LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – There was a time when he considered it. Chipper Jones thought about taking a pill, sticking a needle in his arm, doing whatever it is cheaters do in hopes of gaining an edge and fooling us into believing the mutant statistics all came about from hard work and whey shakes.
“Yeah. I mean, definitely,” the Braves’ almost-40 third baseman said Monday when asked if he ever considered using performance-enhancing drugs. “You see peers doing it. You see contemporaries on other teams doing it and putting up [big] numbers. But at that point in my career, while I didn’t have kids yet, and I thought, I don’t want to jeopardize their lives [with the backlash] one day.”
On Monday, Braves players were given a presentation from a team doctor on what substances to stay away from.
“I can pretty much recite it from year to year,” Jones said, and the banned list didn’t include the yogurt he happened to be eating at the time.
Jones will go into the Hall of Fame one day. He will be in a special group of players who, as he said, “have done it right. The guys who get done with their career and make it through the so-called steroid era unscathed, that’s a huge feather in our cap.”
There have never been any allegations against Jones. No smoking syringe. No leaked grand jury testimony with his name on it. No chapter in a Jose Canseco book.
Still, Jones’ father wanted to know for sure. “A few years ago,” according to Chipper, the elder Larry Jones asked him point blank if he had ever cheated.
“I can just imagine what my dad would’ve said if he found out that four, five or six years out of my career he knew that I was cheating,” Jones said. “He told me as much. He said, ‘Please tell me you never did that.’ I said, ‘I never did.’ He said, ‘I can’t think of anything that would disappointment me more than finding out that you did something like that.’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t have to worry about that.’”
Performance-enhancing drugs are in the news again. Ryan Braun, the National League’s Most Valuable Player last season, failed a drug test last October. He had extraordinarily elevated levels of testosterone. He was suspended for the first 50 games of this season but had the penalty overturned by an appeal. Braun and his legal team did not question the science of the test but rather the protocol, and won the appeal on a technicality: The sample was stored in the tester’s home over a weekend because he believed Federal Express was closed.
Jones understands why Major League Baseball is livid over the arbitration panel’s decision: “Now the integrity of every positive test is going to be scrutinized. They’re going to have to back-check everything,” he said.
But he didn’t openly question Braun.
“I feel like I know Ryan pretty well — he would’ve been one of the guys who never would’ve considered to have done it,” Jones said. “If he went to the lengths that he did to clear his name, I believe him. I just don’t know how someone could be so negligent. If he did [take something], he got lucky. If he didn’t, he was rightly vindicated.”
But haven’t Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens gone to great lengths to clear their names?
“Sure — and did they? Why was [Bonds] convicted of [obstruction of justice]? Why would he lie?”
Jones believes the used of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, while not completely eradicated, is way down. He estimated that at its peak, 20 percent of the league was using, or five players per team. His breakdown: “I would say one of the numbers producers, one of the stud pitchers and the other two or three were down at the end of the roster, trying to stay out of Triple A.”
“Less than one percent,” he said. “Guys just don’t do it anymore. You’ve seen what happens to the reputations of the guys who even remotely are considered to have done it. It’s so not worth it.”
He said players in general know who’s using and who isn’t. “Let’s just say there’s an aura about them,” he said, laughing.
For what it’s worth, he said some PED users should be allowed in the Hall, the deciding factor being whether they would have had the credentials without drugs.
That’s not an issue for Jones. He has done it right way and has the credentials: 454 homers, 1,561 RBI, 2,615 hits, a .304 career average.
He turns 40 in April. He has been non-committal about playing after this season, health obviously being a significant unknown. But we can be certain of one thing: He won’t resort to chemistry to play another year.
By Jeff Schultz