As the playoffs and award season gets underway, we want to take a gander at some players who had outstanding seasons in 2009 but whose teams ended up just shy of making the postseason and who will (most likely) not pick up any fancy trophies. Quite a consolation prize: a round of golf and a write-up on a low circulation sports blog.
Up next, Garrett Jones, as written by Pat Lackey.
On June 30th, Garrett Jones was just a man. He was playing for Triple-A Indianapolis and though he was hitting quite well (.307/.348/.502 with 12 homers in 72 games), players in their fifth go-round at any level don't tend to get more than a passing thought. He was a spring training slugger, a Triple-A All-Star, or any other back-handed compliment given to nice guys that are really just Quad-A players.
Still, when the Pirates traded Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals at the end of June, they needed an outfielder while Lastings Milledge rehabbed his wrist and his general attitude toward life. Jones got the call and on July 1st, he made his first Major League appearance since the end of the 2007 season. He went 0-for-4 and struck out once. Not many people noticed.
On July 2nd, Jones homered. On July 4th, he did it again. July 10th, 11th, 12th. Again, again, again. In the first game back from the All-Star break on July 17th, he took Tim Lincecum deep in the bottom of the first inning and Bobby Howry deep in the bottom of the 14th to give the Pirates a 2-1 win over the Giants. People were paying attention now. He hit three more home runs in July to give him 10 in his first full month as a Pirate. He added 11 more in August and September. The man that was an afterthought on June 30th hit 21 home runs after the first of July.
Jones won't win the Rookie of the Year award. His age (he turned 28 shortly before his call-up), his late call to the bigs, and the relative obscurity of Pittsburgh dwarf those 21 home runs and the .293/.372/.567 that made him one of the best hitters in the National League after he arrive in Pittsburgh.
Instead, Jones got something other than an award. He played on a team so terrible (the Bucs were 26-56 in the 82 games that Jones played) that despite 43 extra base hits, Jones only drove in 44 runs. Instead of being a guy stranded in Triple-A for eternity, Jones became something Bunyanesque in Pittsburgh. Along with Andrew McCutchen, he helped provide a shining light for Pirate fans mired in a sea of impenetrable darkness. Instead of being a guy stranded in Triple-A for eternity, Jones became "The Legend" or simply "GFJ," for the middle name that both opposing pitchers and jubilant, incredulous Pirate fans would substitute after almost every home run.
Jones may or may not be able to replicate his 2009 season, but in some ways he doesn't have to. He began the year as a minor league free agent and ended it as something almost otherwordly. In The Sandlot, the ghost of Babe Ruth twice repeated the mantra, "Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die." No Pirate fan that saw Garrett Jones play this summer will ever forget the bolt of excitement he provided in the one of the darkest years in franchise history.