre-esque comeback. Jones has thrown his last pitch.

Perhaps my fondest memory of Jones stems from the final days of Tiger Stadium. It was during Jones' first stint with the Tigers that the venerable stadium hosted its final game, and Jones recorded the last out on Sept. 27, 1999.

At the time, Jones was just 31, but he had a clear appreciation of history. Jones so revered the ballpark, he slept there both the night before the game and the night after. Name me a player who's done something similar. Name a Yankee who slept in the "House that Ruth Built" last weekend.

When recalling those days, Jones teared up at a press conference Thursday. It was a rare emotional moment from the mustached, gruff ballplayer who is so down to earth, he could be a hardware store manager instead of a major league baseball player.

Todd Jones is a rare breed, folks. He didn't enter games to a song. He didn't have the girls at the ballpark swooning or holding up signs for him. Rather, he was booed and ridiculed whenever he had a bad outing.

But what made him great was how he always reacted to such ridiculousness. He took it in stride, returning to the park the next day for business as usual. And he was always quick to make fun of himself.

Now, as Jones said upon his retirement announcement, "If you're a Tigers fan, I'll never stress you out again."

Classic Todd Jones.

I'll miss him.


Sportsattitude said...

Jake, I thought of you instantly when Todd Jones announced his retirement. I will note for the record he said he even enjoyed pitching in Philly. We can't be that bad then, can we? He was a class act when others around him were classless and I have always enjoyed his columns. I wish him all the best in his next venture.

OldEnglish said...

I was at the game Saturday for his retirement ceremony. It was very nicely done. It was a great way for a player to go out. He finished with the team he wanted, decided before the season to retire, said goodbye to everyone along the way, and got a nice tribute from the organization. I liked how he took off his jersey and handed it to Illich as a symbolic gesture.

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