“There were times when I could have went out on the free-agent market and see if the grass was greener but I really didn’t think that it was, I never wanted to play [anywhere else]. I’m a southern kid. I wanted to play in a southern town where I felt comfortable and I felt comfortable from day one in the Braves organization. I bleed red, white and blue.” -Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves, In front of media announcing his retirement after 2012 baseball season
Chipper Jones is used to coming through at just the right time. Throughout his career Jones, who ranks at or near the top of every Atlanta Braves all-time lists in offensive categories, has come through for his team in a way that very few can claim.
Today was no different, as Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones announced that 2012 would be his last season as third basemen of the Atlanta Braves.
As a Georgia native, and a lifelong Braves fan this is a bittersweet day for me. I, having played baseball at every level and even teaching myself how to switch hit (yes because of Jones), grew up with Chipper as others grew up with George Brett, Mike Schmidt, or Frank Robinson. I remember in 1994 when he tore his ACL the first time and had to sit out the entire season because of rehab. Didn’t matter, the strike of that year wiped out the World Series. If ever there were a time for an injury that was it. It also paved the way for Jones, a former shortstop, to become Atlanta’s everyday third basemen.
He played his first full year in 1995 and was promptly inserted into the three spot of a lineup that featured Ryan Klesko, David Justice, Fred McGriff and Javier Lopez. That led to him finishing second (unjustly) to Hideo Nomo in rookie of the year voting after a season in which he hit 23 home runs, 86 RBI, and batted .265. He was a catalyst for a Braves team who won their first (and only for Atlanta) World Series. He hit almost .400 that postseason, hitting crucial home runs in game one of the inaugural division series against the Colorado Rockies that gave the Braves a 5-4 victory. He set the tone in game one of the playoffs that year just when the Braves needed it.
Again, perfect timing.
I remember four years later as he established himself as the undisputed best third basemen in the majors. That September he was the epitome of good timing as he led the Braves down the stretch with crucial clutch moments against the New York Mets. That year in a series from September 21-23 in Atlanta he went 4-for-12.
All four hits were home runs, He added seven RBI’s in a weekend the Braves scored 13 runs, and the Mets, who came in just a game back of the division lead, were now staring up at the Braves from four games behind. He won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award that year (although he wasn’t chosen for the All-Star team). He had a knack for getting it done and I’m not the only one who knows that.
“He was the guy who we could rely on with the Braves to get the big hit, come through at the tough time, to do what needed to be done to help us string together those championship banners out on the wall in left field [of Turner Field],” -John Schuerholz’s comments in a column today from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I remember the subsequent years that followed when he continued adding to his Hall of Fame resume. I also know we, as fans, lost sight of the things he had accomplished at such a high level once the injuries started piling up because, in hindsight, we took it for granted.
In 2004 the injuries began to bite the third basemen hard, yet he still managed to average 22/80/.298 per season since. He was the horse, and he never shied away from that role. As the epicenter of the Atlanta Braves lineup he made things go. No matter how frustrated we got when he wasn’t playing and the Braves struggled not one person was more upset about it than Chipper Jones. When he couldn’t go, it hurt him deeply. He knows how much he means to this team. Even today, almost 40, he came back for one last hurrah. Not because he needed to prove something, not to collect a paycheck, but because his team wanted (and needed) him back. He knows his place in baseball history is secure and so are his finances. He came back for this team at a time when they needed him most. Coming off one of the most disappointing endings to a season in baseball history.
“This gives me the opportunity to appease myself and the Braves organization, I can walk away on my own terms. Hopefully I can come out and have another productive year and ride off into the sunset. I just think the realization that I’ve fulfilled everything, There is nothing left for me to do. I’m content with my decision.
I’ve been thinking about retiring for quite some time and I probably have to say that the number one that I didn’t was you guys, It’s been a pleasure to come to work and play with you guys and day in and day out you kept me young, as young as a 40 year old can be. I will sit in a foxhole, a clubhouse or a dugout with any of you guys. I love each and every one of you and I hope we go out with a bang here in 2012.”
-Chipper Jones, Atlanta Journal-Constitution March 22, 2012
His words today showed what was most important to him. Coming back, giving this another go with this team and this organization. Atlanta has enjoyed 18 (soon to be 19) years of watching one of the greatest switch hitters not named Mickey Mantle play baseball. 2012 should be a year we wish him the best; a year where every fan of the Atlanta Braves chops and chants the loudest and packs the ballpark to see number 10 trot out to third.
An icon is retiring at the right time. Let’s pack the “Ted” and give him the sendoff he deserves in 2012.