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Baltimore Orioles made right decision in ‘retiring’ Adam Jones, now they should take next step and hire him

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Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE — There were plenty of good feelings — and also a touch of irony — during Friday’s ceremony to honor longtime Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones at Camden Yards.

Jones, now 38, signed a one-day contract with the organization to ceremonially retire as an Oriole, roughly five years after he last played for them and two seasons since his career ended with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League.

“Baltimore has a special part in my heart,” said Jones, who made five All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves and participated in three postseasons with the Orioles from 2008-2018. “Still, I consistently watched Orioles games everywhere I was at, even in Japan. It’s just something that is ingrained to me.”

Jones, the organization’s best and most popular player this century, left in 2018 with a bitter taste due to the way he was treated in his final months with the franchise. The organization was miffed that he vetoed a deal to the Philadelphia Phillies at the 2018 trade deadline – his right as a player with 10 years of service time and five with the same club – limited his playing time at the end of that season and never reached out after his contract expired.

The sides clearly were estranged, and when the Orioles hosted a 30-year anniversary celebration of Camden Yards last year, Jones wasn’t on the initial guest list, despite homering more at the stadium than any other player in its history. He didn’t attend the event.

Jones didn’t return until this season, when he has been back a couple times, including as a “guest splasher” in the left field “Splash Zone.” All seems good now.

“Business is business. …  I’m not the first person to exit a franchise not the way that I guess everybody expected to,” Jones said. “You’re not gonna always see eye to eye with your employers, the people you work with. But at the end of the day, we’re respectful grown men and we can shake each other’s hands and say, ‘Hey, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But it’s past us. Let’s move on to the future and see what we can build after that.’”

What the old Adam Jones would have thought about the hoopla

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Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Friday’s true irony, however, is that a retirement ceremony and a post-career celebration is the last thing the Adam Jones I covered would have wanted. His favorite phrase during that time – his favorite I could print, anyway – was “eyewash.” He hated all things that were associated with image-polishing, whether it was staged community events or false hustle for the cameras.

Jones is about as real as an All-Star ballplayer gets. He was almost always available to the media, and he presented all sides of his personality, from hilarious to gregarious to moody to sullen. It was easy to like him – even when he was testy – and it was impossible not to respect him, because he was continually accountable to his teammates, the media, the fans.

Jones was often a better interview when he and the team didn’t play well than when he had a huge game and was asked to talk about himself.

So why would he accept an offer to come back and officially “retire” with all this eyewash hoopla, including a press conference, and the return of several teammates, including Nick Markakis and Chris Davis?

Part of it has to do with where Jones is in life. He’s closing in on 40 and his boys are now 9 and 7. They don’t remember their dad roaming center field at Camden Yards. He wanted them to be part of this, and they were. The three ran from the bullpen, through center field, and toward the mound during the pregame ceremony, with Jones stopping for a moment, crouching and exaggeratingly catching his breath, to the glee of the sold-out crowd of 43,359, some wearing Friday’s “Adam Jones T-shirt” giveaway.

This goes beyond family legacy, though, because Jones is also one of savviest players I’ve covered; he knows this is an organization on the rise and he knows he’s still beloved here. And, frankly, he knows he could bring a certain level of experience, community involvement and skills that the front office could use.

He’s doing other things right now; he’s part of a local Baltimore sports podcast and he’s a member of MLB’s Commissioner’s Ambassador Program, roaming the globe while spreading the gospel of baseball internationally. He also continues to be a hero in Baltimore’s inner-city community as someone who gave back, especially to the city’s Boys & Girls Club and YMCA.

How Adam Jones can benefits Orioles’ front office

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Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Jones has no interest in being a coach, but he’s always been intrigued by being part of an organization, a decision-making front office member. And, sitting next to Orioles’ vice president Mike Elias at the Orioles’ conference Friday, Jones joked and tapped Elias when asked about any future plans.

“Anything with the Orioles? Haha, here’s your man,” Jones said, pointing to Elias. “You’ve got to ask him.”

Jones added: “To be involved in a franchise would be awesome. Who wouldn’t want to work for any franchise? Especially a player, obviously, that has such roots here. … The reach that you can have, the impact that you can have in the community and the organization. Actually, it’s a match made perfect, but I love what I do right now with the CAP program.”

He then quickly added that his work with the commissioner’s office is not all-consuming: “It does open me to other jobs. Since I’m an independent contractor.”

Everyone laughed. Including Elias. For his part, Elias seems to get what Jones means to the organization and its fans, even though Elias joined the Orioles after Jones’ contact ran out in 2018. With fan interest soaring now for the first time since before Jones left, Elias knows that this is the perfect time to combine success of the past with success of the future.

“We’ve got a team that’s fighting to defend first place in the American League East,” Elias said. “We’ve got a booming minor league system, and we’ve got people like this, legends from the past around this team, that come and go, that visit Camden Yards on a regular and irregular basis. And to have Adam be cemented as one of those guys that’s part of the special family around here in a formal way, it’s a really big deal for us. And the timing couldn’t be better with everything going on, on the field and behind the scenes, with the team.”

Whether Friday’s celebration leads to a more concrete role for Jones would be up to club chairman John Angelos.

Angelos currently employs an eight-person “senior leadership team,” which includes Elias, but no former players. It also had no African American representation until this week, when the Orioles announced the hiring of Kerry Watson as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs.

The lack of people of color among the organization’s business leaders in a predominantly black city had been a glaring omission for a team and an owner which preach diversity.

Hiring Jones to a bigger role would add to that presence while providing perspective from a former player, and one of the most important Orioles of the last 30 years.

The organization, under the Angelos family’s leadership, has had a spotty relationship with former players, alienating various former superstars over the years. John Angelos seemed to mend fences with such icons as Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray, but then built new barriers with more recent stars such as Jones, Brady Anderson and manager Buck Showalter.

Friday’s celebration of Jones and his career set the perfect tone. The fans loved it, and Jones, his family and friends did, too. It was a long time in coming, but it finally happened.

Angelos, Elias and the Orioles deserve credit for that.

Now, they need to take it a step further. And get Jones into the fold, not as a handshaking ambassador but as someone who can be an asset as a community and baseball liaison and leader.

Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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