The first player selected in the 1976 Major League Baseball expansion draft by the newly formed Seattle Mariners organization, Ruppert Jones quickly made his mark on the new franchise. A multi-talented athlete with power and speed, Jones became the Mariner’s first representative to the MLB All-Star Game in 1977.
In 1979, he posted the best single season statistics of his entire career when he raked 166 hits, scored 109 runs, legged out nine triples, drove in 78 runs and stole 33 bases while playing in all 162 games.
After brief stops with the New York Yankees and a second All-Star appearance while playing with the San Diego Padres, Jones became a World Series champion in 1984 with the Detroit Tigers. He also spent three years with the California Angels before finishing his career in Japan.
In our latest Card Back Q&A, we catch up with the retired player and current author about taking up karate to help him on the baseball field, hitting bombs in Seattle’s Kingdome, and just how great of a teammate teammate Claudell Washington really was.
Tony Reid-Your 1987 Topps card stated that you enjoyed both karate and racquetball. Are those two activities you really excelled at during your playing days?
Ruppert Jones-I didn’t play racquetball after I broke my shoulder in 1980. I stopped playing racquetball. I did karate. The best two seasons I had in baseball, 1979 and 1982, I took karate in the offseason. I had my best seasons those two years, without a doubt.
TR-Was it the speed, timing and hand eye coordination in karate that helped you on the diamond?
RJ– It was the concentration aspect of it. It was the aspect of me really controlling my body. It was about uniting my mind with my body. I was able to go out and do that on the field a lot better.
TR-Your 1980 Topps card stated that you were the fifth player in the history of the Kingdome to reach the third deck with a bomb. It was 7/11/79. Do you remember hitting that moonshot?
RJ– It was off a Yankees pitcher named Ken Clay. Yeah I hit one in the third deck. I’m gonna tell you what, if you looked at the records and the history of the Kingdome, I bet you that in right field there were not that many balls hit in the second deck. I hit one in the second deck. It had to be a line drive. You couldn’t get one in there any other way than a line drive. The second deck was a real narrow slit. If you check out the history I guarantee you there were no more than four or five balls hit in that second deck.
TR–The back of your 1988 Score card mentioned you being a three sport star as an outfielder in baseball, a guard in basketball and wide receiver in football. It also mentions that fact that you were a teammate of Claudell Washington. That’s a pretty cool fact, considering that you both had extended careers in Major League Baseball.
RJ– I am from Texas originally. In 1967 my family moved to Berkeley, California. It was in the summertime. I didn’t play baseball that year but in the following year of 1968 I was playing baseball on the sandlot. A guy I played basketball with saw me play. He said I was a better baseball player than I was a basketball player. I told him the only reason I was playing basketball is because they didn’t have a football team. He told me they had Pony League tryouts. He told me to come but not to do anything. He told me to sign my name and he told me not to run, not to throw or do anything. He said his team won the championship and that they picked last. If the other teams saw me they would draft me. OK, so I went down to tryouts. I signed up and I didn’t do anything. His team picked me. The first day we had practice the coach of the team saw me play. He said he didn’t normally draft guys that he doesn’t know anything about. He said he heard I was good but he didn’t know I was that good.
Then, I played against Claudell Washington. I was 13 years old. He was by far the best player in the league. I am going to tell you how good he was. I played against him when I was 13 and 14 years old. Claudell did not play baseball from age 14 to age 17. We had a Connie Mack team that year and we needed some players. We asked Claudell to play for us. He said OK. He hadn’t played baseball for a few years. He came out and a month later he signed a free agent contract with the Oakland A’s. He goes to Oregon and kills the league. Then he goes to the Midwest League and kills the league. Then he goes to Double A and by the All Star break in Double A the Oakland A’s bring him to the Big Leagues. So, he goes from age 17 and by age 19 he was in the Big Leagues after not playing baseball for three years. In two years he was in the Big Leagues. That’s how good Claudell Washington was.