Sam "Toothpick" Jones

"I'm strictly a flat-toothpick man. Those round ones get stuck between the bicuspids and molars. And I don't go much for those perfumed quill kind either—too dangerous."

-Sam "Toothpick" Jones

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

August, 2007

Sam Jones

Born: Dec. 14, 1925 in Stewartsville, Ohio
Died: Nov. 5, 1971 in Morgantown, West. Va.
Ht:6'-4", Wt: 212
Batted and threw right
Position: pitcher
Years: 1946-1964
Teams: Homestead Grays, Cleveland Buckeyes, Minor Leagues, Major Leagues

Sam Jones appeared in the Negro Leagues for only two seasons, but his story is a very interesting one.

Jones grew up in Monongah, West Virginia, where he actually didn't play much baseball as a kid. While in the Army Air Corps in World War II, an officer recruited Jones for the camp baseball team, and he was a natural pitcher.

While a young man, Jones started a habit of keeping a toothpick in his mouth, and as a pitcher he continued to do so, earning his nickname.

After the war, Jones played with the Homestead Grays in '46 and the Cleveland Buckeyes in '47 and '48, appearing in the Negro League World Series with the latter. Jones had amazing ability, threw very hard, with a crackling curveball (according to Stan Musial, the best curveball he ever saw), but his control was spotty, and he often walked as many men as he struck out.

In 1949, Jones followed in the footsteps of Negro League pitchers Double Duty Radcliffe ('48) and Gread McKinnis (1947-'48) by signing with a Rochester, Minnesota semipro team. Jones was signed by the Rochester Royals of the Southern Minny League and fashioned a 10-2 record with two no-hitters.

After a few successful seasons in the Minor Leagues from 1950-1954, Jones was in the Majors to stay in 1955 with the Chicago Cubs, and he would again throw a no-hitter (the first ever by an African-American in the Majors), this time in a most improbable way!

Leading 4-0 in the 9th, Jones walked the bases loaded to start the inning, then struck out the next three batters, Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente and Frank Thomas, to end the game; for his great feat, he was given a gold toothpick!

In 1959, Jones had a no-hitter through seven innings, but rain stopped that game.

Three times Jones led the league in strikeouts, and four times he led the league in walks.

Toward the end of his career, Jones had arm injuries, but he worked through them and continued to pitch well. "The arm's been ten years hurting," Jones said. "Now I've got control of this crooked elbow, I don't mind when it hurts.

In a game in the Majors, Jones collided with Hank Aaron at home plate, and nearly swallowed his toothpick, but it didn't deter him from his habit.

Jones pitched in two Major League All-Star games, '55 and '59, and came in second in voting for the Cy Young award in 1959, losing to Early Wynn, despite a 21-15 record with four saves.

Like many pitchers, Jones was a weak hitter, though he did hit one lifetime homer with his toothpick, a solo shot against Dave Wickersham.

In all, Jones pitched in the Majors for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles. While with the Indians in 1952, Jones and Quincy Trouppe, a former Negro League catching star, combined as the first all African-American battery in modern Major League history.

"Toothpick" died from cancer at age 45