Flip-Flap Jones

1 Oct

Oscar “Flip Flap” Jones had a promising rookie season for the Brooklyn Superbas in 1903; he was 19-14 with a 2.94 ERA for the fifth-place club. He was 25-40 over the next two seasons. His major league career was over at age 25; he then spent most of the next decade pitching on the West Coast.

Jones was born in Missouri and as a teenager headed West to pursue his first career: circus performer.

According to Charles Zuber of The Cincinnati Times-Star he was a “trick bicycle rider,” who, “practiced his feats of defying gravitation with small circuses in the Southwest.”

Jones’ act included:

“Leaping over elephants—when the sheriffs allowed the shows to have the animals for awhile—horses, barrels, etc…was one of (his) favorite pastimes, and attired in pink or plae blue tights, he was one of the stars of the Arizona-New Mexico circuit.”

Jones found his way to baseball, according to The Cleveland Press when he realized, “if there is one thing harder than smashing rock, it’s circus life. So, Jones when a minor league manager told him that he saw in him the making of a great pitcher, quickly hocked his wheels and shook the sawdust.”

Zuber said, although Jones was two-years removed from circus life when he arrived in Brooklyn, he was earning a “black mark” with umpires and ultimately earned his nickname, because of some stunts he brought with him from his big top days.

Jones

“Jones’ crime, for which he has been banished on more than one occasion, consists of turning somersaults, forward or back, whenever an umpire gives a decision that has a yellow hue to it and incidentally is a handicap to the Brooklyn team.”

In addition to performing to annoy the umpires, The Brooklyn Times-Union reported during Jones’ rookie season that the pitcher would often coach first base and “amuse the crowd…by Turing back flips.”

Zuber noted that “in the old days” Arlie Latham “would fall down as though dead when a rank decision was handed down,” Jones brought a new flair to Latham’s act with, “gymnastics, cartwheels and handsprings…he worse the decision the greater the number of flip-flops and things he performs.”

Upon his return to the West Coast, Jones won 70 games over two seasons (1906 and 1907) with the Seattle Siwashes and San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. He also continued to perform when coaching first base.

He pitched through 1914 and later opened a tire store in Los Angeles. Later he operated an auto repair shop in Kansas, and eventually settled in Texas.

While Jones’ circus and bike riding career (he also competed in bicycle races pre-baseball) was over by the time he was 21, and he spent 12 years as a professional ballplayer, his former career was the lede of his obituary; baseball a side note.

He died in Fort Worth, Texas in 1953. The Star-Telegram said:

“He won the title of fastest bicyclist in a contest on the West Coast when he was 17.

“Jones at one time was an acrobat with Ringling Brothers and Barnum Baily Circus. He also was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox [sic].”

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