The deal that may turn Chipper Jones into the ultimate sports rarity — a one-franchise athlete — began not with a conference call or in a boardroom or on a golf course.
“I believe we were in the elevator,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “It was last September, and I think we had just arrived at the hotel in New York and we were going up.”
Those New York elevators are fast. There wasn’t enough time to work out details. But Wren said something about a contract extension, Jones sort of nodded in agreement and before the doors opened the seeds for a new deal were planted.
Maybe we should consider squeezing both sides of Congress into an elevator.
After detaching themselves from so many franchise icons in recent years, the Braves finally decided to keep one around. Chipper Jones, a Brave since the draft 19 years ago, signed an extension that potentially keeps him in Atlanta through 2013. So he fits in somewhere between John Smoltz and the Big Chicken.
“Just in the time I’ve been here, the names who’ve resided in that clubhouse and eventually walked out the door to go to another club — it’s mind-boggling to me,” Jones said Tuesday night. “To be in a situation where I can play my whole career here and then ride into the sunset is pretty cool. It makes me wonder what makes me different.”
In January, he wondered. When Smoltz signed with Boston, Jones sounded like the leader of the torch-bearing villagers. Even with the elevator conversation in the back of his mind, he figured the Braves might turn on him the way turned on Smoltz.
“Every dog has his day,” Jones said then. “…That time is now for Smoltzy, and I would imagine that my time is not too far off in the distant future.”
Wren spoke to Jones the next day. He assured him the team wanted to keep him in Atlanta. He reminded Jones how important it was that he leads the team and be the steadying, veteran presence in the clubhouse.
Jones said he “chose to look at the bright side” after the Smoltz saga. He ran through scenarios with his wife, Sharon: signing an extension, traded at deadline, leaving in free agency, retirement.
“There wasn’t a downside to any of them,” he said, “other than not playing in Atlanta. Fortunately, the Braves made it an easy decision.”
It was the right time for the Braves to do something like this, and the right player to do it with. Jones was an All-Star and a batting champion at the age of 36 last season. He’s one of the few reminders of October baseball left on the roster. Too many like him have left town.
We are reminded in sports almost daily to fall in love with the laundry, not the player. Jerseys stay home. Players leave, or just become public grease fires. To actually have one superstar stay and retire — how rare is that?
Even Hank Aaron couldn’t do it with the Braves. He was in Japan in November of 1974 for a home-run exhibition with Sadaharu Oh when he learned he had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Smoltz left for Boston in free agency this past winter after believing he was jilted by Wren in negotiations. Tom Glavine left for New York, and then came back.
Dale Murphy went to Philadelphia, then Colorado. Phil Niekro went to the Yankees. Ralph Garr went to the White Sox. Eddie Mathews to Houston.
Spahn and Sain? Only the rain didn’t leave. The two pitchers finished their careers as trivia questions in New York, San Francisco and Kansas City.
Finally, somebody stays back with the laundry.
Jeff Schultz, fighting to stay relevant with peeps under 40, can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).