Chipper Jones isn’t sure when his playing days will end, but he’s sure of this: When it comes, the end won’t be ugly. “The one thing I don’t want to have happen,” he said Monday, speaking before the Braves’ game with the Mets, “is the spats between player and management that have happened here.”
The reference was to the acrimonious departures of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in 2009. Both fences have since been mended, seeing as how the Hall of Fame pitchers are now Braves broadcasters. But Chipper doesn’t want even the hint of discord to accompany his leaving.
“I’ll take all the burden on me,” he said. “I’m not going to stick around and collect a paycheck — a big paycheck — if I can’t do it anymore. I’m not going to hamstring this organization or hamstring the next manager, whoever he is after Bobby [Cox]. There are too many things I love other than baseball pulling at me.”
This isn’t to say the best everyday Brave since Aaron is ready to take his last bow. Yes, he’s hitting .222 with two home runs and nine RBIs, and yes, he turned 38 last month. And yes, he has always been a pragmatist of the first rank. “I know it’s coming down to the end,” he said. Even so …
He likes the way he’s swinging. He consulted his personal hitting coach last week — “L.W. Senior,” as Chipper refers to his dad — and said: “How many times over the years have I been on a .220 streak and called you and said, ‘I’m OK with it?’ ”
Jones changed one of his swings — the left-handed one — over the winter. He’s trying to hit the ball with less topspin and more backspin. (Backspin lifts balls over the fence; topspin drives them down.) He has tried a lighter bat, tried keeping both hands on the bat longer, tried pretty much everything. And he believes he’s close to seeing a result. But he also knows that adjustments made by a 38-year-old carry no guarantee.
“When you get older, you try and compensate and supply power by getting bigger,” he said. “And when you get bigger you can fall into bad habits. And when you’ve been as injured as I have, it’s tougher to get out of funks.”
About the injuries, of which there have been many: “There are days when my wife has to put both feet on my back to roll me out of bed, and you wonder if it’s worth it.”
So: Is it worth it? For now, yes. “I agreed to play this year,” Jones said. But his contract runs through 2012, and he has long expressed a desire to play until he’s 40.
Chipper: “As I sit here today, I can’t say [playing two seasons beyond this] is going to happen.”
His aim this season, he said, was to groom Jason Heyward “to be the No. 3 hitter here for the next 20 years.” Here Jones laughed. “Little did I know he was laughing to himself, saying, ‘I’m already ready.’ And I believe he is ready.”
About hitting third in the order: When Jones was hurting and not hitting and his team was losing the way it was in April, did he consider asking Cox to move him to a different spot? Heck, he made the request.
“I get worried that Bobby — and I admire him for his loyalty — will be too loyal and worry too much about my feelings … He has to manage the team on how it’s playing.”
The team is playing better, and Jones believes “the doubles and homers will start to come” for him. But if they don’t and he winds up retiring at 38 … well, he’d be OK with that, too.
“I can look myself in the mirror,” he said. “I can walk away with my head high.”
The Braves without Chipper Jones: It’s a notion almost impossible to comprehend. “I’m flattered you say that,” he said, laughing again. “But the time’s coming.”