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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #488, Ruppert Jones (Article 92)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)

***



It’s sometimes interesting how certain players become our favorites. What is it that draws us to individuals, that makes us like them and root for them?

Sometimes it’s the fact that they are a star, especially a homegrown star. If you were a Yankees fan in 1956, how could you not root for Mickey Mantle? If you were a Yankees fan in 1985, how could you not root for Don Mattingly? Ditto for Derek Jeter in 1999. And Aaron Judge today.

Sometimes it’s the fact that he’s the new great acquisition that might help bring another championship. Think Reggie and Catfish and Rickey Henderson (even if Rickey didn’t deliver).

Sometimes it’s the grit and hustle the player shows on the field. How could you not root for a guy like Mike Pagliarulo? Or, better yet, Thurman Munson.

Maybe it’s the spectacular that captures our hearts like Graig Nettles and his diving catches or Ron Guidry seemingly striking out…everyone.

These might be the reasons you root for the player you root for, or rooted for.

Or not.

Sometimes we just don’t know why we’re drawn to a player.

The reason I rooted for Ruppert Jones wasn’t any of the reasons above. Sure, I hoped he’d be a star, but that only came later.

The reason I rooted for Ruppert Jones was because he was me, or I was him… well, to my 12-year-old self, it was basically all the same.

***

I was twelve-years-old and beginning my first practice on the town’s “Little League” field. This was the nicest field our rec program used. It was fenced in, sort of like a real ballpark. This wasn’t the lowest levels of rec ball any longer (we called the lower levels Pee Wee and Farm). We were big, or so we thought.

At the very first practice, as I recall, my coach said, “Paul, go play centerfield.”

I was to be the team’s new centerfielder.

It wasn’t long before I was called “Ruppert” or “Rupe” because the Yankees also had a new centerfielder with that name, Ruppert Jones.

I was him, or he was me.

What was the difference? We were both centerfielders playing in the big leagues.

***

The real Ruppert Jones came to the Yankees with high expectations. I guess I arrived on my team a bit less heralded.

Unfortunately, neither of us lit the world on fire during that 1980 season.

Too bad.

I thought Ruppert Jones would be a great Yankee for a long time. Or I wished it, at least.

I also thought that I would be a Yankee star.

***

There was a game, I am not embellishing this story at all where I did do one thing amazingly. Or, more, it was amazing that what happened, actually happened.

There was one player from our sandlot, Robbie, that was drafted by a big league team. He rose through the minors in the Expos organization. He was good. Very good. When we were grown-up, I went to see him play in Harrisburg against the Albany-Colonie Yankees. I saw him homer off Brian Taylor. All true.

Well, back when we were 12, Robbie hit a ball to deep center. I went back, back, and back some more. I got to the fence and put my glove up. The ball plopped into my glove. I didn’t catch the ball, the ball caught me. I turned to see where the ball landed… but it didn’t land.

It was in my glove only I didn’t know it.

I then looked down and saw that I had made an amazing catch. If only I had really been that good.

I wasn’t that good.

But me, as Ruppert Jones, the only year I actually played centerfield, I robbed a future pro of a kid homer on our big league field.

41-years later, I remember it like yesterday. I t was the luckiest, or most fortunate, catch of my life.

***

In 1977, Ruppert Jones, a lefty-batter, hit 24 homers for the Seattle Mariners. In 1979, he hit 21 more.

Ruppert Jones seemed to always hit 20+ doubles in a season.

He played a solid centerfield.

He also stole bases, 22 in 1978, 33 in 1979.

This was all before he came to New York. Yeah, the 1980 Yankees were getting a true star.

It just wasn’t to be.

In Ruppert Jones’ one season in the Bronx, he got hurt, he never had a chance to put it together, and then he was gone.

For the Yankees, Ruppert Jones played in just 83 games. He hit .223. He had only nine homers. He hit only 11 doubles. He drove home but 42 runs.

As I moved on from Little League to the “Senior League,” Ruppert Jones was traded to the San Diego Padres for Jerry Mumphrey.

This turned out to be a good trade for Ruppert Jones and Jerry Mumphrey. Mumphrey would have back-to-back .300 seasons for the Yankees. Ruppert Jones would earn an All-Star selection as a Padre in 1982.

Ruppert Jones then went on to play for the World Champion Detroit Tigers in 1984.

Then, from 1985 through 1987, his final three years, Ruppert Jones played for the California Angels.

***

All told, Ruppert Jones had a nice career. He played in the big league for 12 seasons. He was a two-time All-Star and he was on a World Series champion. For his career, Ruppert Jones hit 147 home runs and drove home 579 runs.

He was a solid player.

Ruppert Jones wasn’t a great Yankee, but then again, neither was I.

I wish we had both been.

#1977ToppsBiographies

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