In an age when ace relief pitchers are often armed with 95-mph fastballs and have nicknames like Wild Thing and Terminator, Doug Jones of the Cleveland Indians is an anomaly: a no-nickname bullpen stopper with the temperament—and looks—of Wilford Brimley and an out pitch that travels 62 mph. "There are no frills to my style," says Jones. "I just go out and take care of business."
And business has been booming for the 33-year-old righthander. With 26 saves at week's end, Jones is well on his way to his third consecutive 30-save season. In the American League, only Dennis Eckersley of the Athletics had more saves over the same span—108 in the last 2½ years to Jones's 95. Not bad, when you consider that through Sunday, the A's had won 262 games since 1988, to the Indians' 196. What's more, Jones has been involved in 61% of those 196 victories, including 69% this season.
It's a wonder that Jones is playing baseball at all. He wanted to be a race-car driver like his father, Rex, a factory worker who drove sprint cars on the side. One day, after Doug had graduated from high school in Lebanon, Ind., Rex gave him the keys to his car for a qualifying race at a local track. On his last lap, Doug plowed into a wall. "I wasn't hurt," he says, "but I decided that baseball was a lot safer."
It turned out to be a lot slower, too. After playing a year at Butler, and then briefly for Central Arizona in 1977, Jones was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the third round of the 1978 free-agent draft. For the next seven years he labored in minor league towns like Burlington, Iowa; Stockton, Calif.; and Holyoke, Mass., before the Brewers released him in '84. "The fellows in our system felt he was just a little short of stuff," says Milwaukee GM Harry Dalton.
July 29, 1990
Jones was also short on confidence. "I was really down after that," he says. He finally wangled an invitation to Cleveland's 1985 training camp in Tucson, but had to pay his own way, selling the family car to cover his expenses. At the end of camp, Cleveland signed him to a $1,000-a-month contract and sent him to its Double A affiliate in Waterbury, Conn.
"At Waterbury, my ERA was about 17 or 18 before I could turn my head," says Jones. Then, one afternoon in June '85, late in a game against the New Britain (Conn.) Red Sox, Jones accidentally altered the course of his career. "I was at another low point," he says. "While I was in the bullpen warming up, I told some of the guys that I was going to blow myself out—throw nothing but fastballs."
Jones was successful for one inning, but when he returned to the mound for a second inning, he was exhausted. "I knew I had to take something off the ball," he says, "so I decided to throw a changeup I'd been experimenting with."
He had learned the pitch by watching former teammate Willie Mueller, who went on to pitch against the fictional Indians in the movie Major League. Jones retired the next six batters. After that, he pared down his six-pitch repertoire to a fastball and changeup. "The hardest part is accepting that you only have two pitches," says Jones, who went on to baffle opposing hitters for the remainder of his minor league career.
But if those two pitches land you on three straight All-Star teams, they become much more palatable. "When you go to an opera, you anticipate the tenor at the end," says Jones. "Instead, I'm like some guy who knows the words but can't sing. He just climbs up on stage and finishes the show."