Jones takes over Pigs
New IronPigs manager Gary Jones made his first visit to the Lehigh Valley recently, but it somehow felt somewhat familiar to him. Jones last served in baseball as the third base coach of the Chicago Cubs, managed by Joe Maddon. The Cubs manager may be the most famous resident of Hazleton and Jones said that his old boss talked often about his hometown and the Lehigh Valley.
“He often talked about being home and how much he loved this area,” said Jones. “He talked about the people, how beautiful the area was. You could tell he had a special spot for this area.”
After winning the World Series in 2016, the Cubs made it as far as the National League Championship last season, where they lost to the Dodgers. Following the loss, Maddon was told by team management to clean house where his coaches were concerned and Jones, just one year after being fitted for a World Series ring, was unemployed.
Don’t feel too badly for Jones though, because in many ways, while he makes the step down from the majors to Triple-A baseball, he’s where he wants to be.
“Even when I was playing, I knew that I wanted to be a manager someday,” said Jones, 57. “I’ve done a lot of other things and it was special to be the third base coach in a World Series, but there’s something about managing that I’ve always had in my blood, it’s what I’ve wanted to do.”
Jones didn’t wait long after his playing career to start on the path toward managing. When he retired following the 1989 season, Jones went right into managing as a 29-year old manager of the Arizona League Athletics. The next season, he managed in A-ball and took Midland to a 77-61 first place finish and was awarded the Midwest Manager of the Year Award. His first championship as a manager came in 1994 with the Huntsville Stars, who won the Double-A Southern League Championship and Jones was the league’s Manager of the Year.
Eventually, Jones managed Pawtucket in the International League and has worked in player development for various teams before being hired by former Cubs manager Rich Renteria to be the team’s third base coach. When Maddon replaced Renteria, he retained Jones.
Perhaps one reason why Jones likes managing at the Triple-A level is that he has the chance to have a conversation with players that none of his managers were ever able to have with him.
“There’s something special about telling a young man that he’s done well here and now it’s time for him to go to the big leagues; especially when it’s his first trip to the majors. That smile on their face, that look that they get, it’s special. I enjoy that,” said Jones, who played eight seasons of minor league ball for the Cubs and A’s, including 260 games at Triple-A, but never got the call to the big leagues.
As for managing at Lehigh Valley, Jones is ready to get going.
“Joe Jordan [Phillies player development director] told me about how great the fans are here and about how they come out to the games and cheer on their players, so I’m looking forward to seeing that,” said Jones, who said his first impression of Coca-Cola Park is that it’s an impressive place even with snow covering the field at the time of his visit.
The Phillies and IronPigs teamed up on the annual team banquet at the Sands Casino recently to raise money for IronPigs charities. Jones, along with new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler were on hand, as were GM Matt Klentak and former IronPigs Nick Williams and Mark Leiter Jr.
Williams found himself working out with another former Cub, Jake Arrieta, who little did he know was going to be a future teammate. Williams talked up the Phillies to Arrieta, but doesn’t consider himself to be a recruiter for the team.
“I don’t handle the money,” laughed Williams. “We have talked about the team though and I told him how much I like the guys on this team and that we’re headed in the right direction.”