Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
One of the most remembered outfielders in the first quarter century of Mets baseball will always be Cleon Jones.
Drafted by the Mets, Jones originally got called up in September of 1963, but had just two hits in 15 at-bats. He spent all of 1964 in the minor leagues before getting recalled in 1965. He played the first month of the season before getting demoted in May. He was then recalled in September and finished the year with a .149 average, one home run and nine RBI.
In 1966, Jones became the everyday center fielder for the Mets. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting with a .275 average, eight home runs, 57 RBI and 16 stolen bases. In 1967, Jones' average fell to .246, and he finished with just five home runs and 30 RBI. He shared time in center field with Larry Stahl due to his struggles.
Prior to the 1968 season, the Mets traded for Jones' childhood friend, Tommie Agee. Agee, being a former Gold Glove Award winner was given center field, and Jones moved to left field. That year, Jones raised his average to .297, set a career high with 14 home runs and drove in 55 RBI. He also set more career highs with 29 doubles and 23 stolen bases.
Despite these numbers, 1969 would become Jones' career season. As the Mets went on to win the World Series that year, Jones set a new Mets standard with a .340 average. He also had 12 home runs, a career-high 75 RBI, 25 doubles, 16 stolen bases and a remarkable .422 OBP. He made his only All-Star team that year.
Jones hit .429 in the NLCS against the Braves, but had just three hits in the World Series. Nonetheless, he caught the final out of the series and famously dropped to one knee.
A turning point in the 1969 season occurred in late July when Jones failed to run out a fly ball. Manager Gil Hodges then came out and walked to left field. He walked back to the dugout with Jones behind him.
People originally thought Jones was injured, but sources later believed Hodges removed Jones for a lack of hustle. Nevertheless, it was a turning point for the Mets, and it propelled them to their championship.
In 1970, Jones batted .277 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI. He then batted .319 in 1971, good enough for seventh in the National League. He tied his career high with 14 home runs and drove in 69 RBI.
Jones struggled in 1972 as he saw his average drop to just .245. His five home runs and 52 RBI that year were also on the low side. He platooned with John Milner that year in left field.
In 1973, Jones bounced back by batting .260 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI. He then batted .300 in the NLCS and .286 in the World Series. However, this time, the Mets did not finish the season with a championship.
Jones's last great year with the Mets was in 1974. He batted .282 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI. But right when 1975 started, everything went downhill.
Jones missed the first two months of the season with a knee injury, so he stayed in Florida for extended spring training. While he was there, he was arrested for indecent exposure after police found him sleeping in a van with a 21-year-old girl. The charges were later dropped, but the Mets' chairman M. Donald Grant fined Jones $2,000 for his actions, which was by far the largest fine the Mets had ever given a player. Jones was also forced to apologize at a press conference.
After returning to the field that year, Jones was batting .240 in 50 at-bats before asking for his release, which he got. He did not get along with manager Yogi Berra, and this had a significant effect as to why his Mets career ended when it did.
Jones was signed by the White Sox in 1976. He batted .200 in 13 games, got released after that and subsequently retired.
Jones was inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame in 1991. He still makes appearances at Citi Field and was there in 2009 during the 1969 Mets' 40th anniversary tribute.
Cleon Jones was one of the Mets' most dependable outfielders for a decade, and his steady contributions will always be remembered by the fans that were fortunate enough to watch him play.