The story of Slim Jones mirrors that of a
Greek tragedy. Blessed with a remarkable ability that was equaled only by a tragic flaw, Jones shone and disappeared
like a comet streaking across the dark sky of Negro League baseball during the 1930s.
Tabbed as the
left handed version of Satchel Paige, Jones seemingly came out of nowhere to challenge Paige's throne as the blackball's top
hurler and number one attraction. In fact for one season he not only shared that high perch, but it could be argued
that he occupied it alone. Jones found success to be a difficult beast to tame however, as a drinking problem led to
an early grave.
of Jones' life are sketchy, even the seemingly endless flow of information known as the Internet yields little insight. He was born on May 6, 1913 in Baltimore as Stuart Jones, there is no mystery, however,
surrounding the reason he picked up the nickname Slim - by the time he reached adulthood Jones was a pipe cleaner-like 6-6
Jones career on the diamond began as a softball player in the early 1930s. After making the transition to hardball
with ease, the lanky left-hander debuted with the Baltimore Black Sox in 1932. He failed to stick with the team that
season, but came back in 1933 and posted a respectable 4-2 record. After a league leading 210 strikeouts in the Puerto
Rican Winter League, Jones entered the 1934 season with the Philadelphia Stars ready to make his mark.
Few pitchers in history have enjoyed the success that Slim Jones did in 1934.
During that summer the flame-throwing southpaw was unhittable, posting a 32-4 overall record, 23-3 in league play. His
2-0 blanking of the Chicago American Giants clinched the Negro National League (NNL) title. Yet even with these accomplishments,
Jones is most famous for his duels with the legendary Satchel Paige that season.
Neither pitcher had their best stuff during their first showdown on
May 20, but Jones' Stars prevailed with a lackluster 10-5 win. Their paths would cross again at a four-team charity
benefit double header at Yankee Stadium following the season.
In front of over 30,000 people, Jones pitched
six perfect innings as the Stars led Paige's Crawfords 1-0 entering the 7th. Pittsburgh's Oscar Charleston broke up
the perfect game in the 7th and the Crawfords tied the game with two hits in the 8th. The Stars threatened to score
in the 9th, but Paige ended the inning with two straight strikeouts. The game was called due to darkness, and fittingly,
ended in a tie.
The two titans
squared off again a month later at the same venue. Before the game, popular entertainer and owner of the New York Black
Yankees, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, presented Paige and Jones with travel bags in honor of their efforts in the "greatest
game ever played." But act two lacked the same drama, as Paige bested Jones 3-1.
1934 marked the beginning and the end of Jones' good fortune. Known for his drinking and free spending, the fast
living pitcher drained his bank account and liquor bottles with amazing speed. By the time the 1935 All Star break rolled
around he was in financial trouble, and despite not having won a single game that season, held out for more money. He
would eventually cave in and return to the mound, finishing the season with a disappointing 4-10 record.
Over the next two seasons Jones pitched sporadically, compiling a meager 6-4 record.
In the winter of 1938, penniless and with a burnt-out arm, Jones petitioned the Stars for a salary advance. His request
was denied, bringing his life to nothing more than a constant search for his next drink.
In an act of desperation Jones sold his coat to buy a bottle of whiskey.
On one particularly cold night the former phenom collapsed, falling to the street in a drunken stupor and froze to death.
He was just twenty-five years old.
Just as quickly as Slim Jones had rocketed
to stardom, he was sent tumbling back to earth, landing with a tragic thud.
-David Zingler, March 2003
Note: The details of Jones demise are somewhat murky. Some accounts say he died in Philadelphia early in 1939, others
claim it was Baltimore in December 1938. Despite those discrepancies, the cause of his death is recorded fairly consistently.