Time Capsule – Interview with Randy Jones (April 1998)
In our second installment of our Time Capsule series, we go back to the April 1998 issue of the Entertainer, where Paul Arnold interviews longtime Padres ace and current barbeque master, Randy Jones. Today, he is the co-host of the Padres BP show on XX 1090 AM. His’ famous barbeque restaurant — Randy Jones Barbeque — is a favorite among fans at PETCO Park, and Jones popular brand of barbeque sauce continues to sell briskly at local supermarkets.
Randy Jones – Life is Good
By Paul Arnold
Randy Jones has clearly made a very successful transition from Major League Baseball into the business world. The secret seems to be the same attitude that made him a successful, Cy Young Award-winning Major League pitcher: Work hard, work smart and enjoy it. Randy took a few moments out of his busy schedule to chat recently.
When you were at Chapman College, did you ever think you were going to make it to the big leagues?
I never really thought I’d make it to the big leagues. I thought I’d play professional baseball, but not the big leagues. That was my dream, my goal. I pitched the same way I did in college when I was in the big leagues — I wasn’t overpowering, I just had this uncanny ability to win ballgames. So, I knew I’d play some minor leagues, but I didn’t know if I’d get to pitch in the big leagues.
Walk us through how you got to the majors.
In 1972 I got my degree out of Chapman College and I was a fifth round draft pick by the San Diego Padres after I graduated. From there I spent one week in rookie league ball in Washington where I pitched the first game of the season, and the next day they sent me to AA ball. I went to the Texas League in Louisiana, where Duke Snyder was my manager and that was an invaluable education. I learned a lot. In ’73 I went back to AA spring training in Yuma and then went back to Louisiana, where I won eight out of my nine first starts. It just so happened that at that time, the Padres traded the only left-handed starting pitcher they had on staff to Cincinnati. That left a void and I was 8-1, so they called me up and gave me a chance to pitch in the big leagues.
So you were twenty-two years old when you were signed?
Yes, only twenty-two. I was twenty-three when I pitched my first game.
Was that a mixed blessing to be in the big leagues but playing for the Padres, who were not competitive?
There are two ways of looking at the situation: I figured that when I graduated from college, I was either going to get drafted by the San Diego Padres or the Detroit Tigers. With the Detroit Tigers, there was lots of tradition but they had a solid pitching staff up there — so my career in the minor leagues might have been real long with them. There was more opportunity with the Padres than there was with the Detroit Tigers. I was just excited about the possibility of getting to pitch in the big leagues.
How did you handle that, being only twenty-two years old and being in the ‘big show’?
I relied on my instincts; I didn’t try to rationalize why I was there. I just felt that the people from the San Diego organization believed that I could compete on the Major League level. I had to trust their instincts until I got four or five starts under my belt, then I came to understand how it went in the big leagues and I had the ability to adapt and adjust and I realized that I could pitch on that level.
So it clicked that quickly for you?
Well, even though I was only twenty-three, I had thrown a lot of baseball in college. I was mature enough and I knew how to set up hitters and that’s basically what you have to do in the big leagues. You have to be able to set up hitters, change speed and hit spots. I had been doing that for many, many years. And that’s what you have to be able to do on the Major League level. For hitters, you have to understand what their weaknesses are, pitch to those weaknesses and to stay away from their strengths. That’s what I had been able to do.
Speaking of hitters, who were the top three or four hitters you faced?
Did you have certain ballparks you just hated or loved?
I hated St. Louis, and even Shea Stadium for the first half of my career. They were both tough ballparks for me — not just the acoustics, but it just seemed like every ground ball found a hole and whatever bad that could happen would happen. I couldn’t buy a win in those two ballparks. But on the other hand, I absolutely loved Cincinnati and the Astrodome in Houston. I loved Wrigley Field. I think it has to do with how much success you have at different ballparks. Your comfort level goes up with it.
Tell us about the experience of winning the Cy Young Award.
It’s a boyhood dream come true. If people could just understand how many hours upon hours, both physically and mentally, that you work to win it. To go through what I did, like when I lost 22 games in ’74, and turning that around in ’75 and winning 20 games, pitching in the All-Star game, winning the ERA title and coming in second to Tom Seaver for the Cy Young award — I got so close I could just taste it. My goal in ’76 was to win it. I started in December of ’75 getting ready and that was my mental goal, and I actually did it. It was a great year. I never pitched that well in all my life. I received fan support and team support, and that’s what it takes.
You knew you were coming to the end of a good career, how did you make the transition to ‘civilian life’? You’ve obviously done it incredibly successfully. Talk about making the transition from baseball into business.
I think the one advantage I had was my mental approach. I had always prepared myself mentally. The nerve damage in my arm forced me to retire when I was thirty-two years old. I knew how much hard work went into being a very successful pitcher and an athlete, and all I tried to do was come back out into the business world and apply myself in the same way. Things don’t come to you, but if you commit yourself to something and you’re willing to work at it, then you make things happen. It’s just like in pitching, you don’t wait for things to happen, you make them happen. In business, it’s a lot of hard work and I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty and going out and working. I really enjoy doing it.
What got you into the food service industry?
In ’87, AGS Foods was my sister and brother-in-law’s company, and I went to help them out because they needed somebody to travel for them and handle their military accounts. I got into the food business because I was so used to working out of a suitcase. So, I traveled the country and the world opening up new accounts on military installations for them and through it, I learned quite a bit about the food business. Once I burned out on that in the early ‘90s, it just so happened that I ran into Ken Wolfe, who is the general manager at Service America Stadium. We were playing golf one day and that’s when the barbeque concept came up. Ken said he needed one more eatery at the ballpark for a certain location and I said, ‘Well, maybe we ought to do a barbeque.’ And it turned out that six weeks later we opened up the Randy Jones Ballpark Barbeque there at the stadium.
Tell me the truth: Is this really your recipe for the barbeque sauce?
Yes, we figured that out first then we went to the coleslaw and potato salad and the actual menu. The half-pound hot dog I had actually seen during my travels working with the military, so I researched it and found those and brought them in. It’s gone over really well — it’s a fun, fun atmosphere. I think its key not just to have the good food, but my being there and talking to the people every home game over the last five years has built it up to be incredibly successful.
Tell us about your rollout plans.
First of all, I felt that we needed to have a headquarters, which is the Randy Jones Big Stone Lodge in Poway, where I’ve lived since in came to San Diego in ’73. Then, having the catering company there, Buckboard Catering, I felt that was a great vehicle for my product to be able to go out and cater parties for different groups of people. We started thinking of some new concepts for doing fast food barbeque, which hasn’t really been done yet. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re going to go out and try to get some small set-ups where we can have barbeque ribs and chicken — the same things we feature at the stadium — and be very consistent throughout the community. We’d like to have these available in different venues, whether it be at the Sports Arena, one of the shopping malls here in San Diego, or by a movie theater. We think we can do that, to drive the barbeque business into the fast food industry.
It seems like you’re having a lot of fun at it.
I do have fun. I enjoy what I do and that’s very important. It makes it a lot easier when you get up in the morning and you enjoy what you do. You don’t mind putting in the 15 or 16 hours a day it sometimes takes.
What do you think about the state of Major League Baseball compared to fifteen years ago when you got out?
Obviously, I’m a little bit concerned like anyone else would be. Salaries, well, God bless the players, the more the merrier, I know how short careers can sometimes be. The money has taken baseball from the game itself and it’s exposed the business part of the game. The players are making so much money; it’s gotten away from them, to play in that atmosphere. I see too many players that aren’t getting involved in the community, or aren’t really role models for the kids — it’s not as family-oriented as it was when we were there. But the game is still happening, it’s entertainment and it’s in the entertainment business. I hate to see that kids today are looking at more money than the game itself and the good that can be done. They just see the dollar signs and that’s controlling them right now.
What do you think about expansion?
I like expansion. It prepares more players to play in the big leagues and it creates more jobs. The development of baseball is healthy, although you can saturate the market. Are we going to have world baseball one of these days? I don’t know. I’m sure it will probably be tried. I think we’re going to see an awful lot of things develop by the year 2000.
Tell us about your broadcast schedule this season.
Well, this year will be a little bit different. Last year was a lot of fun: I did a lot of pregame and postgame talks on Channel 4 at home games. This year you’ll see a little bit less of me on TV. I might produce some pregame shows, but I’m doing a lot of radio. I should be on the Padres postgame doing an awful lot of that. I really enjoy doing the radio and talking to the fans. I look forward to it.
When do you sleep?
That’s the one thing: I get about six to seven hours of sleep. Eight hours are very rare these days. Apparently I don’t need it. This job is a seven-day a week job, so I’m never off Saturdays and Sundays. In my line of work, Saturdays and Sundays are the busier days. Hopefully on Tuesday or Thursday I can take a little time off with my wife and do some chores around the house, or play a little golf.