SSTN Interviews Former Yankee Ruppert Jones
SSTN: Today we are here with former Major Leaguer Ruppert Jones. Ruppert was a member of the A.L. East winning Yankees where he was the team’s primary centerfielder in 1980. He also played for the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, California Angels, and Detroit Tigers. On three occasions, Ruppert hit over 20 home runs in a season. He was a two-time All-Star.
On a personal note, even though he was a Yankees player for just one season, I have always rooted for Ruppert Jones. In 1980, as a twelve-year-old kid, I played centerfield for my Little League team. My friends nicknamed me Ruppert, or Rupe. For some, the nickname stuck and I was Rupe to them for years after. Ruppert Jones, was, of course, always one of my favorite players.
Ruppert, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
I am glad to talk with you Paul.
When, growing up, did you realize that you had the talent and ability to be a professional baseball player?
I don’t know when you realize that. I was fortunate, I grew up and played with some excellent players including Glenn Burke and Claudell Washington. They were very talented. I played against them and with them since we grew up in the same neighborhoods and played in the same Pony leagues. I saw that I could compete with them.
You arrived in the big leagues with Kansas City in 1976, but were then the first ever player taken by the Seattle Mariners in the expansion draft. Please tell us about your great success in Seattle, where you were the first ever Mariners All-Star when you had a spectacular 1977 season.
The gentleman who had the job with the Mariners, Lou Gorman, had been with the Royals and had drafted me. He knew of me and wanted me for the Mariners. He brought me to my first two teams in that way.
It was great being on the Mariners. In 1977 I had a good year. I was doing real well, but I got hurt in Yankee Stadium. It had rained in New York and we were playing on a wet outfield. I slipped and twisted my knee. It swelled all up. I played through it, the rest of the season, for two months, on only one leg.
I was very fortunate to be an All-Star.
What was it like then, a few years later, to be traded to the Yankees?
It caught me by surprise. I had a good year in 1979 after not having as good a year in 1978. In 1978, I had two operations including one for my appendix. It was tough, but in 1979, I came back great. Then suddenly, I was traded to the Yankees. It was a honor to know that I’d play for the Yankees.
Please share your best Yankees memory.
That was in August 1980. I was struggling as a Yankee. I was having a tough game. We were playing the White Sox. I had struck out and hit into a double play. The fans were booing me all night.
Then, in the 10th inning, there were runners on first and third and Willie Randolph came up. They intentionally walked him, with a right-handed pitcher (Ed Farmer) on the mound to pitch to me. I worked the count to 2-2, the fans were cheering. Then on a 3-2 pitch, I hit a walk-off Grand Slam.
(editor’s note – This game was played on August 12, 1980.)
That was some night! What a moment. I think we all dream of moments like that.
After playing with the Yankees, you went to San Diego where you were an All-Star again, before heading to the Tigers and facing the Padres, your former team in the 1984 World Series. Please tell us a little about that.
In 1984, I was a free agent and I didn’t get signed. I needed a job. The Pirates invited me to Spring Training as a non-roster player. I flew down to Florida and worked real hard. I played in all the A games and the B games. It was 24/7. That’s the price of doing business. it was tough. I’d play the B games at 10:00 a.m. and the A games in the afternoon. One highlight was I got to work with Willie Stargell.
In about the third week of Spring Training, Chuck Tanner, the Pirates Manager, called me in. He said that I was doing real well, but that he wanted to see me hit for more power. He wanted to see home runs. That day we played the Phillies. I homered. Then against the Twins I homered. The next day I was in Bradenton in the morning for a game, rushed to the A game, came-up and hit a pinch-hit home run.
About two days later, Chuck calls me into his office again and said, “This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in baseball. Ruppert, you’ve done everything we asked you to do, but we can’t sign you.”
I said, “It’s okay. I appreciate the opportunity.” I was released and that was that.
I went home to California. There were no calls.
A while went by when my agent called and he said that I’d be surprised with the team that called about me. It was the Detroit Tigers. They were doing great that year. My agent said that they wanted to sign me to a minor league contract. I took it and went off to Evansville, Indiana.
The deal said that if I wasn’t in the big leagues by June 1, I could ask for my release. It got down to May 27 or 28. The Tigers said that they wanted to keep me, but that it might take a few more days, they had to make some roster moves. At the same time, my agent said that three other teams wanted me right away.
The Tigers gave me my chance so I stayed with them. They called me up on June 5.
And then you were in the World Series that same year, against the Padres, who you played for. What was that like?
I was so happy to be in the World Series that I didn’t care who we played.
Who was the best manager you ever played for?
I played for some great managers, four Hall-of-Famers. Dick Williams was a heck of a manager. Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Gene Mauch. They were all great.
Who were some of your best teammates?
Willie Horton was my favorite of all-time. He is a hero to me. A great man.
I played with so many great players – especially on that Tigers team: Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Howard Johnson… so many!
What was your greatest baseball memory?
The World Series is a great memory. There are lots of good ones. I once hit a ball out of Tiger Stadium. I did that in Chicago too at the old Comiskey Park. I’m one of only a few visiting players to ever do that. I am one of about 14 to 17 visiting players to hit home runs out of the Old Comiskey Park. Lou Gehrig did it. Babe Ruth. Kirk Gibson. Jimmy Foxx. I am one who also did it.
After your playing career, you battled alcohol, but have now been alcohol-free for twenty-nine years. That is a great and wonderful accomplishment. Please tell us about this, your struggle, and how you overcame it. Your story is, and will be, an inspiration to many.
You know, it was tough. In baseball, I experienced a lot of things.
I had two major surgeries – a knee operation in November of 1977 and an emergency appendectomy in May 1978. I actually suffered a torn meniscus in August of 1977 on my left knee but I continued to play.
In New York, when I played there, I wasn’t in great baseball shape. I got injured. There was a lot of booing. That’s the price for playing in New York. I got hurt when I slammed into the outfield wall. I had a concussion – they call it now a traumatic brain injury. It changed who I am. I was experiencing things that I had never before in my life. A lot of it I didn’t understand.
I had trouble sleeping. My mind was always running 24/7. I didn’t sleep for four years. I would have to drink myself to sleep. This went on.
After eleven years of this, I unraveled. I had lost everything. It was bad.
And so consequently I stopped drinking. I knew that I could only take care of what I can. I could take care of that so I stopped. My life then started to change. I started getting rid of the problems I had had. It hasn’t been easy. I fought bankruptcy twice. I lost my family.
But I keep going. I still have sleep injuries – even to this day.
This is all in a book I have written. I’m looking to get it published.
Maybe I can help! (Note: I put Ruppert Jones in touch with my publisher. I hope this works out for both!)
Yes. This could be a third career for me. After baseball I sold insurance for a long time, but I retired from that.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
The San Francisco Giants
Who was your favorite player?
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
I love smooth jazz, but right now my favorite music is from Lodovico Einaudi, a classical pianist.
On your recommendation, I am listening to Einaudi as I type this.
One final question, what is your favorite food?
If you come east, look me up. I’ll take you out for pizza.
Ruppert, I can’t tell you what a thrill this was for me – to talk to you. When I was a little kid roaming around in centerfield, being called “Rupe” by my ballplaying friends, I never thought, forty years later that we’d one day talk on the phone. I hope your publishing ventures go well. If you need any help, I am here for you – consider me a friend.
This was so great. Thank you Ruppert. I wish you all the best – always.