May 13, 2011
The Philadelphia Stars took on the Chicago American Giants in the 1934 Negro National League Championship. It was a highly emotional and controversial Series. The Chicago American Giants got to host the first 4 games, winning three. The teams came back to Philly, where the Stars won Games 5 and 6 (interestingly, all of the Philly games were played on what is now West Philly High’s baseball field.) Game 7 was called of darkness with the two teams tied at 4, a finish only Bud Selig could appreciate. So the teams played a Game 8 the next day.
On the hill for the Stars was their 21-year old phenom, Slim Jones. Jones was 6’6″ and all of 180 pounds, and his season had been nothing short of spectacular. He had finished the year with over 20 wins (his exact record is disputed) with a 2.23 RA (data on earned runs in many Negro League contests is unavailable, so the easier to determine Runs Allowed is used). Earlier in the season, he had gone toe to toe with legendary pitcher Satchel Paige twice in Yankee Stadium in front of crowds of 30,000 plus. In the first game, Jones battled the immortal Paige to a 1-1 tie that both Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and NY Giants great Monte Irvin called “the greatest game ever played.” (In the 2nd game, Paige bested the lefty, 3-1.)
And now, in Game 8 with the entire season on the line, the slender flamethrower went to work. He allowed a mere 5 hits, and even knocked an RBI double as the Philadelphia Nine shut out the Giants, 2-0, to bring home the only Negro National League pennant the Stars would ever win. Of course, they may have won more if not for Slim’s fatal flaw: the bottle. Jones was a heavy drinker and a hard partier, and by 1935, he was throwing away his immeasurable talent. He reported to the team cocky and out of shape, and finished the year 4-10. He never regained the form that had caused people to predict that he would be the left handed version of Satchel Paige. Jones had one last flash of brilliance, pitching 3 scoreless innings and hitting a home run in the 1935 All-Star game, but his drinking spiraled out of control. The end of Jones’s sad tale comes from an excellent article where I got a lot of this info on a site called Simply Baseball.
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.