New York Mets: Five best left fielders all-time in franchise history
1) Cleon Jones
In the top spot as the “greatest left fielder in Mets history” is Cleon Jones, the man who caught the final out of the 1969 World Series. He patrolled the Shea Stadium grass from 1963-1975, which was nearly his entire major league career until he finished his big-league years with the Chicago White Sox in 1976. Jones was a well-rounded player and was among the early leaders in many Mets offensive categories, including home runs. His 93 homers was the Mets all-time team record until Dave Kingman broke it in 1981.
When Jones hung up his Mets uniform for the final time, he was also the franchise leader in hits, runs, RBI, and doubles, and was second in batting average.
In terms of raw statistics, Jones was impressive on many levels. Though he officially debuted in 1963, he ended up toiling in the minor leagues for the entire 1964 season and did not cement his place in the Mets’ outfield until 1966. That season, he was the everyday center fielder for the Mets and hit .275 with eight home runs, 16 doubles, and 57 RBI in 139 games, which earned him a fourth-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Jones’ best year, unsurprisingly, was 1969. His 12 home runs and 75 RBI were crucial to the Mets’ 100 victories that season, but his .340 batting average was the real star on his baseball card. That .340 mark ranked third in the NL in 1969, trailing only Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente. Venerable company, indeed. It also puts him fourth all-time on the Mets’ single-season batting list.
Aside from pure statistics, Jones played his way into Mets history through several other incidents. During his outstanding 1969 season, he was famously pulled in the middle of a game on July 30 by manager Gil Hodges, reportedly for failing to hustle after a double from the opposing Houston Astros. Jones also received the infamous “hit by pitch” that turned into the “shoe polish incident” during Game 5 of the 1969 World Series.
His Mets career ended on somewhat of a sour note in 1975 when he was released in the middle of the season following an off-the-field incident in spring training and poor play to start the year. Nowadays, he spends his time on a decidedly non-baseball note. He and his wife Angela are working to restore his hometown of Africatown, Alabama by cleaning abandoned buildings, painting schools, doing electrical repairs, and various other tasks.
Jones may not be an all-time great in the baseball canon. But he was an excellent player for several seasons and directly led the Mets to one of their two World Championships. For those efforts, he is their greatest left fielder ever.
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These five players all split time between the Mets and other MLB teams throughout their careers, but many of their very best years came when they were in the orange and blue.