Before taking a few questions from reporters today, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones opened a hastily called news conference at his locker stall with this statement regarding speculation that he would announce his retirement. He did not read any prepared text or use any notes:
“What started out as a conversation about my future with the Atlanta Braves that should have been kept quiet, apparently leaked out. That’s unfortunate, for the circus that has ensued since then. So I apologize for that.
“I think it’s best that we concentrate on what we need to concentrate on, and that is the fact that this team is in first place, that we are trying to get into the playoffs. Any more talk of the ‘R’ word – retirement — will be reserved until the end of the season. Let’s let Bobby have his just due, let him get the attention that he deserves.
“Honestly, I have not made a decision either way. Let’s face it, we all know sort of which way I’m leaning, but I think it’s best that we put this all behind us. Somehow the cork got taken out. Well I’m putting it back in right now. So I’m not … I don’t want to hear any more talk about retirement until the end of the season. Once I get a chance to speak at length with my support group at the end of the season, then I’ll make a decision, and I’m sure you guys will be the first to know. You guys will probably know before I do.”
He then took several questions before a Braves PR official cut off the interview because the clubhouse needed to be closed as the game approached.
So door’s not closed for you possibly returning?
“No, it’s not closed. It was never closed. This is just me getting together with the organization, talking about my future, what the options are. Unfortunatly it slipped out that I was dead set on retiring. You know, quite frankly that’s not the case….
“I’m on a first-place ballclub, playing third and hitting third, which is exactly where I like to be. So I’m going to spend the rest of the summer concentrating on that, and trying to send Bobby off in the best way possible.”
Do you move forward with a normal workload, not taking a couple days a week?
“Granted, there are going to be times when the body doesn’t feel like going out there, and I’m going to be quite frank with Bobby. But I expect to be in there 90 percent of the time.”
Are you out of lineup today to take care of this, to do this press conference?
“No. I actually came to the park preparing to play. I was mentally ready. But Bobby wants to keep me fresh. I fouled a ball off my foot last night; it’s pretty sore. But I can certainly play, and I’ll be ready to come off the bench and back up Brooks any way I can.”
What’s been the reaction of teammates to all this the past couple of days?
“Good. I think they’re relieved. It’s really unfair to them to have to answer all these questions. Like I said, it was no one’s intention for whatever conversations I’m having with the organization, to slip out. You guys all know that retirement is a possibility in the very near future, and I think we might have jumped to some conclusions. I’m going to put a cork in it right now and I don’t want the guys to have to answer any questions: How do you feel about Chipper retiring? How do you feel about Chipper staying? The bottom line is that I’m going to be here playing third base for, at the very least, the next 3-1/2 months.”
Is health the biggest factor in your decision, or is declining production the biggest factor?
“There’s a lot of different factors that go into it. Obviously family is No. 1. How my body responds on a daily basis will tell me a lot. But I’ve got four boys at home, and they’re playing, and quite frankly I’ve missed a lot of first. I’m getting the itch to be a full-time father, but that being said, I still love competition, I still love playing the game. And I still have two years left on my contract.” (smiles)
Why have this thing today?
“I was concerned with the firestorm that it started. Like I said, outside of my circle of family and the people that I talked to in that room – these are the only people that I’ve said anything to. I don’t know where it came from, but it got out, and now we have to address it. It’s unfortunate. It’s the last thing I want to be doing. But like I told John [Schuerholz] in our meeting just a minute ago, ‘I’m going to go put a cork in it now, so the guys and myself don’t deem it a distraction.’ Let’s get it over with, get it out in the open. I’m here, I’m playing the rest of the year. Any decision I make on my future will be made in the offseason.”
Why did you have the meeting Tuesday?
“It’s been an ongoing dialogue. It’s not something that was a first-time thing. That’s what I don’t understand. Off and on, I’ve had talks with John and Frank and Bobby for six months, so this is nothing new.
“This is just something that popped up out of the blue, and I wanted to get it over with now, and not talk about it anymore. Like I said, we’re in first place. I’s a slim lead in the National League East, and this is not a good time to have a distraction, so we’ll put a cork it in now and get past it.”