Butler Jones was my cousin and, until I saw Randy Johnson, the person who threw a baseball faster than anyone I had ever seen. Butler died on July 13 at his home in Coopers Plain, New York. He will be sorely missed.
Butler was two years older than I am and a very good friend his entire life. We played baseball together, hunted and fished and explored the area around Sardis, Mississippi where we were both raised until my family moved to Arizona in 1947.
My father was a lineman on the Illinois Central Railroad and took a disability retirement that year. Most of our family returned to visit relatives in Mississippi almost yearly. That is a practice we continue to this day. In fact, my brother and I had just returned from such a visit when news of Butler's passing arrived.
Butler Jones was a high school phenomena in the early 1950s and a sought after prospect. Unfortunately, he was "guilty" of bad timing. When he graduated, Major League Baseball was operating under a very restrictive "bonus baby" rule. If a team signed a player for more than $5,000, that player had to be on the major league team's roster for a season or more. Butler signed for one dollar less than the amount that would have required the Boston Red Sox to keep him on their roster rather than work at developing his considerable natural ability in the minors.
The great Sandy Koufax of the then Brooklyn Dodgers spent several wasted seasons at the major league level, before getting his chance to shine. Many opine that he would have been even better if provided more developmental coaching in the minors.
Another unfortunate break for Butler was the military draft, which was still in effect in those closing days of the Korean War. He was drafted into the army and sent to Alaska. He pitched for an army team there and sustained an arm injury from which he never fully recovered. The year before he was drafted, he had enjoyed a sensational year at Salisbury, North Carolina and seemed destined for a quick rise to the top of his profession.
After the service, there were a number of stops for Butler, many of which I have forgotten. He pitched in such places as Bluefield, West Virginia and Waterloo, Iowa. His final assignment was in Corning, New York.
Though his career ended there, Corning may have been Butler's best assignment. He met his wife Judy in Corning and the two enjoyed a loving marriage that lasted until his death. Judy Jones is a very special lady who worked at looking out for Butler's best interest.
The couple had a son William who is now the head basketball coach at Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Phoenix and another child who did not survive infancy.
In the early 1990s, I became excited about an excellent World Series game between Atlanta and Minnesota and wanted to talk to someone about it so much that I decided to call Butler. It was after mid-night in Arizona and after 3 a.m. in New York. My call awakened Judy from a sound sleep. Butler was working nights at the time and was not home. She forgave me, which should show what an understanding wife she was.
One could write a book and still not cover all of the nice things that could and should be said about Butler. He will never be forgotten and there will always be a vacuum where he once stood in my life.
Ironically, a Winslow friend, Pat Kirk, sent me a poem that I saw for the first time while writing this column. The author is Frank W. Brejcha and the prayer he wrote really fits Butler's life.
Brejcha wrote: "Dear God, Help me to be a good sport in this game of life. I don't ask for an easy place in the line-up. Put me anywhere you need me. I only ask that I can give you 100% of all I have.
"If the hard line drives seem to come my way, I thank you for the compliment. Help me to remember that you never send a player more trouble than one can handle.
"Help me, O Lord, to accept the bad breaks as part of the game. And, may I always play the game on the square, no mater what others do. Help me to study the Book so I will know the rules.
"Finally, God, if the natural turn of events goes against me and I'm benched for sickness or old age, please help me to accept that as part of the game, too. Keep me from whimpering and squealing that I was framed or got a raw deal.
And when I finish the final inning, I ask for no laurels. All I want is to believe in my heart that I played as well as I could and that I didn't let You down. Amen."