Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Jeff Stone

Name: Jeffrey Glen Stone
Position: Outfielder
Born: December 26, 1960 in Kennett, Missouri
Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent on August 26, 1979
Phillies Debut: September 9, 1983
Final Phillies Game: October 4, 1987
Uniform Numbers: 26, 14
Career Elsewhere: Orioles (1988), Rangers (1989), Red Sox (1989-90)

About Jeff Stone: Occasionally on these Random Past Phillies posts, you see a feature on a player who was once considered to be a "can't-miss" prospect. Though scouting and player projection is an inexact science in all sports, there are those prospects who come along and seemingly possess the skill set necessary to make it big at the highest level. While those projections can often prove to be right on the money, there's a fairly good amount of "can't-miss" prospects who, well, miss. It can be a case of work habits or talent not translating to the big league level. Sometimes a player may not fit in with a coach or manager's scheme of things, and eventually falls out of favor. Or the experience and expectations could just be a little too overwhelming for a young player to handle, ultimately getting the best of him.

Few Phillies prospects from the past generation or so have been as highly-touted as Jeff Stone, a lightning-fast outfielder from rural Missouri who the organization hoped would be part of the next generation of stars to replace the aging core from the club's mid 1970s-early 1980s glory days. Stone got off to a brilliant start with the Phils, but a puzzling turn in the wrong direction that coincided with a managerial change damaged his career and reputation, stigmas from which he never recovered. Instead, Stone is perhaps best remembered for his malaprops, which, though possibly exaggerated were always good for a chuckle. They also seemed to imply that Stone was not a man of great intelligence and also impacted his reputation.

Jeff Stone's journey in professional baseball began when the Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent on August 26, 1979. Primarily a pitcher in high school, it was decided that Stone's legs and not his 90-mph fastball would be his ticket to The Show, so he was converted to a full-time outfielder. Stone made his pro debut in 1980, hitting .261 while stealing 32 bases in 55 games for Central Oregon of the Northwest League. That was nothing compared to what he did in 134 games for Spartanburg of the South Atlantic League in 1981, when he hit .277 while stealing 123 bases in 136 attempts. Moving up to the Carolina League in 1982, Stone hit .297 with 13 triples and 94 steals in 137 games. The climb up the organizational ladder took Stone to Reading in 1983, where in addition to batting .317 with 10 triples and 90 stolen bases in 125 games, Stone hit 25 doubles and nine home runs while driving in 67. Looking for some speed off the bench in their push to the postseason, the Phillies decided to make Stone one of their September callups in '83.

Jeff Stone made his MLB debut on September 9, 1983, appearing as a pinch-runner for Bo Diaz in the ninth inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium and immediately recording his first career stolen base. That scenario that repeated itself in his next appearance three nights later, when he ran for Joe Morgan in the seventh inning of a game against the New York Mets at Veterans Stadium. Stone would get his first at-bat on September 13, reaching on a bunt single as a pinch-hitter for Tony Ghelfi. His only other plate appearances would come in the season's next-to-last game on October 1 against the Pirates at the Vet. In that game, Stone had two hits in three at-bats, both of which were triples, and recorded three RBI. The last two came in the eighth inning, plating Von Hayes and Darren Daulton with the decisive runs in a 5-3 victory. In all, Stone appeared in nine games for the National League Champion Phillies in 1983, collecting three hits in four at-bats while stealing four bases.

Stone began the 1984 season with Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .307 with 15 doubles, 14 triples, seven home runs, 34 RBI and 33 stolen bases in 82 games. Mixed in were a couple of stints with the parent club, and Stone didn't disappoint, hitting a phenomenal .362 with 27 steals in 51 games. Though the Phillies slumped to 81-81 in '84, there was great optimism for the future. The young trio of Stone, Von Hayes, and Juan Samuel were expected to terrorize National League pitchers at the plate on on the basepaths while Mike Schmidt and Glenn Wilson would supply the power to knock them in. With John Felske taking over the managerial reigns from the retired Paul Owens, a new age of Philadelphia Phillies baseball was dawning. Seeing this as an opportunity, this new era was dubbed the "Stone Age" by the team's marketing department.

Though the Phillies got off to a disastrous 1-8 start in 1985, the campaign began promisingly enough for Stone, who kept his batting average near the .300 mark for most of the season's first month. He'd soon hit a slump, however, one that he couldn't seem to shake. Felske constantly tinkered with Stone's approach, offering sharp criticism whenever the player struggled to grasp what his manager was telling him. This was a sharp contrast to Owens, who felt the best instruction for Stone was "You see the ball, you hit it, and you run." With his average at .250, Stone was sent back to the minors in mid-June, not returning to the Phils until late August. In 88 games for the parent club in '85, Stone hit .265 with three home runs, 11 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. The stress of the situation caused him many sleepless nights. After one particularly rough game against the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, a teammate advised Stone to count sheep in order to fall asleep. Stone's reply was, "They don't have sheep in Pittsburgh."

After spending the first six weeks of the 1986 season in the minors, Stone rejoined the Phillies in mid-May and stayed with the club for the remainder of the campaign. He hit .277 with six home runs, 19 RBI, and 19 steals in 82 games with the Phils. Stone had two stints with both the Phillies and "AAA" Maine Guides in 1987, batting .256 in 66 games at the MLB level. Felske was fired in June of '87 and replaced by Lee Elia, but by this time it was apparent that Stone was no longer part of the organization's future plans. He went to Spring Training with the Phils in 1988, but his tenure with the club came to an end on March 21, when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles along with infielder Rick Schu and outfielder Keith Hughes in exchange for outfielder Mike Young and pitcher Frank Bellino. A trade is always an opportunity for a fresh start, but it ended up being a nightmare for Stone in Baltimore. The Orioles lost their first 21 games of the 1988 season en route to a 54-107 finish while Stone managed just one hit in his first 32 at-bats en route to a .164 average in 26 games before being released following the campaign.

Stone signed on with the Texas Rangers for the 1989 season, where he was called up to the big club after a brief stint with Oklahoma City. He'd appear in 22 games for the Rangers, batting .167 before having his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox in late June. The Red Sox made Stone a September callup, where he hit .200 in 18 games before releasing him shortly after the season ended only to be re-signed a couple months later. He was again a September callup in 1990, appearing in 10 games but making just two plate appearances. Stone made is mark this time, though, delivering a walkoff single in the ninth inning of a 7-6 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on September 28, helping propel the Red Sox to the American League East title. To describe how good the hit felt, he remarked that he was on "Cloud 10" in a postgame interview.

That single turned out to be the final hit of Stone's MLB career. He was again released and later re-signed by the Red Sox following the '90 season, but did not make it back to the parent club in 1991. Stone's pro career ended after spending time in the organizations of the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, and Phillies in 1992, not reaching the Major Leagues with any club. His only other professional baseball experience beyond that was in 1995, when he was a replacement player for the Phillies during Spring Training while the regulars were out on strike.

In addition to the aforementioned quotes, there are several others attributed to Stone, the validity of which may be up for debate. Among the best known are replying that he didn't drink after being asked at a restaurant if he wanted a shrimp cocktail; leaving his TV behind upon returning home from winter ball because it only had Spanish stations; and asking if the moon in the city where he was playing was the same as the one he saw back home in Missouri.

Personal Recollection: All or most of my memories of Jeff Stone don't involve anything he did on a baseball field. I was just a couple weeks past my third birthday when he debuted for the Phillies and by the time I really started to follow the team, he was pretty much an organizational afterthought. While I was familiar with the name, I can't really recall much of anything about him playing.

My main memory of Stone comes from That Ball's Outta Here: The Mike Schmidt Story, which was a video the Phillies released in 1987 to commemorate Schmidt hitting his 500th home run. Produced by Dan Stephenson and narrated by Glenn Wilson (who was Schmidt's best friend on the club), it was a video diary of sorts, running from Spring Training of 1987 through April 18 of that year, which was the day Michael Jack connected off Don Robinson of the Pirates for number 500. Included are a couple of career montages, set to the tune of "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King and "Forever" by Kenny Loggins as well as clips from Spring Training and the club's annual golf outing with "I'm Alright" by Kenny Loggins aka the theme from Caddyshack providing the soundtrack. Excellent stuff if you've seen it, some of Video Dan's best work. Too bad it was never converted to DVD.

Anyway, back to Jeff Stone. Another part of this video featured Phillies players and fans predicting how Harry Kalas would call Schmidt's 500th home run. As you can imagine, most of the impersonations were pretty poor, though quite entertaining. The fan impersonations that stick out were a heavyset black guy with Jheri curls whose call ended with, "IT'S A HOME RUN! THE 500 HITTER!" and a couple of obnoxious (and possibly inebriated) white yuppie types. Among the players, Juan Samuel did an outstanding Harry impersonation if you can get past the accent ("Deeeeep fly baaaaallll, left field, that's OUTTA HEEEERE, HONRUN MIKE SCHMIDT!) and Glenn Wilson's was pretty good, too, if you can imagine Harry having a high-pitched Texas twang instead of his Midwestern baritone. Stone's, however, had me in stitches every time I saw it: "Swing and a long drive, might be outta here! It is! Ho' run numa fi' hunit fo' Mica Jack Smit!"

There was another part too, where the Phillies were on a bus trip to an away exhibition game. One of the players (it may have been Steve Jeltz) needed some money for whatever reason, and Schmidt offered him a loan. After the offer was accepted, Schmidt pulled out his wallet and proclaimed, "Smackas is arrived!" Stone was sitting behind Schmidt and his take on the situation was, "Yowza, yowza, yowza! Today must be my lucky day!"

I'd read about how badly Stone had struggled under John Felske after thriving with Paul "The Pope" Owens at the helm. Pope always had a great feel on how to handle players, sort of like how Charlie Manuel is now. It's true that you manage 25 different players and you have to adapt as much to them as they have to you. Lots of players had trouble with Felske in this regard, so it's probably not a huge shock he didn't get another managerial job after the Phillies fired him. Owens was also critical of how Felske handled Stone. Of course, Stone wasn't necessarily the brightest player around and even admitted that he never got a whole lot of instruction along the way, more or less being told to just go out and play. Not a whole lot of give or take from either side there. The quotes that supposedly came from Stone played a factor in all this, too. While they likely meant to be endearing, it more or less backfired and played into his reputation as a guy who was unintelligent and difficult to coach. Maybe Stone's career would've turned out the same way had Owens stayed on as manager, maybe not. We'll never know for sure.

That's my story on Jeff Stone. Feel free to share your own recollections.

3 comments:

  1. Career stats for Jeff Stone: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/S/Pstonj001.htm

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  2. Stone was a fun player as a Phil; I have a game winning pinch hit homer in San Fran on video of his with Whitey and Harry calling it. He was a security guard who asked his boss's permission to return to the Phils as a replacement player. Better player with more tools than Dom Brown. Lifetime .277 hitter who caught the ball.

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  3. I met Jeff Stone in 1983 I was a college student in Philadelphia. I spent some time with him on a personal level. He was not dumb. He had great insight into people and he was very very sweet. A fault he had was that he was too trusting.
    He let the wrong people handle his finances. He was an amazing athlete who would have been an all star with the right coaching and direction.

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