Jones, Charley

Player Name: Jones, Charley
Position: Left Field
Birthplace: Alamance County

First, Middle Names: Benjamin Wesley Rippay         Nicknames: Baby, Knight of the Limitless Linen

Date of Birth:  April 30, 1852       Date and Place of Death: June 6, 1911, New York
Burial: Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, Queens, NY

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 202
Debut Year: 1875        Final Year: 1888          Years Played: 12
Teams and Years: Keokuk Westerns, 1875; Hartford Dark Blues, 1875; Cincinnati Reds, 1876-77; Chicago White Stockings, 1877; Cincinnati Reds, 1878; Boston Red Stockings, 1879-80; Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1883-87; New York Metropolitans, 1887; Kansas City Cowboys, 1888

Awards: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1992

 Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
895   3741  1115    733      553      56       .298    .345    .444     26.3

Charley Jones, as baseball historians insist, is likely the first North Carolinian to play in what’s now the major leagues. He was in the vanguard of professional athletes who, in the 1870s, began to transform a game played by amateurs, mostly in Eastern cities, into a national sport that would reach into every crossroad hamlet and schoolyard playground in America.

Despite what his plaque says at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame or what previous biographers have written, much of Jones’ life before baseball remains a mystery. We don’t even know with certainty who is parents were or where in the state he was born. Frankly, much of what has been written about his early life is wrong.

The picture becomes clearer after Jones stepped onto a baseball diamond. He had, for instance, weaknesses for fine clothes, fast women, and hard liquor. Guess which one of them may have led to his delicious and oddly suggestive nickname, The Knight of the Limitless Linen? He also was a demanding player who insisted on being paid and refused to take the field when he wasn’t. That so irritated team owners in the infant National League that they blacklisted him. He has the distinction, then, of being one of only two North Carolinians banned from baseball.[1]

First and foremost, though, Charley Jones was a gifted baseball player at a time when most people didn’t know what that was. He helped set the standards by which we now judge players. In his 12 seasons in the three professional leagues of his day, Jones became the pro game’s first slugger. He led the National League in home runs, was the first to hit two in one inning, and was always among the leagues’ leaders in slugging and driving in runs. More than 400 North Carolinians followed Jones into the major leagues, but few have been better hitters. He remains among the state’s leaders in 10 career offensive categories, including second in triples (102) and seventh in batting average (.298). It was that bat, along with being the first, that likely earned him that hall of fame plaque in 1992.

Who Is Charley Jones?
In describing the new inductee, officials at the state hall simply repeated what others had written about Jones: He was born in Alamance County in 1852, his father likely died in the Civil War, and his mother passed on from some unknown cause, leaving the orphan to be raised by a relative in Indiana.

Those biographies report that Jones was born Benjamin Wesley Rippy, also spelled “Rippay” and Rippey” in the official records, the fifth of Abel and Delilah Rippy’s seven children. Nothing in those records, however, supports that basic family history. If not for a notation in a marriage register in Ohio in in 1886, there would be no official evidence that Benjamin Wesley Rippy became Charley Jones, the baseball player. Abel and Delilah in the 1850 census list a son named Benjamin, who had been born a year earlier, but he would be crippled by rheumatism as an adult and never play baseball. It seems doubtful that they would give two sons the same first name. Anyway, two Benjamins don’t appear in the Rippy household in the 1860 census.

Had there been another Benjamin, the boy would have grown up knowing his parents. Delilah lived until 1885. If he served in the Confederate army, Abel survived the war only to be murdered by a drunken son more than 20 years later.[2]

Neither do the existing records provide a clue as to why the boy was raised by Reuben Jones, a wagonmaker in Indiana. He’s the alleged relative who took in the young orphan and whose surname the boy adopted. Reuben, a native of Virginia, married a North Carolina girl, Susan Doswell of Caswell County, in 1843. Neither of their genealogies indicates that either was related to Abel or Delilah, though Susan’s mother is unknown as are Delilah’s parents. It’s possible that Susan and either Abel or Delilah shared a parent or were otherwise related through this unidentified link.

The Joneses lived in Rockingham County, where Reuben worked for the railroad, when the census takers came around for the 1850 count. Rockingham borders Alamance. Though traveling any distance by horse or buggy on the dirt roads of mid-19th century North Carolina was a chore, we can’t discount the possibility, no matter how slim, that the Joneses and Rippys knew each other, and that young Benjamin was the result of a relationship that grew too familiar.

Brad Rippey offers another possibility. A cousin of Abel’s, he has spent decades researching the family’s history. He’s convinced Jones isn’t Abel’s son, but he’s probably a Rippy or Rippay because the name isn’t common and Jones used it for that marriage license. Early biographers, Brad Rippey speculates, simply connected Charley with the wrong family. A better choice, he thinks, is William Rippey, who married Mary Truitt. She married Abraham Jones after Rippey died in 1837 and had several children with him. One may have had a child named Benjamin, who was orphaned and was raised by Reuben, who may have been related to Abraham.[I]

How the original story came about is anyone’s guess. The few existing biographies are short and list no original sources. They all cite each other. Newspapers offer no help either. Though Jones was among the most-popular players of his day, little was written about him that survives in digital newspaper archives. Sports writing, like professional baseball itself, was in its infancy in the 1870s and ‘80s. They would grow up together. Reporters in Jones’ day didn’t write feature stories about players. Nor were they much interested in their personal lives unless women, cops, booze, or wads of cash, preferably in some combination, were involved. If he had been an illegitimate child, Jones also had reason to avoid talking about his childhood.

Reuben and Susan were in Gibson County, Indiana, in 1860 with an eight-year-old whose fading, handwritten name on a census form looks like “Beryl.” Could it be “Benji?” No relationship is listed for the boy in the census, but it’s noted that he was born in North Carolina. In 1870, Beryl or Benji disappears from the Jones’ household and Wesley Jones, 18, appears in the census as a “farm laborer.” He, too, is listed as having been born in North Carolina. They are likely the same person.

As an adult, Wesley “Charley” Jones certainly treated Reuben and Susan as his parents, and they apparently thought of him as their son and only child.  Jones’ son, Charley Jr., lived with them for a time, and they list the boy as their grandson in the 1880 census. Reuben named Charley and his son as his only heirs. On Charley Jones’ death certificate Reuben and Susan are identified as his father and mother.

Neither do we know anything about Jones’ baseball career before he turned professional, but we can make some educated assumptions. Indiana was still on the edge of the frontier when Reuben and Susan moved there, probably in the mid- to late-1850s. They joined thousands of new settlers who had been lured to the southwestern corner of the state by the cheap farmland that became Gibson County. The Evansville and Terre Haute Railroad, which arrived in Princeton, the county seat, in 1852, gave those farmers easier access to markets. It may have also brought baseball to that remote corner of the state.

Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, was the site of many amateur baseball games in the 1850s and ’60s.

A Railroad Story
Many ball-and-stick games were played in colonial America, but the one we’ve come to call baseball evolved from the game played in New York since the early 1800s, first on Manhattan Island and later in neighboring Brooklyn, now a New York borough but then a separate city. By 1840, amateur clubs formed throughout the two cities to promote the game as a healthy form of outdoor recreation. Discard the modern notion of neighborhood sports clubs. These weren’t beer-bellied bar denizens who got together on weekends to drink and hit a baseball around. The clubs attracted doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, firemen, butchers, and others who made up the growing cities’ emerging middle class. Women, Catholics, and blacks, of course, need not apply. These were white, Protestant men with money, the political connections that allowed them to find plum patronage jobs for favored team members, and the time to recreate.

They also took their baseball seriously. The clubs practiced a couple of times each week and played intrasquad games. By the 1850s, they had summer schedules of games against each other using common rules that they had approved at annual conventions. Over time, the teams were identified with the regions in the cities or the institutions that provided most of the members. Doctors and medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan, for instance, formed one club. Fire stations started many others. People living near those stations, in those neighborhoods, or connected with those institutions began rooting for their teams. By 1860, they were paying to see them play. The sports fan was born.

In those years just before the Civil War, New Yorkers took their form of baseball on the road, playing other clubs on the East Coast from Boston to Baltimore and spreading the seed from which their game took root. Living in the country’s most-populous city that was fast becoming its commercial and financial center with its busiest port, biggest banks, and numerous rail connections, New Yorkers got around, and many took baseball with them. It rushed out to California along with the city’s gold seekers in the 1850s and found a home in San Francisco. It became a major diversion in hundreds of Union Army encampments during the Civil War, and many of those soldiers took the game back home.

Maybe returning veterans brought baseball to Gibson County, but it likely arrived earlier with the railroad. The transformation of an amateur game into a national sport with professional leagues is a railroad story, notes baseball historian John Gilbert. Just as the Boeing 707 allowed the Major Leagues to expand to the West Coast in the late 1950s, the dramatic growth of rail lines a century earlier took an urban game to villages all along the line. “The small Vermont towns of Irasburg, Brandon and Pawlet all had baseball clubs before the state’s largest cities because they were on advancing railroad lines,” Gilbert writes. “If you draw a line on a map connecting Hamilton, Burlington, St. Thomas, London, Ingersoll, Guelph, and Toronto — southern Ontario cities where Canada’s first baseball clubs appeared between 1856 and 1860 — you will be tracing the lines of the Great Western Railway, which linked Niagara Falls, near Buffalo, to Windsor, near Detroit, in 1854.”[II] Railroad growth in the booming Midwest was especially dramatic. Indiana, for instance, had about 20 miles of rails in 1840. By the Civil War, it had more than 2,000.[3]

It’s likely, then, that baseball stepped off the Evansville and Terra Haute, maybe with an immigrant New Yorker, and took hold in Princeton. It’s also likely that young Charley Jones first played for a local amateur club before he took up with a team in Ludlow, Ohio, in the mid-1870s. The teams probably paid him under the table.

A Professional Game
The early amateur clubs in New York had strict rules banning direct payments to players, though the larger and more-influential clubs often found city government jobs for their stars. As baseball expanded across the country, many of the new clubs weren’t as committed to the amateur ethic. Players also began demanding a share of the proceeds when fans started paying to watch them play. So many clubs were paying their players by 1869 that the association that governed amateur baseball created a professional category.  Several of the larger clubs broke away two years later and formed the short-lived National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional team sports league of any kind.

Jones debuted in 1875, its last year, with the association’s Keokuk Westerns in Iowa. The team was awful, winning just one of its 13 games before disbanding, but the 23-year-old outfielder was second on the team in hitting and knocked in 11 runs. No one else had more than five. After the Westerns, Jones showed up halfway across the country in Hartford, Connecticut, where he appeared in one game that season for the association’s Dark Blues.

The league wasn’t very competitive. The Boston Red Stockings, winner of four of the five pennants, finished first in that final year with a 71-8 record. Though it won 54 games, Hartford was second, 18.5 games behind. Neither was the league financially stable or particularly well run. Teams came and went, and there was no central authority to enforce the rules.

The six strongest teams bolted in 1876 and formed the National League of Professional Baseball Teams, or simply the National League.[4] Jones turned down offers from Boston and Chicago to play center field for the Cincinnati Reds. He became the star of another bad team. The Reds won only nine games that first season, but he led the team in hitting with a .286 average. On May 2, he became the second player in the National League to hit a home run when he blasted one in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Stockings, today’s Cubs. An opposing player had edged Jones for first honors when he homered two innings earlier. Jones hit three more that season. They were the only home runs hit by the team.

The Panic of 1873 and the resulting depression created financial turmoil during the early years of the new league. Club turnover was constant. Only two of the original teams, Chicago and Boston, would make it to 1880. The cash-strapped Reds looked to be an early casualty. The team disbanded in June 1877, and the defending champ White Stockings signed Jones and another Reds’ player. The Reds, however, raised enough money to keep the team going within days of the signings, and Jones made it clear he wasn’t happy in Chicago. The Reds petitioned the league to return Jones, but the request went nowhere. A Cincinnati lawyer wrote a letter to the White Stockings, appealing to the team’s sense of fair play. “We, as you probably know, have succeeded in reorganizing the base-ball club here. The task has been a hard one, and even now we find that it will be almost impossible for us to get along without Jones… I ask you, as a favor that our club will always appreciate, that you will honorably release Jones and permit him to rejoin us.”[III]  It worked. After two games, Jones was returned to the Reds. It was, indeed, a different time.

Jones established himself as a star in the young league over the next two seasons. He hit better that .300 each year and led the team in triples and runs batted in. He also hit five of its 11 home runs.  He cemented his reputation as a power hitter in 1879 while playing for the Boston Red Stockings, now the Atlanta Braves, with nine homers, which led the league. He also scored 85 times, almost a run a game, and knocked in 62. Those also led the league. His nearly flawless play in center made him one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. There was little doubt after June 10, 1880, who was baseball’s home-run king when Jones became the first to hit two homers in an inning in a 19-3 shellacking of Buffalo.

Jones’ potent bat wasn’t much help to the fading Red Stockings, though. The team that had once been the cream of the National League, winning back-to-back pennants in 1877-78, was losing more games than it won as the 1880 season ground on, and its finances were even more precarious. Jones hadn’t wanted to return to Boston when the season began because of disputes with manager Harry Wright and with team co-owner Arthur Soden, a notorious penny-pincher, who was often slow to pay his players. Jones had held out to start the season, not for more money but just to be paid.

Banned From Baseball

Arthur Soden

His contract called for Boston to pay him $250 on the first of each month during the season, $1,500 in all, wrote the late Lee Allen, the former historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. By late August, Jones apparently grew weary of constantly haranguing Soden for his back pay. While the team was on its way to Cleveland, Jones demanded that Wright pay him the $378, about $12,000 when adjusted for inflation, that he claimed he was owed. When the manager turned him down, Jones refused to play. Wright cabled Soden, who suspended and fined Jones for insubordination. The league blacklisted him in 1881, ending his National League career.[5] Banned from the diamond, Jones took his beef to the courtroom. He won when a judge later that year ordered the club to give Jones a game’s gate receipts to pay what it owned him.

While the court victory must have been satisfying, Jones was still out of baseball. Unemployed, he and a partner opened Star Laundry in a three-story building on Lodge Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. It would become the largest in the city.

Jones cut quite a dashing figure in town. Handsome and ruggedly built, he stood close to six feet tall and was always neatly barbered and dressed in the latest fashions. An equally fashionable woman usually accompanied him. His sartorial splendor may account for the “knight” reference in his nickname, which has origins as mysterious as its recipient’s. The “limitless linen” part may slyly refer to his reputation for bedding desirous women, but it likely alludes to something more mundane, his laundry business.

Tending to the laundry was all Jones had to do for two years. He was about to resume his baseball career when the American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs formed at the end of 1881. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, which had been thrown out of the National League for selling alcohol at its ballpark, was a founding member of the new league, and it dearly wanted its old star back. The new association initially agreed that its teams wouldn’t sign players on the older league’s blacklist who had been booted for drunkenness, dishonesty, or other “venal” reasons.[IV] The policy was carefully worded to accommodate the Red Stockings, which promptly signed Jones. The National League, though, retaliated. American Association teams that signed any blacklisted players, it announced, wouldn’t be allowed to play exhibition games against National League clubs. Fearing the loss of revenue and publicity that such games could generate, the new league agreed to honor the blacklist, and the Red Stockings promptly voided Jones’ contract. They worked it out after that first season, and Jones was back in the distinctive Cincinnati uniform with its high, red leggings in 1883.

He resumed where he had left off, becoming one of the league’s leading hitters over the next four seasons while establishing himself as a local star. “Charley Jones is very popular in this city, where he has a host of friends,” a Cincinnati newspaper noted. “He has been playing ball for many years, and his name to known to everyone, from the small boy who witnesses the games from the telegraph pole to the spectator in the grandstand.”[V]

There was, however, one person in town who wasn’t a fan, at least not in 1885. Jones had been living with C.F. Arnold, who referred to herself as Anna Jones, though there’s no evidence that the two had ever been married. Neither do we know if Arnold is the mother of Jones’ only child, who was born in 1877. That little Charley lived with his grandparents in Indiana would seem to indicate that his mother was out of the picture. Newspapers later that year began linking Jones with Louise Horton, a married woman. Jones left Arnold, claiming they weren’t married. “Since that time, she has dogged him about and threatened vengeance,” a newspaper reported.  “Miss C.E. Arnold is a good-looking lady, aged 31, stylish and spirited – in fact, awfully spirited. She reminds one of an A1 conductor constantly surcharged with electricity.”[VI]

On the night of Dec. 14, she approached Jones on a downtown street. He tried to give her some money to shake her off.  “She followed him and gave him his several pieces of her mind in a subdued but energetic tone of voice,” the newspaper said. Jones tried to ignore her.

“I’ll fix you,” Arnold is quoted as saying. She reached into her pocket and came out with a handful of cayenne pepper, which she threw in his face. Jones snorted and howled in pain. He was taken to a nearby drugstore, and a doctor was called. He applied some ointments and said there shouldn’t be any lasting damage.

Anna was arrested. “Well, I did it simply because I thought I would make him suffer a little for what he has made me suffer,” she told the reporter in a “saucy tone.” A presumably bleary-eyed Jones bailed her out.[VII]

After a “sensational divorce suit,” Horton married Jones the following July. The clerk of court in Hamilton County, Ohio, recorded that the happy groom’s name was “B.W. Rippay.” It’s the only surviving official record linking Jones to a Rippey family. Either the marriage didn’t last or Horton died before her husband because Jones’ death certificate lists him as “single” at the time of his death.

His baseball career wound to its close at the end of the 1880s. Whether it was the lasting effects of the pepper or just the combination of age and hard living, Jones’ batting average plummeted and his defensive skills deteriorated as he kicked around the American Association in his final two seasons. Pitchers on the New York Metropolitans in 1887 even complained about his poor fielding. He retired the following year after appearing in only six games for the Kansas City Cowboys.

Jones umpired for a few years before once again disappearing into the haze of history. Fittingly, it seems, his end is as mysterious as his beginning. We know he settled in New York City at some point because that’s where he died in 1911 of tuberculosis. He was a night watchman. North Carolina’s first professional baseball player and one of the game’s earliest sluggers is buried in an unmarked grave off the Long Island Expressway in Queens, New York.

Footnotes
[1] A judge banned Gus Brittain of Wilmington, NC, from baseball in 1946 for helping incite a brawl as a minor-league manager. He had played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds in 1937. He was reinstated in 1948 but had retired from baseball.
[2] Albert Rippy, 35, confessed to shooting his father after an argument at Abel’s home in Alamance County on Oct. 5, 1888. Albert said he was drunk, overdosed on morphine, and temporarily insane at the time of the shooting. A jury found him guilty the following March and sentenced him to hang. The state Supreme Court, though, ordered a new trial after finding that the trial judge had failed to give the jury proper guidance about insanity pleas. Albert agreed to a reduced charge of manslaughter and, in October 1890, was sentenced to 10 years in the state penitentiary.
[3] Before the advent of routine and safe passenger air flight, baseball teams traveled by train, forming an intimate bond that lasted more than 70 years. That closeness is seen today in baseball terms that have their roots in the rail yard. A “double header,” two games played by the same teams on the same day, is a train with two locomotives on its front  ends. A pitch in a batter’s “wheelhouse” is one he can “turn around” and usually hit with authority. It’s originally a turntable at the end of the line to send trains back to where they came. “Schedules” used to be just secondary financial forms appended to the main form. They still are to the Internal Revenue Service. By the mid-19th century, because of the railroad and baseball, they became lists of intended events and times.
[4] The six teams that left the National Association to form the National League were the Boston Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, and New York Mutuals. They were joined by the Cincinnati Reds and the Louisville Grays to make up the eight-team league.
[5] Player discipline was a major issue in the early years of the National League. The infractions ranged from insubordination to throwing games for gamblers. Four players on the Louisville club were banned permanently for such dishonesty. But players were tossed for lesser causes, such as drunkenness and poor play. Individual clubs decided who to suspend or ban. The league started the blacklist in 1881. Players weren’t given the chance to defend themselves before being added.

References
[I] Email exchange with author.
[II] Gilbert, John. “Baseball and the Railroad.” How Baseball Happened, September 12, 2020. https://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rrhttps://howbaseballhappened.com/blog/great-western-rr.
[III] “If Jones Refrains From Any More ‘Baby’ Whining.” Baseball History Daily. https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/charley-jones/.
[IV] Hershberger, Richard. “The First Baseball War: The American Association and the National League.” Baseball Research Journal, Society of American Baseball Research, Fall 2020.
[V] “Charley Jones Released by Cincinnatis.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, August 1, 1886.
[VI] “Square in the Eyes.” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, December 15, 1885.
[VII] Ibid.