In a time of upheaval, a constant remains — Chipper Jones

For the first time since the spring of 1987, there’s not a Glavine or a Smoltz on the Braves’ roster. And no matter what you think of the manner in which their departures were transacted, you must admit it feels weird to see no No. 47, no No. 29.

But there is one number to keep us anchored, to serve as a touchstone to the Decade of Excellence and to point the way into the Twenty-Teens. It’s No. 10, and the guy who wears it is still in place, still as splendid as he ever was, and that’s plenty splendid.

Chipper Jones finished second to Hideo Nomo in rookie-of-the-year voting when the Braves won their World Series, and he was the National League’s MVP when last they won a pennant. Last season, at a time when there was no other reason to watch a decrepit team en route to 90 losses, he won a batting title.

And here No. 10 stands at age 37, having been contused more in an average month than a stunt man in a career’s worth of Michael Bay movies, and he’s hitting .327 and slugging .552 and carrying a stellar on-base percentage of .443, and if you think you can find 10 better players in the big leagues … well, you’re just wrong.

As we know, Bobby Cox loves all his players. That said, he’s stingy about one particular word. That word is “great.” And of No. 10, the only big-league manager Jones has ever known says: “He’s a great ballplayer.”

Says No. 10, told of Cox’s assessment: “That’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was 4 years old.”

On those nights when we despair of Frenchy’s flailing, we need only watch No. 10 to remind ourselves that not every Braves at-bat is a lost cause. Watch the concentration, the patience, the discipline. Watch and file it away, because we’re not apt to see anybody as good come through here again anytime soon.

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Watch and forget whatever garbage your idiot neighbor may have spewed about Chipper not caring, because he cares about his work in the way only a craftsman does. Yes, No. 10 can look dour, but that’s the way he looks. He measures out his smiles. He laughs hardly at all. Whatever the opposite of rah-rah is, he’s it. But if you know him even a little, you know he’s a proud and committed pro.

He fights an almost daily battle between nagging infirmity and the knowledge his team isn’t half as good without him, and those days when he can’t go it eats Chipper up. (On the inside. Never the outside.) He tries to pass along what he knows to younger guys — Jordan Schafer, for example — and what No. 10 knows came from the best of another era.

“There were great hitters here when I came up,” he says. “David Justice, [Fred] McGriff, [Marquis] Grissom, TP [Terry Pendleton]. My first hitting coach [in the minors] was Willie Stargell, and my second was Frank Howard.” Of Stargell, Chipper says: “He’s the reason I swing a heavy bat. [A 34-ouncer.] Take that ball I hit out right-handed the other night — that doesn’t go out with a 31-ounce bat.”

There are nights and weeks when it feels we’re witnessing the end of empire with these Braves, and at such times there’s always a sense of melancholy. But there’s one shining reason to keep watching, and that reason is No. 10. He was great back then. He’s great now. He’s great, period.

107 comments Add your comment

Reid Adair

June 10th, 2009
5:57 pm

With the way Frank Wren is handling things, Chipper’s days are numbered. Everyone should enjoy them – and him – while they can.

Cup of Craiggers

June 10th, 2009
6:06 pm

The young players need to look at what the great ones do, and follow it to success. McCann has learned, and Johnson, Francoeur, and Escobar have not.

Chipper has discipline. McCann is developing that discipline as well. The other three do not.

Coach (Moon Pie, Anyone?)

June 10th, 2009
6:07 pm

Chipper Jones

2010 13 million.

2011 13 million

2012 13 million

2013 7 million club option. He’s not going anywhere.

Chris Hayes

June 10th, 2009
6:08 pm

Wren has made the right decisions the whole time. If Chipper’s days were numbered, they wouldn’t have given him an extension for the rest of his career. There is no question Chipper is one of the best 3B and switch hitters of all time. Not only that, but he has been a clutch player his whole career and one of the truly good guys of the game.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
6:13 pm

If you hate this particular post, please direct your complaints to esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore. He lit the fuse, so to speak. The other week we were sitting at a game and Chipper got yet another hit and Chris asked, “Was he always this clutch?” (Chris is from up East.) And I thought for two seconds and said, “Yeah.”

Jt

June 10th, 2009
6:15 pm

Over the long haul, Chipper has been more valuable than either Smoltz or Glavine. Not close!

Jt

June 10th, 2009
6:17 pm

Chipper has almost ALWAYS been clutch. Smoltz and Glavine have had times when they have been, but nor close to chipper (every day player).

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
6:20 pm

Copy that, JT.

Paul H

June 10th, 2009
6:20 pm

Well said, Mark. Chipper doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Never has. But he’s certainly been a bright spot for Atlanta sports the past 12 years. One of the best.

the real Andy

June 10th, 2009
6:32 pm

the opposite of rah-rah is har-har. are you calling Chipper a joke?

the real Andy

June 10th, 2009
6:34 pm

JT – i agree that Chipper has been great, but more clutch than Smoltz? i’ve never seen anyone more clutch than Smoltz. He’s the best pitcher in post-season history and has the numbers to back it up. He could pitch with his arm dangling from a thread and give you 7 solid innings.

JUST ME

June 10th, 2009
6:42 pm

Finally an article in recognition of one of the best and most dedicated players to come along in a long time. I don’t understand how anyone can question his performance and decorum. I appreciate him and thank him.

Red Clay Hound

June 10th, 2009
6:43 pm

Who was the can’t miss pitcher (out of Texas I believe) who the Braves wanted to draft with that No.1
pick – but informed them he would not sign if they did – so they settled for Chipper instead ?

yogi2

June 10th, 2009
6:47 pm

Chipper is our greatest player since Hank Aaron. Everyday players are more valuable than Pitchers. Chipper is #1 in my book. Franqueor is the worst player in the major leagues now that shffer is gone. rade Frenchy and Norton

the real Andy

June 10th, 2009
6:52 pm

we wanted Todd Van Poppel. had to settle for Chipper

Powder Springs Jacket

June 10th, 2009
6:58 pm

Red Clay Hound, The pitcher you speak of was named Todd VanPoppel.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
6:59 pm

I almost — almost — wrote the “har, har” thing, Andy. But I decided it didn’t exactly serve the overall tone, so to speak.

Jacob

June 10th, 2009
7:01 pm

You cant say Glav and Smoltzie werent clutch. A different way, but Glav won game 6 of the 95 Series. Pretty clutch. That said, outside of Mickey Mantle, we have had the privilege of watching the greatest switch hitter of all time.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
7:04 pm

And Chipper and I were talking about Van Poppel earlier tonight, as luck would have it. He’d signed with the Texas Longhorns and was insisting he’d go to college, and everybody was so scared of him that nobody risked picking him until the A’s did at No. 14. (Oakland was about to reach a third consecutive World Series.

Looking toward the Pittsburgh dugout, Chipper said, “If the Braves had taken [Van Poppel], I’d have ended up with them [the Pirates] or with Seattle.” The Pirates and Mariners had the fifth and sixth picks in the 1990 draft. Detroit took Tony Clark No. 2 overall, the Phillies took Mike Lieberthal No. 3, and Florida took Alex Fernandez No. 4.

Chipper remembered all the names, you should know, even those of the Pirates’ pick (Kurt Miller) and Seattle’s (Marc Newfield). Chipper remembers everything.

Steven

June 10th, 2009
7:06 pm

What a great post Mr. Bradley. I’d feign to say that in Atlanta Sports over the past 20 or so years, he has brought us to our feet more than any other athlete. Watching him in September of 99 will be the best memory of him I will ever have. He’s what the face of the franchise for any franchise should be. I’m glad he plays for our team!

JKP

June 10th, 2009
7:13 pm

Name me one other player in history, let alone a superstar, that would restructure their contract to help their team be more competitive. That’s all you need to know about Chipper Jones the player, and Chipper Jones the man.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
7:15 pm

Thanks, Steven. At the game now. Getting ready to see Charlie Morton toe the slab against the Braves. Why would the Pirates do that to him?

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 10th, 2009
7:17 pm

The fact that he remembers everything is an important part of the switch-hitting, bare-hand picking, can’t-miss-sure-fire-first-ballot HO’er that he is.

Had he ever wanted to wear the pinstripes he could have been President of the Universe.

BTW, sure am glad he didn’t go that route.

CM

June 10th, 2009
7:21 pm

Random Chipper Memory. 1995 Division Series against Colorado. They’re thinking they’ve got Maddux beat to steal Game 1 and make it a series. Top 9, Chipper goes yard to put the Braves ahead, and put the Rockies back in their place. Clutch indded.

Steven

June 10th, 2009
7:24 pm

Another thing I forgot to mention is Chipper’s unselfish ways. I don’t remember any athlete doing so much to make his team better off the field. How he deferred playing third for Vinny Castilla, letting Sheff, and JD bat third. Or restructuring his contract to give the team more flexibility with payroll. No other athlete in today’s me-first sports world has done more to make his team better. Am I wrong?

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
7:28 pm

And that was the first playoff game of Chipper’s career, CM. And he hit two homers that night. Here’s the box score.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 10th, 2009
7:28 pm

Spot on Steven, spot on.

brewdawg

June 10th, 2009
7:29 pm

A Bradley reference by Chip Caray! You are now a famous man Mark.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
7:32 pm

Thanks, BrewDawg. But after my May experience in Cleveland, I have to ask … was it a complimentary reference? (I’m a little gun-shy regarding TV.)

brewdawg

June 10th, 2009
7:38 pm

It was complimentary. Chip said you made a good point in spring training along the lines of Tommy Hanson being surprised when things went bad, while Charlie Morton seemed to wait for something bad to happen. Morton out after one inning, apparently had some sort of stomach thing before the game.

TAD

June 10th, 2009
7:39 pm

Mark,

Have you ever asked Chipper his thoughts on losing the Rookie of the Year to Nomo? I still consider it one of the largest injustices in baseball history.

RHR

June 10th, 2009
7:53 pm

Well done, Mark. And if Frank Wren or any other GM in waiting ever does to Chipper what was done to Glavine I will burn Turner Field to the ground. If someone else doesn’t beat me to it before I can get there from Alabama.

Your poll was probably the hardest vote I’ve ever cast. Maddux or Chipper? Chipper or Maddux? Do I vote with my heart or with my head? In the end, I voted with both. Viva la Chipper!

RHR

June 10th, 2009
7:56 pm

Who was the can’t miss pitcher (out of Texas I believe) who the Braves wanted to draft with that No.1 pick

Exactly. The only reason anyone even knows his name is because of Chipper.

Bryan G.

June 10th, 2009
8:00 pm

Maybe Chip should have challenged you to a fight in Cleveland. He’s teaming up with “the mayor.”

[...] Mark Bradley | ajc.com – [...]

Bobby Cox

June 10th, 2009
8:04 pm

Don’t worry. Wren will dump him with no respect soon.

Chas

June 10th, 2009
8:04 pm

Chipper is 40th in career homers. He’s one of 13 on that list with a .300 career batting average, and his .310 is 7th best. Hall of Fame!

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
8:16 pm

Wow. I’m impressed Chip Caray remembered that. I barely remember that. Thanks, BrewDawg.

And Charlie Morton left with tightness in his right hamstring, according to the Pirates’ PR folks.

Sam Everyman, Citizen Journalist

June 10th, 2009
8:29 pm

Chip Caray speculated that Morton left with stomach troubles and Joe attributed it to “jitters” in the finest tradition of reporting. Now we learn that Morton had a tight hamstring and was seeing lightning bugs and had tingling extremities. Please, let’s be accurate.

Braves Fan

June 10th, 2009
8:33 pm

The Braves are an outstanding half team. We have great talent at third base, shortstop, catcher and center field and chronic under achievers at first base, second base, left field and right field. The management can do better and I wish they would.

Ted Striker

June 10th, 2009
8:45 pm

Call this heresy but I’ll actually be glad when MLB is purged of all the players who were on big league rosters as of the ‘94 strike — the sainted Chipper Jones included. I loved MLB baseball prior to ‘94 but it just didn’t love me back.

I’d rather see Gordan Beckham strike out than see Chipper Jones hit a grand slam.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
9:18 pm

Ted, I’m surprised. Bitterness? On a blog?

rhynster

June 10th, 2009
9:34 pm

Mark, you and Schultz have been firing on all cylinders lately.

Nice reads.

You know, Francoeur really had that clutch thing going for him when he came up.

We all thought he was going to be a Hall of Famer.

Now, it seems the best we might see out of him is a Pat Burrell type career.

Alot of OK peppered with spontaneous blips of greatness.

Chipper has been the opposite of that since forever.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
9:48 pm

At this instant, Rhynster, the Braves would be thrilled if Francoeur became a Burrell.

And thanks for the kind words.

The Grinch

June 10th, 2009
10:05 pm

You beat me to it, Mark; I’d be ecstatic if Jeff went Burrell on us.

stupup74

June 10th, 2009
10:20 pm

Mark, I agree with everything you wrote about Chipper. He is the greatest ATLANTA Brave. McCann has a chance to get in the conversation one day, but now and for the distant future, Chipper is the franchise.

That said, I love Chipper Jones, I just don’t love him 13 million a year for the next 3 years. The braves have committed approx. 30 mil in payroll to Lowe and Chipper for the next 3 years. That is WAY too much. Chipper is not worth that much. While he is the best switch hitter of my lifetime (and still is) he is out of the lineup way too much to be worth that contract, especially in this economy.

I don’t hold that against him though, I hold that against the Braves organization. Chipper needs help and is not getting it. He is too old to carry the offense by himself. The Chipper Jones of 1999 could not carry this offense by himself. This organization has proceeded to cheap skate and skim flint on all the positions around him so bad that this team is absolutely unwatchable. The organization traded pieces like Jermaine Dye, Elvis Andrus, and Adam Wainright, etc for one year rentals in hopes of carrying on a division title streak that was an overrated achievement.

It is sad a talent like Chipper, who would command a ransom in a trade to a contender, has to practice the mastery of his craft in a lineup that is short at 4 different positions because of the incompetence of an organization.

Reality Time

June 10th, 2009
10:24 pm

Mark, I have had the honor and privilege of seeing Henry Aaron and Chipper Jones, who I believe are two of the greatest baseball players in my sixty years, play for MY team. They are also two of the greatest ambassadors off the field. Who can ask for more?

paul

June 10th, 2009
10:31 pm

Chipper is a pleasure to watch. He is one of the few great hitters in the game and may go down as the best switch of all time.

This is a great article, but there is only one problem…

To say that the Braves may never have another Chipper is to seemingly dismiss what B Mac has done for us since his arrival. If MCann stays healthy and is moved to first base when his knees begin to fail, he has the ability to become great as well. B Mac has a good shot at being a .300BA/ 400HR guy, much like Chipper.

Mark Bradley

June 10th, 2009
10:33 pm

I grew up 60 miles from Cincinnati and saw Johnny Bench play his entire career. And there were times, believe it or not, over those 16 seasons when people grumbled that Bench didn’t hit in the clutch or that he was a tad overrated, and when finally he moved to third base and the Reds tried to make do with a mortal at catcher (Alex Trevino, who would briefly become a Brave) we saw what should have been clear all along: That we’d just watched the greatest catcher of all time.

Sometimes you can watch so closely you miss the bigger picture. In my mind, Chipper Jones is exactly what Steve Phillips called him a couple of years ago: The Derek Jeter of the National League. A gamer. A winner. A Hall of Famer.

Gee, sounds like I’ve just written a whole ‘nother column. I’ll stop before I bore you to tears.

Ted Striker

June 10th, 2009
10:33 pm

Ever read about Jake Scott getting upset with Vince Dooley in ‘68 when Dooley secretly signed the team for a Sugar Bowl appearance — costing the team a shot at the National Championship in the Orange Bowl? Scott thought Dooley betrayed the trust of the team and was so ticked that he left school after his junior year and went to the CFL. Even skipped the award ceremony for SEC player of the year.

Well, that’s sorta how I felt when MLB players went on strike in ‘94. That said, I feel better and better about baseball with each new player to come along and dispose of a 1994 model Judas goat.