Announcements of this type generally drip with emotion and drama, but this one had unfortunately mutated into something resembling a Looney Tunes production (did Wile E. Coyote have an “Acme Retirement Kit?”).
So it seemed completely appropriate Thursday that when Chipper Jones emerged from a back room and made his way to the media swarm in front of his locker at 6 p.m., we heard jokes.
“Today … today … today,” coach Eddie Perez cracked in his best, echoing Lou Gehrig, retirement voice.
“It’s about [freaking] time!” yelled closer Billy Wagner (in his own voice).
So this is how a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history planned to go out? As a punch line?
One hour before a game, Jones called an impromptu news conference and, with cameras, recorders and eyeballs all pointed in his direction, he tells the assembled masses — at least those not changing their pants, like Tim Hudson, a few lockers over — “Somehow the cork got taken out. Well, I’m putting it back in. So I don’t want to hear any more talk about retirement until the end of the season.”
And now, let’s watch the coyote launch himself into the cannon, as the unsuspecting Roadrunner approaches from just around the bend …
Never works. Neither will this.
Chipper Jones was right about a few things Thursday. He was right to say that the previous two days had been an undeserving distraction to a team that’s in first place, and even to a manager who is approaching his own career finish line (although Bobby Cox probably welcomed Jones stealing that spotlight). Jones also was right that he certainly never intended his retirement meetings with the Braves to leak out.
Who knows, he might have even been telling the truth when he said he is not 100 percent locked in on retirement. (Doubtful, though.)
But no matter how hard Jones pushes, that cork just isn’t going to fit back into the bottle.
This was an unfortunate off-ramp in the season. The Braves deserve attention now. Jones deserves trumpets when his career is over. But either the team or the player should have made some immediate declaration when this thing leaked Tuesday. Either, “Yes, I’m retiring,” or, “This is something I’ll address after the season.”
We may never know all that has occurred in the past two days. Was this about the Braves, being as corporate as they are, trying to make an announcement befitting the ways of a “great, grand, organization” (copyright: John Schuerholz)?
Was it about Jones and the Braves trying to define his future role with the team?
Was it about an agent pushing for some financial settlement, rather than just allowing Jones to walk away from the remaining $28 million on his contract (because the $141,552,133 he will have made through this season just isn’t enough)?
Doesn’t really matter.
Jones understands this is going to be a topic the rest of the season. He’ll be asked questions in every city and he’ll probably break down and answer a few, because that’s just his way. Honesty is his greatest asset. He always speaks his mind, even if it’s not necessarily the way the front-office spin-meisters would prefer. When the Braves drop-kicked John Smoltz, Jones, the clubhouse leader, couldn’t hold his tongue. That’s just not his way.
He doesn’t wear his emotions just on his sleeves. His emotions cover his entire torso.
“Any more talk of the ‘R’ word will be reserved until the end of the season,” he said.
That was funny. He tried. But he worded it as “the ‘R’ word” only the first time. He said the actual word every time thereafter.
“You guys all know retirement is a possibility in the very near future,” he said. “I don’t want the guys to have to answer any questions, ‘How do you feel about Chipper retiring?’”
Why say this now?
“Because I was concerned the firestorm that it started,” he said. “… Like I told John just a minute ago, I’m going to put a cork in it now so that the guys and myself don’t deem it as a distraction. Let’s 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.”
Would have been a great speech two days ago.