Sunday, October 16, 2005

Oscar Jones

Oscar Jones

Oscar Jones was an enigma for many years.  He pitched three seasons (1903-05) for Brooklyn, compiling a 19-14, 17-25, and 8-15.  Not much was know about Jones, who also pitched in California League, where he had  29 and 36-win seasons, and Pacific Coast Leagues, in which he cobbled together back-to-back 31 and 29-win seasons.  By the time Who’s Who was first published, he had been long out of the majors. Not much was known about him when Ernie Lanigan published his Baseball Cyclopedia in 1922, and remained that way through its twelve editions.  Lanigan gave no biographical information on the Brooklyn pitcher at all, just the name Oscar Jones, without a middle name or initial.

And nothing changed until 1946, when on page 22 of the October 16, 1946 issue of The Sporting News an obituary appeared for a pitcher named Oscar Jones.  The following is the complete note that ran in the Necrology column:

Oscar Jones, who pitched for York and Wilmington in the old Tri-State League, was stricken fatally, October 8, while standing in a meat line at Perkasie, Pa.

In 1951, the Official Encyclopedia of Baseball by Hy Turkin and S. C. Thompson was published for the first time.  They list the pitcher who played the three seasons with the Dodgers as the same person who pitched in the outlaw Tri-State League as the major leaguer.   They, apparently, went so far to get birth records for him, and that appeared in the encyclopedia, along with the addition of a middle name: “Winfield.”

On the surface, it seems all perfectly logical that it is the same person.  After all, how many pitchers named Oscar Jones could there be out there?  

But wait a minute— if it were the same player, why didn’t TSN mention that he had pitched in the majors?  Obituaries usually— at a minimum— mention the highlight of a player’s career, which— for a major leaguer— would not be that of having played in the independent/outlaw Tri-State League.  Nor any mention of his stellar seasons in either the Coast League or the California League.  Pitching in the Coast League would have to rate above standing in a meat line, I should think.  Additionally, The Sporting News always placed its obits in order of importance, rather than alphabetically, for instance.  Oscar Jones is at the bottom of the column that week.  

Nevertheless, the Oscar Jones remained in all the incarnations of the Turkin and Thompson encyclopedias, was picked and included in the first Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, and continued through its last edition, and also through the next to last edition of the Total Baseball Encyclopedia.  

Tomorrow I will finish my story of Oscar Jones.


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