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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dalton Jones: Living the Impossible Dream


Coming out of high school in 1961, Dalton Jones was one of the hottest prospects in baseball. He could have signed with practically any team in the majors, but settled on the Boston Red Sox because he liked the brand of baseball they played. It ended up being a fortuitous decision, as Jones ultimately was part of one of the most famous squads in baseball history- the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, and will always be fondly remembered by Boston fans.

Jones made his debut with Boston in 1964. The left-handed hitter quickly made his mark with versatility, as he played all over the infield, particularly at second and third. He did not develop into the star player that many had predicted he would become, but was more than serviceable during his career. He never played full time for an entire season, but typically got enough at bats to be considered a regular player.

1967 wound up being Jones’ best season in the majors. He hit .289 in 89 games, with 3 home runs and 25 RBI. The surprising Red Sox took the American League title in exciting fashion before succumbing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Jones was integral in the last games of the season that allowed Boston to clinch the pennant, and continued to shine in the postseason as well, collecting 7 hits in 18 at bats, for a .389 batting average.

Jones ultimately played 9 seasons in the major leagues with Boston, Detroit, and Texas. His last major league season was in 1972, and he retired for good following 1973, which he spent in the minor league system of the Montreal Expos. For his career he hit .235 with 41 home runs and 237 RBI in 907 games. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jonesda03.shtml.

Dalton Jones Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: My Dad was a professional baseball player. He never made it to the big leagues, but he loved the game so much. He was really good. I just grew up knowing I was going to play big league baseball. That’s what I wanted all my life. 

Ted Williams was your favorite player growing up. What made him your favorite?: I still think that me might have been the greatest hitter who ever walked. He played for Boston and I was always a Boston fan. I always loved the American League to start with. Boston was my favorite team at that time, along with St. Louis, because they had Stan Musial. Ted was always my favorite, and I always loved hitting. He was my idea of a perfect hitter. 

The Red Sox utilized Williams to help sign you out of high school. What was that like?: The morning after I graduated… back then, I don’t know what they do now, but they could not talk to a high school player. Early in the morning after I graduated… if I remember, there were 20 teams in baseball at that time, and 18 scouts walked through our front door. I am trying to remember the situation with the Ted. I can’t really remember. I remember Ted coming to the house and talking. 

George Digby was actually the scout who signed me. I’m sure that when Boston’s turn came that morning, Ted came along with him. Ted had actually seen me play in the championship playoff high school triple-a playoffs in Louisiana against Rusty Staub. Rusty played for a team in New Orleans called Jesuit, so Ted came down to see both of us. That’s basically what happened. That was quite a thrill

In the end, it wasn’t so much that Ted had come, it was more the fact that I wanted to play in the American League. I really could have signed for a lot more money in the National League, but I didn’t want to play in the National League, and I wanted to play for the Red Sox. 

What is your favorite moment from your career?: If I had to pick one single moment, it would be in 1967; it was either August or early September, playing against the Tigers. I got a start in Tiger Stadium. I hadn’t got a chance to start much earlier in that year, but I got to play a whole lot the last six or seven weeks. They gave me a start against the Tigers because I always hit well at Tiger Stadium. 

I went four for five and I hit a game winning home run in the 10th inning, which in itself is not so great, but it either tied us with Detroit or put us a half a game up. It was a real important game, and I’ve always been proud of that particular game. 

What was it like being on the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox?: It went by too fast. I mean when you’re winning and everybody is getting along so well, which our team did… Obviously Yaz just controlled the American League. It was fun to watch. And then of course Jim Lonborg, I believe he won 22 games.

It didn’t really sink in what that year was until afterwards. They’d bring us back for special occasions and people would come up to you and tell you that that season just meant everything to them in their life, when they were teenagers and all, and they were just so affected by that year. 

And then getting the letters from the Red Sox… When they brought us back in ’07, the letter basically stated that we saved the franchise. In other words, the Red Sox were in trouble.
I think it sunk in more after I was out of baseball. 

Did you have a favorite coach or manager?: Yes sir. Johnny Pesky. Now that is after the minor leagues. My favorite manager in the minor leagues was Mel Parnell. In fact he was the only manager I had in the minor leagues. But Mel was from New Orleans, and since I was from Baton Rouge, he was sort of like a brother and a second Daddy to me.

My first major league manager was Johnny Pesky with the Red Sox, and he was just such a good man. If he had a better situation going on between the front office and himself, he would have then had a better situation handling things on the field. The players at that time, we were known as the “Country Club.” But Johnny Pesky would have been, I think, a Hall of Fame manager if things had been right. He was a good manager and a good man.

What was the “Country Club” nickname in reference to?: When I came up we had a lot of fellows on the team that basically didn’t seem to care if we won. Now I thought that every player that goes out on the field wants to win the game, but let me put it this way, it didn’t hurt them much if they lost. The guys got used to it. Boston paid better than most of the teams in baseball at that time.

Did you have any experiences with Boston owner Tom Yawkey?: After I signed, part of the deal my Dad negotiated, was to get our whole family a trip up to Boston. Part of that trip was to work out for the Red Sox and just to take a tour of the place. We went into Yawkey’s office, and Yawkey was one of the finest men who ever walked. 

This actually takes me back to your other question because Yawkey was actually too nice. What happened to Johnny Pesky was the players. If they didn’t like what was going on, they wouldn’t even go to Johnny; they would just go straight to Yawkey’s office, and that’s the kind of guy he was. He was like a father. Basically he was doing some things he didn’t mean to, but he would undermine the manager’s authority. That’s one reason for Dick Williams’ success. He came in and basically told then he wouldn’t take that job unless they made it clear to the players that if they had any beefs or anything, they didn’t bypass him; they came to him. He got that straightened out right away.

Do you recall anything about spring training in 1965, when black teammate Earl Wilson was denied service at a bar because of his race, and the team took issue with him because he was upset with their lack of response?: No, I never realized there was one. This is news to me, but I can understand it, especially at that time in our life. I don’t want to get into politics or into any kind of discussion like that, but I’m just saying that there were groups that were encouraging sort of a backlash, and Earl would not have been the only one who would have stood up if he thought something was being done wrong. At that time I was still young, and I was still saying, ‘I’m going to mind my own business.’

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?:  I would definitely get stronger. I would have definitely gone against the grain and weight lifted. When I came up that was always a topic because everybody thought if a player lifted weights, it would bulk him up, puff his chest up, and then he wouldn’t swing the bat as well. It was kind of malarkey, really. That’s one thing, looking back, that I would have done. I think it would have helped me play more.

What have you been up to since you stopped playing?: I’ve had several, you might say, careers. I’ve done finished carpentry; I’ve worked in a bank; I sold life insurance and mutual funds for a while. Finally I got to the point where I could start growing retirement. You couldn’t draw it until you were 50. So, you got a lot of players back then, when they finished their careers, they had to wait a few years before they could draw any type of a pension. 

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3 comments:

  1. Great interview. I never knew about the Earl Wilson incident.

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  2. Thanks for reading. You might enjoy a book called Shutout, by Howard Bryant.

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  3. Dalton was my favorite Red Sox of alltime. He had a great 1967, including a solo homer in a 1 to 0 Lonborg win.

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