Richard Justice: Deacon Jones was the very definition of a life well lived

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Trask Smith/CSM/Shutterstock (8862045al) A large Houston Astros logo is lit up above center field during a Major League Baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX. The Angels won the game 9-4 MLB Angels vs Astros, Houston, USA – 09 Jun 2017

Richard Justice: Deacon Jones was the very definition of a life well lived

   Deacon Jones may very well have been the happiest man on earth. No one laughed more or had more friends. No one was ever happier at the ballpark.

   He would mosey down to the field during batting practice and almost immediately spot someone he knew from somewhere. Only he never quite got across the diamond because he would be stopped by players, coaches, managers, broadcasters, groundskeepers, etc.

   Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Tony Gwynn, and Mickey Mantle were four of his prominent friends in the game, but the thing that made him special was that he never met a stranger.

   He made time for every kid, adult, or family, and made all of them feel that the little chat he had with them was the best part of his day. He never forgot a name, and to say everyone loved him would be the understatement of the year.

   His long, wonderful life ended on Sunday. He was 89 and spent the last 68 of those 89 years in the game as either a player, scout, coach, or advisor.

   He played just 40 major league games, all for the White Sox between 1962 and 1966. He spent all or part of 11 seasons in the minor leagues, all for White Sox affiliates, and hit 154 home runs. He batted .409 for the Dubuque Packers in 1956.

   When he played his final game at 35 in 1969, that’s when the real fun started. He worked for the White Sox, Astros, Padres, and Orioles in a variety of roles over the next two decades.

   At one point, the Orioles asked him to be their liaison with the minority communities in and around Baltimore. I always suspected he would have preferred to be in uniform, but he did the job enthusiastically. Contributions of that type are difficult to quantify, but the Orioles surely never had a better ambassador.

   In recent years, he was a special assistant for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. He’d helped Sugar Land get the franchise in the first place, and then promoted the franchise tirelessly with speeches, appearances, and seminars.

   He was a regular in the Sugar Land front offices, opening the door and announcing “Great day to work, can’t beat the hours!”

For the impact he had on the Sugar Land franchise, Jones had his No. 4 retired by Sugar Land, the first jersey retired by the franchise, on August 4, 2019. Plans for a memorial to honor the life and legacy of Deacon are forthcoming.

   “Deacon was an invaluable part of our organization and a close friend to every member of the Sugar Land front office and community,” Space Cowboys general manager Tyler Stamm said. “We’ve lost a pillar of our organization and a dear friend who is wholly responsible for all of us being here. Without Deacon Jones, there would be no Sugar Land franchise.”

    He surely had a hand in Sugar Land setting an Atlantic League attendance record in 2012.

   “Deacon and I were one of the first four employees at the start of the Sugar Land franchise,” said Space Cowboys Assistant General Manager Chris Parsons said in a statement released by the Astros. “He was always someone I could count on to give great advice and answer the phone when I needed; he was considered family to my family.”

   Among his hundreds of stories was the time a chance encounter with Jackie Robinson ended with Jones being urged to attend college before signing a professional contract.

   Years later, Jones saw Robinson at an airport. “I saw these broad shoulders and the greying hair,” Jones recalled, “and I pushed myself around. We got face to face, and I said “Mr. Robinson, you don’t remember me, but about three, four years ago I worked out with the Dodgers…”

   Robinson interrupted me and asked, “Did you go to college?”

   “Yessir,” Jones told him.

   “He hugged me right there in front of a bunch of people,” Jones said.

   When Jones celebrated his 86th birthday three springs ago in pandemic isolation, the Sugar Land front office arranged a drive-by birthday parade in front of his home.

   “It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever had happen to me,” he said. 

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  • Deacon was my first and only hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox.when they con verrted me from pitcher to outfield. He would have me out for Hitting every morning, he called it dawn patrole. He had me swinging the bat until my hands bled. It helped i ended up being the MVP of the all star game in the northern league.He was a great instructor and communicator. I cannot say enough about Deacon. He was one of my best friends, he always made my day. See you again some day. I will miss you!!

  • I was lucky enough to meet Deacon in the 90s for a long-term work project. He was simply a delight to work with, to talk to. I never heard a better motivational speaker and he’s one of the best people I ever met. Rest in power, Deacon.

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