Baldwin, James

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pinehurst

First Name: James Jr.
Date of Birth:  July 15, 1971
Current Residence: Pinehurst

High School: Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: R                         Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 210
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 2005          Years Played: 11

Teams and Years: Chicago White Sox, 1995-2001; Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001; Seattle Mariners, 2002; Minnesota Twins, 2003; New York Mets, 2004, Baltimore Orioles, 2005; Texas Rangers, 2005

Awards: All-Star, 2000

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
266   79       74       2          5.01     1322.2 844      9.3

James Baldwin was a much-heralded prospect as he pitched his way through the Chicago White Sox’s minor leagues. If not for a kid named Derek Jeter, he would have been recognized as the best rookie in the American League in 1996. He would spend 10 more years in the majors and be an All-Star in one of them, but most of those other seasons were marred by puzzling inconsistency. He was never able to string together winning seasons, or even successful halves. Baldwin ended up as a journeyman and finished his career with just a few more wins than losses.

Born in Pinehurst in 1971, Baldwin played baseball, basketball and football at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was an all-conference pitcher during his senior year in 1990 when the White Sox picked him in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

The joy that came with signing his first pro contract was overwhelmed a few days later by the death of his father, James Sr. “Coming out of high school, coming into the world on your own for the first time… it was tough for me,” Baldwin said of those first days at rookie camp in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t know how to deal with the outside world at the time.”[I]

He got the hang of it, though, and steadily pitched his way up the White Sox minor-league system. At Birmingham, Alabama, in 1993, he led the Class AA Southern League in earned-run average (2.25), or ERA, before being promoted to Class AAA Nashville, Tennessee, where he won 12 games and cemented his standing as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

Baldwin was favored to open the 1994 season as Chicago’s fifth starter. He trained with the club in Sarasota that spring and was the first professional to pitch to His Airness, Michael Jordan, during an intrasquad game.[1] Baldwin’s general wildness, however, persuaded team coaches that he needed more time in Nashville, where he won 10 games that season while striking out about a batter an inning.

He earned a spot In the White Sox rotation to start the new season and debuted on April 30. It didn’t go well. He got tagged for four runs by the Boston Red Sox, though his team managed to win 17-11. Baldwin lasted for only two outs in his second start after giving up five runs and was pounded by the Detroit Tigers for four home runs in his next turn. The White Sox shipped him back to Nashville the next day. He wasn’t much better there, however, losing his last six games along with his confidence. “There was one night in Indianapolis,” Baldwin remembered. “I was on the mound, getting knocked around again, and I looked into the dugout. I almost walked off for good right there and then. So frustrated. So lost.”[II]

He returned to Pinehurst after the season. “I got down on myself, but my mother, Lucille, and my little boy (James III was four at the time) got me through it,” he said “I knew I still had my family. No one could take that away from me.”[iii]

The road back to the majors started in Venezuela where Baldwin played that winter. “I went there to sort things out,” he remembered. “I had a lot of support in America, from a lot of friends I made with the Sox, but I didn’t need any more advice, as much as I appreciated it. I needed to get up on my own two feet, relax and start over. I needed to be a man about things.”[IV]

Though he began the 1996 season in Nashville, Baldwin was summoned to Chicago in late April to replace an injured starter. He won eight games before the All-Star break but faltered afterwards. His 11-6 record, however, was good enough for second place behind the New York Yankees’ Jeter in the balloting for Rookie of the Year.

Baldwin became a reliable, but erratic, starter for the White Sox over the next five seasons, acquiring a reputation as a second-half pitcher. He had, for instance, a combined 7-12 before the All-Star break in 1998 and ’99 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and was 18-7 after the break with a 3.61 ERA. “I wish we could figure him out,” moaned Ron Schueler, the team’s general manager.[V]

The 2000 season was the exception. He was 11-4 at the midway point and was chosen to the American League All-Star team He pitched almost as well in the second half, but injuries sidelined him for almost two months. He finished 14-6. He had surgery after the season to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder and to repair his rotator cuff.

He was never the same pitcher. The White Sox traded him the Los Angeles Dodger midway through the 2001 season. Baldwin signed with eight different clubs over the next five years, appearing in games for five of them, mostly out of the bullpen. He retired after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2006.

Baldwin returned to Pinehurst to become the pitching coach at his high school where he helped his son, James, develop into a centerfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010. The youngster played six years in the minors.

Baldwin was also a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

He and his wife, Sharon, live in Pinehurst.

Footnote
[1] Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, retired from basketball in 1993. He surprised the sports world early the following year by signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent two years in the club’s minor leagues, advancing as far as Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, where he hit .202 and struck out 114 times. He quit in March 1995 because he feared Chicago would promote him to the majors as a replacement player during the player’ strike that season.

References
[I] Sullivan, Paul. “2nd Time up, Baldwin a Cut Above.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1996.
[II] Verdi, Bob. “Baldwin’s Gains Far Outweigh Friday’s Pain.” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1996.
[III] Sullivan
[IV] Verdi
[V] Sullivan, Paul. “Baldwin Again Tries to Put It All Together.” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2000.

 

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.