I was getting worried. I’d always figured Chipper Jones would be the exception who proved the rule: The great athlete who knew exactly when to quit. But the more I saw and heard, the more I wondered if pride and ego and general cussedness hadn’t gotten hold of him the way it grabs most of the greats.
And that, for possibly selfish reasons, troubled me no end. I like and respect Chipper Jones. He might have been OK with being an occasional and lessened presence on the field, but it would have bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to watch Chipper flail or fail or limp around like Walter Brennan in a ballcap. I wanted him to go before – paraphrasing T.S. Eliot – the moment of his greatness flickered.
And now he will. Good for him, I say, but better for me and all of those like me: Those who came to know Chipper as the everyday anchor of a team that did nothing but finish first for more than a decade, as the one non-pitcher of the Braves’ golden era who’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. (Bobby Cox not included.)
I’ll concede that it’s not easy to stop doing a thing you’ve done most of your life, a thing you started doing not because it was profitable but because it was fun. If someone came to me and said, “Bradley, you need to quit because your famous fat paragraphs are getting as overstuffed as Grady Jackson,” I wouldn’t like it. I’d dig in my heels. I’d push back, as the vernacular has it.
And maybe it’s unfair, regarding retirement, to hold a public performer to a more rigid standard. If performers didn’t have healthy self-images, they wouldn’t have had the guts to perform in the first place. But there’s nothing quite so sad as watching a performer whose audience doesn’t want to watch anymore, and I was really afraid that would be Chipper Jones.
But no. In the end, the famous Chipper pragmatism trumped human nature. He’s leaving at the right time, and he’ll be leaving before his legacy gathers rust. I applaud him, and I also say thanks. And not just for the memories, but for having the uncommon grace to safeguard them.
By Mark Bradley