Chipper Jones: Treasure on field, wealth of material off of it

When Chipper Jones retires, the Braves will lose a legend and we'll lose the rarely scene honest and open athlete. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

When Chipper Jones retires, the Braves will lose a legend and we'll lose the rarely scene honest and open athlete. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(This is just one of several articles that will run in Sunday’s AJC special section on Chipper Jones. The section will be a collectors’ item so be sure to pick one up.)

Economics preclude me from following Chipper Jones into retirement. But there’s a side of me that wonders, “Now what?”

This column isn’t about Chipper Jones’ greatness as a baseball player (obvious). Or that he will end his Hall of Fame career with the same franchise that drafted him (reducing Todd Van Poppel to an amusing trivia question). Or that what we are witnessing in his final season seems pure fantasy: A 40-year-old athlete with creaky limbs manufacturing enough highlights to push his team into the playoffs.

Rather, this is about what really has set Chipper Jones apart: genuine, unfiltered, cold-slap honesty.

In the media, we tend to be drawn to the talkers. It’s simple: Our job is to tell stories, and it’s easier to paint pictures when locker-room voices are disseminating something more insightful than, “I hit a fastball.”

“Talkers” shouldn’t have a negative connotation. This isn’t about the turbo-lipped wonders who rarely stray far from a mirror or an agent. It’s not about the pre-packaged star who cares only about image and marketing. They sanitize every remark, orchestrate every public appearance. They’re like pretty yachts sitting in still waters.

Jones has had priorities beyond self-preservation. He says what he actually thinks, and what he thinks most often is correct. He arrived like a lot of young players, “thinking he had hung the moon,” Tom Glavine joked. He won a World Series as a rookie in 1995.

When the Braves didn’t win another title right away, it was Jones who said during the 1998 postseason what many others were thinking: “I think this business-type attitude hasn’t gotten the job done.”

And John Schuerholz probably spit up his coffee.

How many other athletes would have the courage to criticize the organization for not re-signing pitcher John Smoltz? “With all of the gambles that the Braves have taken on players, for a couple of million more dollars, you don’t gamble on John Smoltz …?” Jones said.

This time, it was Frank Wren’s turn to spit up his coffee.

Who else in spring training last year would call out critics for suggesting that Jones was playing only for the money? Quoting: “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.” (I resisted the temptation to drop my recorder and hug him.)

How many athletes, understanding the potential for misinterpretation, would declare that Jason Heyward needed to learn how to play with pain? The words: “[He] needs to realize [that] at 80 percent [he’s] a force. There are a bunch of his teammates that are out there playing with discomfort and not healthy.” (And soon, there was a brush fire.)

What player goes into his final spring training and makes waves? Jones criticizing performance-enhancing drug users, but admitted he thought about taking steroids earlier in his career. He shared a conversation with his father: “He said, ‘I can’t think of anything that would disappoint me more than finding out that you did something like that.’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t have to worry about that.’”

The Braves are losing a legend. The fans are losing a hero. I’m losing a reason to open my laptop.

Glavine said Jones matured after the early years. He developed into a leader.

“He probably rubbed some veteran guys the wrong way at the beginning, but I think we were all that way,” Glavine said. “Some veterans want to wring your neck, but the good players recognize that and [change]. I think it’s a natural progression. Also, mostly everything he said was true.”

Jones’ openness and honesty, he said said, “certainly puts him in a small group. Some guys say they’re accountable, but when they have a bad game suddenly they’re not around [for the media]. For a superstar to be accountable through good or bad is a rarity. It has served him well. You wish more guys would be like that.”

Henry Aaron said recently that Jones “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.”

That’s not the case here. I’m just hoping to have him for a few more stories.

By Jeff Schultz

188 comments Add your comment

Buckeye

September 28th, 2012
9:49 am

Joe Falcon

September 28th, 2012
9:49 am

Well said, Jeffro!

Steve

September 28th, 2012
9:54 am

Great article! I will never understand or get the “fans” out there who bash Chipper. One of the all-time greats for sure!

Uncle Billy

September 28th, 2012
9:55 am

And father of an illegitimate child. You kept after Tiger for adultery why not Chipper? The are both will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Will you? No!

Victor

September 28th, 2012
9:57 am

I am not an English speaking native, but I am a died hard braves fan since 1978 and by far this is your best ever article. Thanks

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
9:58 am

I heard Chipper was Jewish. FIRE COACH PAUL JOHNSON (not Jewish)!!!

Mitch Kumstein

September 28th, 2012
9:59 am

The true testament to Chippers greatness is in the way other teams are and have honored him during his last visit to their ballparks. Even the stinking Mets showed great class in the way they handled his last trip through town.

I am a lifelong Braves fan (since ‘66) and he is by far my favorite Brave

Steve

September 28th, 2012
9:59 am

Uncle Billy I guess you are one of those in the basement on your mommys computer. Get a life.

GT Letterwinner

September 28th, 2012
10:00 am

Chipper has spoken his mind from day one. Sometimes with arrogance sometimes as a prophet but his Hall of Fame numbers certainly give him the room to speak. He has been a joy to watch.

dean

September 28th, 2012
10:05 am

Yep. It didn’t take long. 3rd post was the charm. You said it right, Steve.

Anyway, it’s going to be fun when Chipper comes back to the Braves in whatever capacity it will be. Ought to be some great quotes coming down the pike.

dean

September 28th, 2012
10:06 am

Whoops…..should have said “4th post”…..Uncle Billy’s.

Ostrich Racer

September 28th, 2012
10:09 am

Great piece, Jeff. Here’s a question I’ve always wondered about, but never seen answered: Was there ever any consideration to making him, officially, team captain?

Ekim56

September 28th, 2012
10:14 am

@Uncle Billy: Yes, he did. Yes, he admitted it and said he’s not proud of it. So what’s your point? Do you think that any conversation about Chipper Jones should mention that part of his life? I personally con’t care about his non-professional life. Or Tiger’s. (Actually in Tiger’s case, I don’t care about his professional life either.)

Tami

September 28th, 2012
10:15 am

LOVE your article, Jeff! This Braves team will be minus just ONE next season (albeit a MAJOR subtraction). When Beach gets back and he and Meds are going head-to-head in battle challenging each other on a Cy Young-award season, then you’ll have something to write about again. But…not sure you’re going to find a high-quality player with great, quotable antidotes to write about again for a long, long while — IF ever again. Chipper’s truly one of a kind!

Dizzle D

September 28th, 2012
10:21 am

@Uncle Billy…since you probably DO sit in your mom’s basement eating pizza rolls and trolling on everyone, I guess you never have known anything about life in general…by the way, Chipper takes care of his son and his mother as well as his other children. Get a life, if you had one you’d already know the pressures of being young and famous…

Steve

September 28th, 2012
10:22 am

“HUH??????” Could never get a Hooters waitress. Let alone any woman.

Jeff Schultz

September 28th, 2012
10:27 am

Huh??? — Keep it up. Give me a reason to ban you. … Already deleted a few comments.

KornDawg

September 28th, 2012
10:31 am

Don’t know what ya got ’til it’s gone, right? I’ve found I appreciate Chipper a lot more this season, I guess because I know it’s his last. I made it a point to get to his bobblehead game, and what a game it was! I’m glad my daughter got to see him, and I’m really glad that I got to see his entire career as a Brave. He’s definitely the greatest ATALANTA Brave, at least in my book he is. Thanks Chipper!

SD Braves Fan

September 28th, 2012
10:44 am

Thanks for all of the memories Chipper. A true class act. You will be sorely missed.

old man

September 28th, 2012
10:52 am

At the end of the season, MLB should retire “Crazy Train” so that it can never be used as anyone else’s walkup song ever again.

john jarrard

September 28th, 2012
10:54 am

Great article. Chipper will be greatly missed. He’s been one hellva ball player and leader for the Braves. Thank you Chipper for being who you are and not backing away from the truth,. Hope to see you in some leadership position with the Braves in the future. Have a great retirement! Long time Braves fan, john.

fuzzybee

September 28th, 2012
10:55 am

Chipper is a great ballplayer, a real personality, and a professional. He is not a role model and he is certainly NOT A HERO. I reserve that term for persons that have achieved something truly unique, selfless, and courageous. There aren’t many ballplayers that make the cut but Jackie Robinson comes to mind.

Alphare

September 28th, 2012
10:55 am

Jeff,

“the rarely scene honest and open athlete”.

I am not sure what you mean by honest. Chipper Jones is a hall of famer, a decent guy. But honest? I am not sure his former wife would agree with you.

Fred

September 28th, 2012
10:58 am

I’ve never been a huge Chipper fan but having said that, I recognize that he has been a major, major player for the Braves over the years. When friends would complain about his injuries, I would tell them that Chipper at 70%-80% is better than 95% of the players out there! I would love to see him as batting coach. Best wishes Chipper!

old man

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

@ Alphare – congrats for your consistency. We can always count on you to be the turd in the punchbowl.

bluspot

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

A very good player and represented the Braves well,but not a saint and not real sure he embraced Atlanta totally since he never lived here. Best wishes to him

Big Pappi

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

Damn Good Brave. One of the best players of his era………but not the brightest bulb. His demeanor always rubbed me the wrong way.

Good Grief Charlie Brown

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

EXCELLENT article Jeff…keep up the good work!

Chipper, we’ll see you in 5 years…at Cooperstown. :-)

1eyedJack

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

Not all of us can be a hero. Somebody has to stand on the curb and wave as they go by. I’m waving for YOU Chipper.

Bill

September 28th, 2012
11:00 am

Great job Jeff.
Yes, Chipper is a Legend..20 years he has been like family watching him play. I hope one day to see him back in dugout as mgr. God’s speed to a great player and person.

juice sourcer

September 28th, 2012
11:02 am

I live in Hilton Head and from Charleston and have been a huge sports fan forever, Been following baseball and the Braves for 30 years. This is a great article and says exactly what I feel. What a class act Chipper is and I love the fact that he says what he feels and is almost always right. I am in business and there are times everyday I want to say whats on my mind and cant because of the corporate culture….who will this upset, how will this be taken, etc. The braves will never be the same with Chipper gone.

1eyedJack

September 28th, 2012
11:04 am

Enter your comments here

Jason

September 28th, 2012
11:04 am

Jeff, I really enjoyed this column. I think it hasn’t really settled in that number 10 isn’t going to be standing at third base next season. I loved watching Chipper play the game – especially in person. He plays the game with an effortlessness that suggests his DNA is shot through with baseball. He’s just and old-school ball-player.

I wish it didn’t have to be said, but I don’t understand the people who wake up in the morning and want to destroy, or make fun, or criticize what other people create, be it a well-written column, or the long career of a pro ballplayer. It’s bad enough that you feel that way. Where I take umbrage is when certain commenters feel compelled to share with the world the level of vitriol and spite they have to keep hidden the rest of the day. If you’re going to criticize or tear people dow in this forum, at least put your first and last name so we know who to pray for.

markie mark

September 28th, 2012
11:05 am

For you Chipper critics….talk to me about, oh say, next June or July, when his bat is not in the lineup, even with creaky old knees…..

Poppi

September 28th, 2012
11:05 am

I had the pleasure of seeing Chipper, along with Lopez and Klesko come through Richmond. You just knew he was a hall of famer back in Triple AAA. Congrats Chipper on a stellar career and with staying your whole career with the Braves organization. In todays instagram society, it is a rare example of patience and a methodical work ethic paying off big time with a hall of fame career. Very fun to watch over the last 20 years. Thanks!

tj

September 28th, 2012
11:06 am

Hero, I think not. Baseball legend, I think yes. It takes a lot more than playing a ball game to be elevated to hero status in my book.

Sonny Clusters

September 28th, 2012
11:07 am

Well, we know he’s special. Sure, we said his bobblehead would get hurt bobbling and have to go on the DL, and we said there was something more to the sore toes than sore toes, but we also know he is and has been the best hitter to come through these parts, pardner. We said “pardner” because he and his dad, too, have become Texas, nee, Florida cowboys as evidenced by the Stetson hats and cowboy boots and a chew of tobacco and tattoos that signify something only to the deer hunters among us. We say send Chipper off with all the fanfare and hope that he ends his career with a newly acquired ring on his finger. Clusters don’t let ballplayers be our heroes but we can admire good athletic performance and we can see when somebody is better at his craft than most. Still, we all are flawed and it would depend on what your definition of “is” is as to whether we think the Braves have been entirely truthful with the fans as to championship baseball and star-quality players. There’s been some through here but precious few. We will miss Chipper, too, and we will always remember his Chipper’s Diary and some of those interviews about hammock bones and things that made him be Chipper Jones, baseball player. We hope he gets 5 hits tonight and writes a new Magna Carta.

b

September 28th, 2012
11:08 am

Thing about Chipper is that he is ALL MAN and it’s easy to respect him.

Josh Smith for 3

September 28th, 2012
11:08 am

He’s been in Atlanta since I started going to games at 6 years old. It’s gonna be weird not watching Chipper from here on out but he’s a player that I’ll be telling my kids about when I grow old. Thanks for the memories Chip and here’s to a few more before you leave.

BigDawg

September 28th, 2012
11:09 am

Honesty? That’s not his first wife said about his trips to Hooters!

Wayne stuck in AL

September 28th, 2012
11:11 am

I, too, will miss the mumbled interviews after each Braves’ post-season elimination.

JSS

September 28th, 2012
11:11 am

Well, well well… Larry Wayne Jones kicks back… Oh, he pulled an oblique doing it… We could never kiss your behind, it was on the DL…

I won’t get into his “honesty.” He’s got a couple of lawyers to seal that little statement in its proper perspective as other have pointed. I saw his first at-bat in Macon, and I was tempted to go to Pittsburgh to see you last and turn my back on him one final time!

Hail him as a hitter, hail him for his seasons as a Braves employee, then let him go about his life…

Chuck

September 28th, 2012
11:13 am

All you mama’s basement sniveling coward commenters that expect athletes like Chipper and Tiger to be perfect human beings are doomed to remain in that basement your whole life. For the most part, both have been sterling citizens that have never hurt anyone or broken any laws and given much to others.

Dr. Phil

September 28th, 2012
11:15 am

It is nice to see Chipper showing some emotion toward his fans. The respect that fans in other cities have shown Chipper is equally moving and a credit to baseball. He is definitely the best hitter of his era. He has been a major factor in the Braves’ success over the past 20 years. I hope that he does have another ring at the end of this season.

BUSTERBrave

September 28th, 2012
11:16 am

Good piece Jeff,as a fan since 1966,Chipper has become the all-time favorite player for the ATLANTA Braves, all due respect to Hank Aaron,who spent a great deal of his career as a Milwaukee Brave,but still beloved and respected for what he did for the Atlanta Braves. For the lowclass haters,you need to do your medication everyday…….

Bill

September 28th, 2012
11:17 am

stfu about Hooters etc…he who is without sin throw the first stone. I’ll bet everyone out there has something they don’t wont known. Does it make you feel good to cut down others?

Alphare

September 28th, 2012
11:17 am

old man,

I didn’t really want get into that either. But I cannot help since Jeff mentioned honest.

Chipper is the greatest Braves hitter since Aaron. He has my greatest respect. My personal hero he is not in some area.

Blake

September 28th, 2012
11:18 am

I love Chipper as much as anyone but let me put It In perspective…..For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? I HOPE CHIPPER JONES HAS A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS….

RunninWithTheDawgs

September 28th, 2012
11:20 am

Chipper will surly be missed in the lineup, but I’ve got a feeling that after a long needed vacation he’ll be back with the Braves in some capacity. He may even be GM one day.
Mr. Shultz — I’m sure if they ever have a sportswriters hall of fame you’ll be voted in.
GO BRAVOS

JP

September 28th, 2012
11:20 am

I’m really glad Chipper’s swan song will be one in which he was relatively healthy and provided a lot of memorable moments that helped the Braves get to the postseason. He is the greatest Brave of all time, and his numbers as a switch hitter make him a sure-fire Hall of Famer. However, I can’t help but chuckle at the outrage over someone suggesting he’s still playing for money. I was at a celebrity golf tournament two or three years ago, and a certain former Braves manager actually said Chipper had decided to retire midway through the season back in either 2009 or 2010, but that his accountant talked him out of it. This obviously wasn’t a joke either, there was a lot of detail in the story about which particular road trip they were on when he made the decision, how he was going to announce it when they got home, etc. And I’m guessing his accountant, as his accountant, wasn’t saying to him “But Chipper, you love the game too much to retire now!”