Power pitchers like Toothpick Sam Jones are an enigma. They can overpower and rack up a high total of strikeouts, but can also be erratic and issue too many walks. Jones was a high strikeout pitcher but also issued a truckload of walks, which made his baseball career a voyaging one. He rarely wore the same uniform for multiple seasons.
Jones, nicknamed Toothpick Sam because he always had a splint of wood in his teeth, was a light-skinned African American who pitched briefly in the old Negro Leagues before making his way to the Majors. Sam got his first look with the Indians in 1951 and appeared in fourteen games for the Tribe in 1952. During the latter campaign, Toothpick Sam averaged a walk an inning. Due to his poor command, he was banished to the minors to gain control of his offerings.
While in the minors with Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs felt so highly of him that they send Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner to the Tribe to obtain his services. The Cubs put Jones in their rotation in 1955 and he overpowered NL batters by pacing the senior circuit with 198 strikeouts. Despite leading the NL in losses, Toothpick Sam made the All-Star squad given his proficiency for the strikeout and his ability to miss bats. Jones averaged a stingy 0.723 hits per inning; superior to Hall of Famers Warren Spahn (1.012), Robin Roberts (0.957) and Whitey Ford (0.740).
With the Cubs in 1956, Toothpick Sam notched his second strikeout title by fanning a league best 176 batters. But with consecutive years of 100+ walks, the Cubs traded him to the Cardinals with catcher Hobie Landrith and infielder Eddie Miksis for catcher Ray Katt, pitcher Tom Poholsky and two other players. Jones enjoyed his first winning season at the Major League level with the Redbirds and also trimmed his walks down to 71.
Jones reached his peak in 1958 when he led the National League with 225 strikeouts. Toothpick Sam was the most difficult pitcher to hit in the NL as well as the most overpowering. His ERA was cleaned up to 2.88, but despite his finest season to date, the Cardinals packaged him in a deal to the Giants for third baseman Ray Jablonski and first baseman Bill White. Although St. Louis got a solid reward in the deal Jones posted a 21-win season with the Giants in 1959. Jones led the league in ERA and shutouts while tying for the league lead in wins. Still overpowering, Jones teamed with Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning as the only three Major Leaguers to reach 200 strikeouts. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting to Early Wynn–this was when there was one award for both leagues.
Toothpick Sam won 18 games with 190 strikeouts for the Giants in 1960. After an 8-8 season split between the rotation and bullpen the Giants left him unprotected in the expansion draft and the Houston Colt 45s drafted him. Houston used the aging power pitcher as trade bait to nab Bob Bruce from the Tigers. Detroit used Jones as a fireman in 1962 and he averaged 0.901 strikeouts per inning for the Bengals. He pitched pieces of two more years in the Majors before beginning a long association with the minor league Columbus Jets.
W 102/L 101/PCT .501/G 322/CG 76/IP 1,644/H 1,403/BB 822/SO 1,376/SHO 17/ERA 3.59