Braves fans should cherish Jones’ final days

Published 12:37am Sunday, July 15, 2012

As Chipper Jones came up to bat in the bottom of the sixth Friday night, a thought occurred in the back of my head.

Maybe I should take a picture of him in case he jacks one over the fence, I said to myself. That way, I can post it to Twitter and say it was seconds before the home run.

Ultimately, with my battery power waning, I opted against snapping a shot of No. 10. And when Jones later launched a 3-2 pitch by the Mets’ Josh Edgin over the left-center field fence, I just sat back and smiled.

It figures.

Now 40 years old and playing in his final season, Jones has been a mainstay for Braves fans since his first full season in 1995. He’s seen the Braves win a World Series, seen them win an unbelievable 14 straight NL East titles and even has an MVP award to his name. He’s been a constant in Atlanta’s clubhouse when other top-tier players have come and gone.

It’s not news to Braves fans that Jones has been an elite player throughout his career, but playing in a small market, he doesn’t seem to get the attention that some of baseball’s other big names get. Rest assured, though, he deserves the attention.

One of the best litmus tests for whether or not someone is a Hall of Fame player goes like this: If you even have to ask whether someone’s a Hall of Famer, then they probably aren’t a Hall of Famer. With Jones, it’s not even a question – he’s going in, likely on the first ballot.

Just how good is he? With Friday night’s home run, he tied Mike Schmidt for second on the all-time list for RBIs by a third baseman. At 461 home runs, he sits as No. 33 on the all-time home runs list, one shy of Jose Canseco. As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft, he ranks as one of the best No. 1 overall picks ever taken, along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. He is rightly considered one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game.

In today’s baseball climate, no one is completely above suspicion for using performance-enhancing drugs, unfortunately. Jones, however, is about as close as you can get to being free from suspicion. His name has never been connected to PEDs, and he wasn’t on the Mitchell Report. Furthermore, Jones has been nothing but a class act throughout all of his playing days, and he’s never gotten into any off-the-field trouble.

It’s also worth noting that Jones moved from his primary position at third base to left field during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. This was in order to let Vinny Castilla play third, despite the fact that it had been Jones’ position since 1995. But Jones was willing to put the team first, even though he could have protested the move — and likely gotten his way. As my dad put it in a text to me after Friday’s home run, he’s one of baseball’s “good guys.”

Some have said that Jones could have possibly prevented some of the injuries he suffered later in his career if he had gone to an American League team to DH, but I disagree. Not even getting into how unfortunate it would have been for Jones to leave Atlanta, some players bat much better when they’re able to play in the field. Since Jones has been playing in the field his whole career, I suspect the adjustment wouldn’t have been easy for him.

Friday night at Turner Field was my last night to see Jones play in person. Seeing him hit one of the last home runs of his career made it all the more special. Braves fans should cherish every at-bat of his from here on out – they’re witnessing the final chapter in what’s been a truly historic run.

 

Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.