Jones, Sherman

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Winton

First, Middle Names: Sherman Jarvis            Nickname: Roadblock
Date of Birth:  Feb. 10, 1935  Date and Place of Death: Feb. 21, 2007, Kansas City (KS)
Burial: Leavenworth National Cemetery, Leavenworth, KS

High School: C.S. Brown High School, Winton
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-4, 205
Debut Year: 1960       Final Year: 1962          Years Played: 3
Teams and Years: San Francisco Giants, 1960; Cincinnati Reds, 1961; New York Mets, 1962

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
48       2        6          4          4.73     110.1   53        -0.2

Sherman Jones always said his proudest achievement on a baseball field was his short, but flawless, performance during a World Series game, but what Jones did after baseball was far more important than anything he accomplished on a pitching mound. For, this son of a sharecropper from Hertford County was one of only a handful of African-Americans elected at the time to the Kansas legislature. He became a respected state senator, a leader among black politicians in the state and a stalwart defender of progressive causes.

Born outside Winton, the county seat, Sherman Jarvis Jones was the seventh of 10 surviving children. Along with working the farm, their father, Starkie, was a laborer on street projects in the county. Gladys, their mother, did other people’s laundry.

At six-foot, four inches and approaching 200 pounds, Jones was a formidable presence on the basketball court and football field at C.S. Brown High School.[1] He was also a catcher on the baseball team and for local semipro teams. He had started playing for them when he was 17 to make a little extra money. He volunteered to pitch in a game against Cuban barnstormers. “The guy that was going to pitch had an accident or got hit by a car or something,” Jones remembered years later. “They were giving him $20, so I said, “I’ll pitch.’”[I]

The New York Giants signed Jones after he graduated in 1953 and he played in their minor leagues for the next five years, interrupted by a three-year stint in the Army.  Pitching in relief, he won both games of a doubleheader for Tacoma, Washington, in 1960. A local sportswriter, impressed with Jones’ ability to emerge from the bullpen and shut down the opposition, tagged him with the nickname that would stick: Roadblock. He won 10 games in relief that season and a train ticket for San Francisco, the Giants’ home since 1957. Though he pitched well in his one-month call-up, Jones was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

He had his longest tenure in the majors in 1961 – 55 innings that included two starts – for a pennant-winning team led by Frank Robinson and Vida Pinson. In the World Series that year, Jones was among the parade of Reds’ hurlers who the New York Yankees beat up for 13 runs to win the fifth and final game. He did better than most, entering the game in the fourth inning with his team already down 10-3. “I faced two batters and got them out,” he recalled proudly years later.[II]

The performance wasn’t good enough, however. The Reds let him go to the Mets during the expansion draft several weeks after the Series for the rock-bottom price of $50,000. Jones went from a pennant winner to a team that would lose 120 games, that was so bad night after night that its manager, the venerable Casey Stengel, would famously ask of his charges, “Does anyone here know how to play this game?”

Casey saved Jones for the team’s home opener at the old Polo Grounds. It was a rainy day and Mets “slipped and fell like novice ice skaters,” The New York Times reported.[III] Jones left in the fifth inning after two outfielders let a fly ball drop between them for a triple that scored two runs. He lost 4-3.

Jones first noticed a “tiredness” in his pitching arm when the season started. By midseason, he couldn’t lift his arm to comb his hair. The Mets sent him down to the minors to recuperate. He would never return to the majors. At least, his time with the Mets was blessedly short.

He would make something of a comeback in the bushes – winning 12 games for Raleigh, North Carolina, for instance, in 1963 – but the tiredness came back and the weariness of life in the minors with its long bus rides and the low pay was finally too much to overcome. Jones retired at the end of the 1965 season.

He also had a family to consider. Jones had met Amelia Buchanan of Atchison, Kansas, in 1956 when he was playing in Topeka, Kansas. She was a co-ed at the a local college and had been assigned to ride with Jones in a convertible during the opening-day parade. He broke his finger soon after the season began and was out of action. “I didn’t have anything to do but court her,” he later said.[IV] They were married that December. The couple had moved to Atchison in 1963 where Jones worked on his father-in-law’s livestock farm and helped raise their two girls.

After retiring, he became a cop for the Kansas City Police Department and the athletics director of a church-sponsored program for underprivileged kids. He used his interactions with the kids to help them overcome any fears of the police.“This is what I really want to do.” he explained at the time. “In a neighborhood like this, the police department needs all the help it can get to get over the point to these kids that the man in uniform would be a friend and a helper rather than an enemy if given half a chance.”[V]

Baseball, though, tried to pull him back. He became the batting-practice pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in 1970. An expansion team, the Royals had started playing a year earlier. Five years after retiring, Jones was once again putting on a uniform and joshing with the guys in the clubhouse. He realized how much he missed the sport. “I’d like to get back into baseball in some capacity,” he said at the time. “I know I could be of some help to a club, maybe as a scout or coach or perhaps in the office.”[VI]

He would, however, remain a cop, retiring as a master sergeant after 22 years.

A year later, in 1988, Jones, a Democrat, filed for the seat of a retiring legislator. He won his first try at elected office after no one ran against him. “That never happened when I was pitching,” he joked. “Somebody was always up there with a bat.”[VII] He was one of four blacks in the Kansas House of Representatives.

He was unopposed again in 1990 and ran for the state senate two years later after courts approved a redistricting plan that created a new district made up of predominantly black voters. He was one of two African-Americans elected to the senate.

Jones became an influential senator during his two terms. He was elected to lead the legislature’s black caucus and the governor appointed him to serve on committees to study the expansion of gambling and to oversee the creation of a new hospital. He also was a reliable proponent of liberal causes. He, for instance, voted repeatedly against a bill to allow Kansans to carry concealed firearms. The legislature finally passed the bill but it was vetoed by the governor. “That’s good news,” said the former cop. “I think it’s terrible policy to have frightened people carrying guns.”[VIII]

He also opposed a measure that would have made English the official language of Kansas by requiring that it be used for public records and meetings. He called it a “racist and elitist” effort against cultural and ethnic diversity. “I’ve heard no one but middle-class white people wanting this legislation,” he said.[IX] His opposition was a critical factor in the senate’s refusal to consider the bill.

After undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in 1997, Jones sponsored a bill that required insurance companies to include coverage of prostate screening in their health policies. It passed easily.

Jones turned 70 in 2000 and retired from the senate. He said it was time to go home. He died seven years later, eleven days after his birthday.

Footnote
[1] Segregated at the time, C.S. Brown High was named after Calvin Scott Brown, a pioneer in African-American education in North Carolina.

References
[I] Hanna, John. Associated Press. “Road Back: Former Met Is Turning to Politics.” St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, November 27, 1988.
[II] Ibid.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Liston, Warren. “He Stars in the Big Leagues.” Kansas City (MO) Star, October 23, 1966.
[VI] O’Boynick, Paul. “Roadblock Is Back.” Kansas City (MO) Star, June 16, 1970.
[VII] Bordman, Sid. “It’s a Long Road Back for ‘Roadblock’ Jones.” Kansas City (MO) Star, November 11, 1988.
[VIII] Associated Press. “Override Try Possible.” Manhattan (KS) Mercury, April 22, 1997.
[IX] Associated Press. “Senate Avoids English Issue.” Manhattan (KS) Mercury, March 26, 1997.