SARASOTA, Fla.—Two men carried a cardboard sign around Ed Smith Stadium on Sunday that read: “Enough Already Sign Adam Jones.”
Though that wasn’t a message to the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose agreement with Jones became known a few hours later, it was an indication of how Orioles fans felt about one of the best players in franchise history.
There was no chance the Orioles were going to re-sign Jones—especially after he invoked his no-trade clause last July to stop a move to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Even if there was a sliver of a chance of Jones returning when spring training began, and there wasn’t, the fine play in the outfield of Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays, plus the signing of Eric Young Jr. and the acquisition of Dwight Smith Jr., made Jones’ return an impossibility.
That won’t stop the fans’ pining for Jones nor their rooting for him.
Interestingly, the Orioles issued Buck Showalter’s No. 26 to pitching coach Doug Brocail this spring, Manny Machado’s No. 13 to first base coach Arnie Beyeler and Zack Britton’s No. 53 to Gregory Infante, a pitcher who hasn’t reported because of health issues.
However, they haven’t issued No. 10.
Jones’ one-year, $3-million contract is a shock to the baseball system. It’s far below what Jones was seeking and raises the possibility that Oriole fans will never see their favorite play another game in Baltimore.
The Orioles face the Diamondbacks in July, but it’s in Phoenix, and at Jones’ age — he’ll be 34 in August — and the way that baseball economics is going, this could be his final season.
While Jones’ numbers in Baltimore were excellent, he’s a step below Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray.
But Jones is at the top of the second tier of Orioles greats, even if he won’t make Cooperstown.
His involvement with Baltimore has been written about often, but it was his accessibility via social media that heightened his popularity.
There was Jones, cheering the Ravens on in zero degree weather on the sideline in Denver during their Super Bowl run—just like you were—even though you were in your living room.
Jones was so popular that he had a burger named for him—the Simply AJ10—at Baltimore’s Abbey Burger Bistro. (kobe beef, pepperjack, avocado, jalapenos, bacon, chili peppers, lettuce, tomato, English muffin with tots and nacho cheese).
Jones was one of the most popular African American athletes in Baltimore history, and in a city with such a large minority population, that was something he cherished.
Though no statistics are kept on it, anecdotally Jones was responsible for a spike in attendance among African Americans, something he noticed and commented on privately.
From 2011-17, Jones was incredibly consistent, hitting 25 or more homers, driving in 73 or more runs, and batting at least .269.
Even last year, the final year of a six-year, $85.5-million contract, wasn’t bad. He hit .281 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs.
Jones hoped that the Orioles would re-sign him, but that wasn’t happening. If that wasn’t, being a coveted free agent would do.
Andrew McCutchen, who’s a year younger than Jones, signed a three-year, $50-million contract with the Phillies early in the offseason, and perhaps Jones thought he could get a similar deal.
But for the second straight offseason, the climate for veterans wasn’t promising, and while there was chatter that there was interest in Jones from Cleveland, San Diego and San Francisco, nothing materialized.
Now, Jones’ career as an Oriole is officially over, and the stats are impressive: fourth in hits (1,781), behind only Ripken, Brooks Robinson and Murray; fifth in home runs (263) and RBIs (875).
Jones could occasionally be a gruff interview, but most of the time, he was welcoming and insightful and often held court before games, commenting on sports, politics or food.
His departure ends a special era of Orioles baseball — one that featured Showalter, Machado, Britton, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, interesting characters all.
They’re all gone now, and Orioles fans can only hope that in the next several years, another player as skilled and charismatic as Jones will be on display. The guess here is that appreciation for Jones’ skills will only deepen in the coming years.