It is not my intent to write about Chipper Jones every day of calendar 2012, but let’s face it: The guy IS amazing.
Hurts his knee in spring training before he can announce his impending retirement, has arthroscopic surgery, recuperates blurry-fast and is ready to go in the season’s fifth game, hits a home run in his first game back.
Plays two games in Houston (the Braves’ first two wins of calendar 2012), sees his knee swell on the plane home, gets 45 cc’s of gunk drained during Friday’s home opener, then returns Sunday and hits a home run in his first home game of his final season (another win).
The Braves so far: 2-4 when Chipper doesn’t play, 3-0 when he does.
Even in his final go-round, he remains a major presence in the field, in the clubhouse, even in the dugout. You’ll recall that the Braves had men on second and third with one out in the eighth inning of Friday’s tie game. Dan Uggla was up, Matt Diaz on deck. The Brewers might have walked Uggla to pitch to Diaz — or, more likely, a left-handed pinch-hitter against Francisco Rodriguez. Except that the Braves had used Eric Hinske, their best lefty pinch-hitter, which meant they were down to Juan Francisco. Except that the Brewers didn’t know that.
What did Fredi Gonzalez do? Had Chipper — who’d just had the knee drained an hour earlier and wasn’t going to budge from the bench — grab a bat in the dugout. Maybe the Brewers would have pitched to Uggla anyway, but the notion of having Chipper walk to the plate with the bases loaded had to register. K-Rod worked to Uggla and broke his bat but, owing to the scooted-in infield, saw the game-winning hit dribble through. (And people say Fredi is a terrible strategist.)
Say what you will about Chipper — and by this late date everyone has said absolutely everything, pro and con — but the guy is still and has always been a big-time ballplayer. Yes, with better knees he’d have been even better longer, but even with bad wheels he has been great. Eight days shy of his 40th birthday, he’s still pretty great.
By Mark Bradley