Andruw's mission to prove doubters wrong
Veteran outfielder aims for resurgence with White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The answers came forth in a clear and confident manner, suggesting the sort of bravado belonging to a five-time All-Star and a 10-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner.
Look a little closer at Andruw Jones, as he stands in front of his locker at the Camelback Ranch clubhouse for the White Sox, and something else is present in the picture. It's a small, basically imperceptible chip sitting squarely on the veteran's shoulders, one placed there by numerous doubters around Major League Baseball, a chip which Jones intends to knock off through 2010's comeback effort.
"I know I have a lot of gas left in my tank to go out there and perform on a regular basis," said Jones, following an unofficial workout almost one week before he's due to report. "I just have to put it together.
"It's not for showing people I still can play. It's just for myself, to go out there and continue to play this game I love."
Back at SoxFest in late January, when Jones missed the event to make sure he stayed on his regular workout routine, rumors swirled that one of the most dynamic players in baseball from 1998-2006 would be reporting to Arizona in phenomenal physical condition. Those reports didn't really do Jones justice.
Through hard work and dedication from the beginning of November, the lean and powerful Jones looks somewhat like the rookie who announced his presence in Atlanta with three postseason home runs, including two in the 1996 World Series against the Yankees. And remember, Jones turns a mere 33 on April 23.
He's not old by any stretch of the imagination. With 14 big league seasons under his belt, many pundits believe Jones' skill-set has lived on past its shelf life. Jones strongly disagrees, as do the White Sox, who brought in Jones at what could be the bargain rate of $500,000 for one season on Nov. 25.
"They wanted me to come and that's why I signed right away," said Jones, the rare Scott Boras-represented free agent to join the White Sox over the past two or three years. "You can see around the league, a lot of guys that had great years, they don't have a job still.
"For them to come and tell me, 'Hey, get in shape and you'll get a chance to play every day,' that motivated me more to go out and work hard. I needed to get my body right so I can play every day."
The last everyday run for Jones came in 2007 for Atlanta. Jones moved to the Dodgers prior to the 2008 campaign on a two-year, $36 million deal, arguably one of the shakier free-agent signings in recent memory based on results. Jones batted .158 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 75 games for Los Angeles, before Jones and the Dodgers reworked his contract in January '09.
His release from the Dodgers came on Jan. 15, 2009, with as much as $12 million being deferred over six years without interest. Jones hooked on with the Rangers for the 2009 campaign, agreeing to a deal similar to the one with the White Sox.
According to Jones, he has been judged harshly because of that one bad season with the Dodgers. He also battled various right knee problems in 2008, including torn cartilage that required surgery and patellar tendinitis, but refuses to use those maladies as an excuse for failure.
Truth be told, Jones became a little complacent once he arrived on the West Coast. The 10th-ranking home run hitter among active players at 388 realizes now he had a valuable lesson to learn.
"When you go to different stages of life and the game, you just get carried away a little bit," Jones said. "I was so comfortable in Atlanta for so many years, doing the same thing, knowing what to do. When I got to different teams, everything kind of changed.
"Everything just kind of went a different way and everybody was like, 'He basically lost it.' I can be honest with you, I felt like I lost it. But there were a lot of things going through my mind. I was trying to please everybody and didn't just go out there and play the game and have fun. That was the main thing. It didn't click."
Following the 2008 knee surgery, Jones said full range of motion in his knee didn't come back until the next offseason. That particular physical improvement, coupled with the great work Jones said he did last year with then-Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, helped Jones bounce back to hit 17 home runs and drive in 43.
That new American League opportunity still resulted in a .214 average, no home runs after July 29 and just 18 at-bats in September. Jones rarely played the field for Texas, with 53 of his 74 starts coming as DH.
Don't tell one of the all-time greats in center he can't play defense, though. Give him a chance, Jones calmly states, and see what happens. It's a mantra perhaps the veteran should print up on shirts or place above his locker as he readies himself for a White Sox rejuvenation.
"Whatever plan they've got for me, I'm going to be ready to go for it," Jones said. "I kept telling Ozzie the whole offseason, 'I'm great to play every day. I'm going to come in shape and I'm going to be ready.' He said, 'Come in shape and we'll see what happens.'
"To not get a chance to be consistent every day, I think that kind of hurt my average a little bit. It gave me motivation and when the season was over, I already had my plan of what I wanted to do. As soon as December started, I got on it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.