(Updated: 2 p.m.)
Enjoy this season because it will be your last look.
Enjoy watching Chipper Jones because the chance to watch a first-ballot Hall of Famer – and if he’s not enshrined in his first year of eligibility, I’m surrendering my vote – just doesn’t come around very often.
Jones isn’t the best position player in Braves’ history. That’s only because there’s a guy named Henry Aaron ahead of him. Sometimes, being in second place is an honor — especially when the guy who is in first place is bowing in your direction.
“I remember when we took Chipper in the draft,” Aaron recalled Thursday. “There were a lot of people in the organization who thought we should take that pitcher [Todd Van Poppel]. But I saw star written all over Chipper, and I put my vote in. There were quite a few people involved in that decision. I can tell you this: Some are going to say now that they voted for Chipper, but I know they didn’t.”
These are how the fortunes of franchises can change.
In 1990, the Braves passed on Van Poppel, in part because he told the organization he wouldn’t sign with them. So they drafted Chipper Jones, who would go on to bat third for a World Series team as a rookie, win an MVP award and a batting title and amass seven All-Star selections. And counting. Van Poppel had an unspectacular, injury-plagued career that spanned six organizations (two of them twice) and ended eight years ago with a career ERA of 5.58 and less than four wins per season.
Jones’ career will start and end with the Braves. Enjoy him one final year. The Braves’ third baseman announced Thursday he will retire after this season. The decision was less a surprise than the timing, two weeks before the season opener. But Jones wanted to end speculation that might serve as a distraction for his team this season, particularly after some remarks he made last week to out-of-town reporters regarding his health were misinterpreted.
“There’s no set of circumstances that can persuade me to come back — no hedging,” Jones said, adding that he wanted to spend time with his family.
Believe it. He has been on the relative year-to-year plan for a while. But he was always prompted to come back because he believed he could still perform at a high level, he enjoyed playing with this current group of teammates and his desire to get back to another World Series still burned.
It wasn’t for the money, and here’s where we will address the loud and misguided ones.
Some fans have believed Jones should’ve retired long ago, suggesting his career extension was all about dollar signs. I believe Jones put it best last year when he said, “I still feel like I have something to offer, and the cynical fan can really kiss my ass. There’s a bunch of true fans, and the people who actually want to take the time to get to know me know who I am. The guy who sits in his mom’s basement and types on his mom’s computer, I couldn’t really care less about.”
Jones long has been under-appreciated. He deserves a statue outside of Turner Field — two if you want him batting both left- and right-handed.
Beyond the blur of statistical evidence, what he has brought to the team in leadership and help to young players can’t be measured. He has been an icon for the franchise and the city of Atlanta. We’ve had too few of those.
“I think many great players in Chipper’s era are under-appreciated, and the reason for that is the way the system is,” Aaron said. “Baseball is a lot different than it was 10, 15 years ago. People look at players, I guess, by the money they make. Chipper falls into that category of players who have not only meant a lot to the Braves but to the city. When you see a ballplayer like this come along and you watch him for 19 or 20 years, sometimes you don’t fully appreciate him until after he’s gone.”
Jones choked up at several times during Thursday’s news conference, particularly when he addressed his teammates.
“You kept me young, or at least as young as a 40-year-old man can be,” he said.
Jones knows the body is wearing down. Aaron, when asked to named Jones’ greatest attribute, said, “His determination. He has played through so many injuries.”
This will be your final chance to watch him and appreciate him. One player, one franchise, 23 years, 19 seasons. When it’s over, he deserves a bow.
By Jeff Schultz