James Murrell Jones
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 197 lb.
- Debut September 20, 1941
- Final Game September 19, 1948
- Born November 23, 1920 in Epps, LA USA
- Died December 13, 2000 in Epps, LA USA
Jake Jones played eight years in Organized Baseball, five of them in the majors, interrupted by three years of notable military service. He led one minor league in homers and was once traded for a major star.
Pre-World War II Career
Jones broke in with the 1939 Monroe White Sox, hitting .321 with 14 HR and 103 RBI, third-most in the Cotton States League. In 1940, Jones batted .301 with 16 HR and 75 RBI for the Shreveport Sports and was sixth in the Texas League in homers. Remaining with Shreveport, Jake hit .284 with 24 HR and 82 RBI in 1941. He led the TL in homers, three more than runner-up Jerry Witte. That earned him his first shot at the majors and he went 0-for-11 for the 1941 Chicago White Sox.
Returning to Shreveport in 1942, Jones batted .286 with 6 HR and 18 RBI. He was 3 for 20 with 2 walks and a double for the 1942 White Sox as well before embarking on his military career.
World War Two Service and Accomplishments
Jones is unique among major-league baseball players. Although several baseball players were combat pilots in World War II and the Korean War (including Ted Williams, Buddy Lewis, Jerry Coleman, Lloyd Merriman, and Elmer Gedeon), Jones is the only one who became an ace, by shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.
Jones joined the US Navy on June 30, 1942. He became a naval aviator, and was commissioned as an Ensign on August 1, 1943. Assigned to VF-3 in November 1943, he served with the unit on the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, flying Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters.
Jones scored his first victory on November 14, 1944, downing a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero over the Philippines. He followed this with another Zero destroyed, and one damaged, exactly a month later, on December 14.
On February 1, 1945, he was tranferred to VBF-3, continuing to fly Grumman F6F-5s. On February 16, 1945, he shot down three Zeroes on a mission NE of Tokyo, to give him five confirmed victories, and make him an ace. The next day he added another Zero, and a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa. His final claim came on February 25, when he received a half-share of a probable Ki-43.
His final score was seven destroyed, 0.5 probable, and one damaged. Jones was awarded the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Medals, and two strike/flight Air Medals.
Post-WW II Career
After his return from the war, Jones played the rest of his career wearing the uniform number "3", which was also the numerical designation of his US Navy units.
Jones returned to the major leagues in 1946, hitting .266/.284/.468 in 24 games with the White Sox in 1946 for a 111 OPS+. He hit 19 homers and drove in 96 for the White Sox and Boston Red Sox in 1947 (after being traded straight up for Rudy York), batting .237/.306/.386 as a regular at first base. He tied Mickey Vernon for fifth in the 1947 AL in games played (154), was sixth in at-bats (575), 7th in home runs (one behind Joe DiMaggio), 4th in RBI (two behind Tommy Henrich and one behind DiMaggio) and 4th in strikeouts (85). Despite his impressive power, his low OBP left him with an OPS+ below 100. He was a dead-pull hitter who took great advantage of Fenway Park's Green Monster. He took an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, often looking overmatched when he missed, but very dangerous when he did make contact. Unusual for this type of player, Jones was actually a fine defensive first baseman, who was renowned for his agility and ability to stretch to snag throws from infielders.
Joe McCarthy came in to manage the Boston Red Sox in 1948 and immediately set about making changes to the line-up. Jones was one of the victims, as he was relegated to a platoon role at first base, sharing time with Stan Spence, a converted outfielder acquired from the Washington Senators over the off-season. Then, a few weeks into the season, McCarthy installed Billy Goodman as his full-time first baseman, moving Spence back to the outfield and leaving Jones without a job. Jones hit .200/.276/.267 in just 36 games in what was his final MLB season.
In 1949, Jake finished his career by batting .258 with 8 HR and 25 RBI for the San Antonio Missions and .237 with 10 HR and 44 RBI for the Louisville Colonels. He then returned to his Louisiana hometown, where he owned a 400-acre cotton farm and started an airborne crop-dusting business. When the Korean War broke out, he was recalled to service and served as a flight instructor.
Sources include Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database
- Dick Thompson: "Ace: The Jake Jones Story", in The National Pastime, SABR, Volume 28 (2008), pp. 87-93.