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Ruppert Jones Is a Rarity Among Free Agents : Compared to More Expensive Angel Acquisitions, Veteran Is a True Bargain

May 26, 1985|SARAH SMITH | Times Staff Writer

California Angel designated hitter Ruppert Jones got his 900th career hit Saturday on a two-run home run against Baltimore.

He raised his batting average to .289--the highest among Angel regulars and a far cry from what he was doing early last spring.

As major league baseball began in 1984, Ruppert Jones was out of uniform for the first time since 1976.

Instead, he spent three weeks at home in La Mesa--cooking breakfasts of oatmeal and omelets for his three children, reading the Bible and facing the prospect of a dismally early retirement at age 29.

It was the hardest part of an eight-year major league career, but it was not the end.

Finally, he was invited to join the Detroit Tigers. He hit .283 with 12 home runs in a reserve role for the eventual world champions.

After the 1984 season, Jones entered the free-agent draft and was signed by the Angels, who were shopping for a left-handed hitter with power to help compensate for the loss of Fred Lynn to Baltimore.

If Jones wasn't exactly free, his acquisition, like that of ace reliever Donnie Moore, was undoubtedly a bargain by the Angels' free-agent standards.

"They had some problems with free agents in the past and they might have been a little skeptical," Jones observed.

That attitude is rapidly evaporating, however.

Of Jones' 24 hits, 12 have been for extra bases, including last Sunday's two-run homer that beat New York. He shares the team lead with Brian Downing at 20, having driven in at least one run in the past six games.

Nice numbers for anybody, but especially for a former All-Star who had to climb out of the minors all over again with Detroit last spring.

And prime numbers for a reserve designated hitter and fourth outfielder. They said it about team Most Valuable Player Juan Beniquez last year, and it may be said about Jones in 1985: imagine what he might do if he played more.

With Reggie Jackson and Gary Pettis injured, however, the Angels may have little option but to find out.

"We played in New York together, and I'm sure glad he's here," Jackson said. "I don't think he was really going to have to retire last year, he was just looking for a job.

"But he has gotten his career turned around and things are going right for him."

Said Jones: "Having to re-establish myself in my career was the hardest thing because you may not get the opportunity. When one comes along, you seize it."

When spring training began, Jones approached Rod Carew for advice.

"I went up to him and told him that I want to hit .300 for the first time in my career this season, and I said, 'what can I do?' " Jones said.

"Basically our styles are different, but he has a lot of good theories and he keeps me mentally thinking about hitting."

Jones' career has moved him from Kansas City to Seattle to New York to San Diego to Detroit, and consequently it's awfully easy to confuse the current pennant race with those from years past.

"My personal goal is not significant," Jones said. "I want the team to win the American League East . . . I mean, West, and I'll do whatever it takes to win."

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