Two years ago, Andruw Jones seemed to be on a path toward Cooperstown. Now, he is trying to avoid being released from his second team in two months and is facing questions that at one time never would have seemed fathomable.
Do you still love the game?
“No doubt. This is what I was born to do.”
Do you understand why people doubt your dedication?
“I’m working hard every day. I’m trying to do as much to show people what I can do when I get on the field.”
What do you do if nobody wants you?
“I’m not sure what’s going on right now. I guess I’ll find out soon. But I want to play.”
By the time he was 29, Jones had won nine Gold Gloves, hit 342 home runs — well on a pace for 600 —played in five All-Star Games and placed as high as second in MVP voting as recently as 2005. He played through injuries. He was neither a clubhouse problem nor a chemical creation.
Now, Jones is, at best, a curiosity. He’s in the Texas Rangers’ camp in Arizona as a non-roster player. They considered releasing him last Friday but decided to keep him through the weekend. Now they’re exploring keeping Jones as a part-time designated hitter. But no decision has been made and putting him on the roster would mean spending $6 million to release Frank Catalanotto.
The Rangers also could release Jones or send him to the minors. It doesn’t appear Jones will opt out of his contract Monday because, well, he doesn’t have a lot of options. How did we get here?
“I feel good. My swing is good. I had one bad year,” he said by phone. “I don’t really care what people think. Whatever team I play for, they’ll see I can still play. I’m sure Texas has seen my work ethic and what I can do.”
He’s only 31. He should be in his prime. But he finds himself speaking like everybody in baseball is sitting in a jury box. You’re OK? Prove it.
Terry Pendleton can’t explain it. The Braves’ hitting coach saw what happened to Jones in Los Angeles last season: The .158 batting average, the three home runs and 14 RBI in 75 games (he hit three homers alone in the 1996 post-season as a rookie). The bottom fell out. But Pendleton, unlike others, doesn’t attribute the descent to weight issues.
“I don’t think weight has anything to do with it,” he said. “Andruw’s as strong as an ox. I think it’s a mental thing to tell you the truth. He’s trying to do too much and there might be a lack of confidence. I wish I could help him get through that mental block.”
The Dodgers signed Jones for two years and $36 million. Cash, meet blowtorch. Jones struggled. He was dropped to eighth in the order. He hurt his knee, had surgery and went on the disabled list.
In January, L.A. decided to pay him the balance just to go away.
It’s believed the Braves were open to bringing him into camp. But Jones, at the behest of agent Scott Boras, opted for a minor-league deal with the Rangers so he could work with hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo.
“This was all about working with Rudy,” said Jones, who is hitting .273 in the spring with one homer in 33 at-bats. “I knew the Rangers were set in the outfield and I’d have a hard time cracking the lineup.”
He’s probably a little stunned himself about what’s happened. But in his mind, to acknowledge that would be like accepting it.
“I can still be an everyday player,” he said.
An unexpected declaration for a would-be Hall of Famer.