Ruppert Jones was a standout three sport athlete at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. He decided to focus on baseball and was eventually drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the third round of the 1973 Major League Baseball draft.
After a very strong showing in parts of three seasons in the minors, he received his call to the Big Leagues in the second half of the 1976 season. Considered one of the prized prospects in the entire Royals organization, Jones was left unprotected and therefore became the first player selected in the 1976 Major League Baseball expansion draft by the newly formed Seattle Mariners.
Jones[ multi-dimensional, all-around game was showcased early on in Seattle and he quickly became the team’s first ever All-Star representative in the 1977 version of The Midsummer Classic.
1979 saw the Mariners fan favorite post 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 short 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.
After rounding out his Major League career with the California Angels from 1985 to 1987, he played a single season with the Hanshin Tigers in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. For his big league career, Jones collected over 1,100 hits, belted 147 homers and stole 143 bases.
He recently released a new book called Never Give Up: A memoir of Baseball & Traumatic Brain Injury. In 1980, while playing for the Yankees, he hit his head on the unpadded outfield wall at the Oakland Coliseum, suffering a concussion that he says went undiagnosed for 30 years. The book is a memoir about overcoming odds to reach the majors, injuries he battled throughout his career and other personal and professional hurdles he had to overcome after the injury.
We chatted with the longtime fan favorite, two-time All-Star and World Series champion about seeing his rookie card for the first time, his personal charity— and his wife secretly buying up all of his baseball cards.
Tony Reid-What is the most memorable fan interaction from your long career?
Ruppert Jones-I had an experience in Wrigley Field one day. It was a day game. It was really hot. The fans in Wrigley were getting on me all game. I went back to the wall to catch a fly ball and everybody poured beer on top of me. They were just dumping it on me. You expect that kind of thing when you go on the road. You learn to live with it. In the seventh inning somebody said ‘Jones, your momma!’ I turned around and said ‘Look here, man. My momma ain’t got nothin’ to do with this! You can talk about me all you want but don’t talk about my momma!’ They started cheering like crazy!
TR-How do you feel about the autograph experience between players and fans?
RJ-We always allocated a certain time slot to sign for fans. I’m not sure how the kids do it today. I still sign autographs to this day. I have a service I go through called Past Pros. They have a lot of retired professional athletes affiliated with them. You go to Past Pros and ask for our autographs and they will set you up. They do a fantastic job there.
My wife had me going through some old boxes at home and I came across this interesting envelope with an autograph request from 2016. @TonyCockrell5 If this is you I signed your cards and they are in the mail. #NeverGiveUp pic.twitter.com/FG1gD8z27N— Ruppert Jones (@JonesRuppert) November 9, 2021
TR- Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?
RJ-Willie Mays was always my favorite player. He was my favorite from when I was a kid in Texas. I left Texas in 1967. The San Francisco Giants were my favorite team because of Willie Mays. Wouldn’t you know, I got my first hit off Gaylord Perry who was pitching for the Giants at the time. It was the first pitcher I ever faced. Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Richie Allen, Tony Conigliaro. I liked all of them a lot. I liked Pete Rose. I first met Pete Rose at the All Star Game in 1977. That was like a dream come true to me. I met him on the bus going to the ballpark from the All Star hotel. I introduced myself to him and told him I was a longtime fan.
TR-Did you collect Willie Mays baseball cards as a kid?
RJ-I wish I would have kept my sports cards. I collected a whole lot of them. When I got to the major leagues I could have got a lot of them autographed by those guys. I lost contact with them. I didn’t keep it up. As a kid we used to really collected cards, man. We used to try to collect the teams and the players on every team. When the Willie Mays card came out you might trade three or four cards. I will trade you one Clemente, one Stargell and one other card all for Willie Mays.
TR- Your rookie card was on one of the classic four panel cards back in the 1977 Topps set. You appeared on the card with Jack Clark, Lee Mazzilli and Dan Thomas. Being a collector as a kid and a fan of baseball, how special was it to see yourself on a card for the first time?
RJ-It was really special. I played against Jack Clark in Rookie Ball back in 1973. He was with the Giants and I was with the Royals. He was in Great Falls and I was in Billings, Montana. We played against each other in the Minor Leagues. Mazzilli came up that year. Danny Thomas passed away a long time ago. A lot of folks get that card signed and there are three signatures on it. You won’t see Danny Thomas’ signature.
TR-Did you hold on to your own cards over the course of your playing days?
RJ-I have a lot of cards now from fans who send them to me. People would give me a card if I signed one for them. Here is a good card story for you. My wife and I met in 1997. We had been talking and going out for about a month. I never told her what I did. I never told her who I was or anything of that nature.
One day we were at the mall and I told her I wanted to show her something. We walked into the sports memorabilia store and I asked the guy if he had any Ruppert Jones baseball cards in the store. He said no. I said he had to have some in the store. He insisted he didn’t have any. He pointed to my wife and said ‘She bought them all.’ She found out I was a baseball player and went and bought all my cards.
TR-We all know the accolades, with being an All Star, a World Series Champion and a long career in Major League Baseball, do you have an area where you have items displayed from your career?
RJ-I don’t have a man cave, per se. When you read my book you will have a better understanding of why. I have a few items. I’m not inundated with a lot of baseball memorabilia. In 1982 in San Diego they put some Rupe’s Troops t-shirts together. I am on the board of directors of a nonprofit here in San Diego. We work with the severely handicapped and provide them with jobs. One of the gentlemen on the board with me came to our last board meeting and had a Rupe’s Troops t-shirt from 1982. This was 39 years later! He said he found it. He gave it to me and I gave him a copy of my book. I exchanged a copy of my book for the Rupe’s Troops t-shirt and that t-shirt is pretty nice.