Monday, January 14, 2013

Chipper's Cooperstown-Worthy Career

With the bitter aftertaste of Cooperstown's most recent voting fiasco still lingering in my mouth, I wanted to examine the career of Chipper Jones, a shoo-in to gain entry on the first ballot when he comes up for election in 2018.

According to JAWS, Jones ranks as the fifth best third baseman of all time, behind only Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs and Eddie Mathews. The lifelong Atlanta Brave is also one of the best switch-hitters who ever lived. Along with his stellar career numbers, Jones was also a class act who played the game the right way for 20 years. A quiet, humble man, he did not show up pitchers, admire his 468 home runs or loaf to first base.  Most importantly, there's no PED-created cloud hanging over his career, even though he played at a high level past his 40th birthday.

Like Dale Murphy before him, he was the face of baseball in the South for generations of fans who admired his humble personality, beautiful swing and marvelous consistency. Like Mickey Mantle, he played through aches and pains while dealing his share of issues off the field. Like David Ortiz, he struck fear into New York fans with his knack for delivering big hits at the expense of their team.

Our final memory of Jones as a player is a fitting one; sprinting down the first base line, legging out an infield single with Atlanta down to its final out in the 2012 National League Wild Card playoff game. Hustling all the way as Daniel Descalso's throw pulled Allen Craig off the bag. A competitor to the very end.

So in honor of number 10, here are ten of his resume's most impressive credentials:
  1. He was the first overall pick of the 1990 draft, which produced Mike Mussina, Carl Everett, Jeromy Burnitz, Tony Clark, and Rondell White. Atlanta almost selected future mega-bust Todd Van Poppel, but TVP said he would not sign with them.  Jones went on to become the youngest player in the league when he debuted on September 11th, 1993. Originally a shortstop, Jones moved to the hot corner in the minors
  2. After missing all of 1994 with a torn ACL, he came back strong and was the '95 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Hideo Nomo, the Japanese sensation who led the league in strikeouts, shutouts and K/9 rate. Jones got the more coveted hardware when Atlanta won the World Series by defeating the Cleveland Indians in six games. The Braves returned to the Series the following year to defend their title, but were dispatched by the New York Yankees, who swept Atlanta in a rematch three years later
  3. In 1997 he recorded the last hit at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, home of the Braves since 1966
  4. Chipper Jones made eight All-Star teams, but was not an All-Star in 1999, the year he won his only Most Valuable Player award (and his age 27 season).  Matt Williams and Ed Sprague (?) were chosen over Jones, who got off to a slow start but still finished the first half with 21 homers, 57 RBI and a .313/.422/.589 triple slash line. Jones continued to rake after the Break and topped a stacked MVP ballot highlighted by monster seasons from Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Mike Piazza, and Barry Bonds. While I'm on the subject, Jones made just one All-Star team in his nine seasons between 2002 and 2010, his lone appearance coming in '09 when he posted the highest batting average (.364) and OBP (.470) in the major leagues. It boggles the mind considering he averaged a .937 OPS and compiled nearly 40 bWAR during that timeframe. For instance, Jones did not make the team in 2007, when he placed sixth in the MVP race and topped the league in OPS and OPS+
  5. Jones was one of those rare switch-hitters without a major platoon split. From the left side he batted .303/.405/.541, nearly identical to his .304/.391/.498 figures batting right-handed. The only other switch-hitter to bat .300 from both sides over the course of his career was Frankie Frisch, who starred in the 1920s and '30s when .300 batting averages were commonplace.
  6. His 1,623 RBI lead all third baseman and rate second to Eddie Murray among switch-hitters. Jones had nine seasons with at least 100 RBI, including eight straight from 1996-2003. Interestingly, Jones scored nearly as many runs (1,619) as he knocked in
  7. He is the only switch-hitter with a .300 career batting average and at least 400 home runs. Mickey Mantle, with his 536 dingers and .298 average, just missed being the first
  8. Is one of five players, along with Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig, with at least 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 450 home runs, 1,500 runs, walks, and RBI with a .300/.400/.500 batting line. Just goes to show how well-rounded he was as a hitter, but perhaps the best reflection of his hitting ability is that he never struck out 100 times in any season
  9. He was the only player named Chipper in baseball history until last year, when the Miami Marlins drafted Chipper Smith, a pitcher, out of Cumberland University. Smith has some pretty big shoes to fill...
  10. Like contemporaries Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Manny Ramirez, Jones practically lived in the postseason. He was a mainstay in October from his first full season to his last, helping Bobby Cox's teams win the division every year from 1991 through 2005 (minus '94, when the player's strike wiped out the playoffs). Although Atlanta has failed to win the NL East since (coinciding with the departures of Cox, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Andruw Jones), they made the postseason via the Wild Card in 2010 and 2012 sandwiched around a historic meltdown in 2011. For all their regular season success, the Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001. Jones, like Jeter, developed a clutch reputation early on in his career that allowed him to skirt criticism whenever he struggled in October


  1. "Is one of five players, along with Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig, with at least 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 450 home runs, 1,500 runs, walks, and RBI with a .300/.400/.500 batting line."

    ... good fact.

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  3. The idea of "clutch hitting" in the postseason over the long-term is something of a myth, anyway. You're talking about small samples versus a higher caliber of pitching.

    Of course, the entire postseason format in baseball is a gimmick that proves incongruous with the regular season. At better idea would be to split each league into two divisions again, eliminate all Wild Cards, and play a best-of-fifteen League Championship Series over the first half of October, followed by a best-of-fifteen World Series over the second half of October.

    Also, just to be clear, the Braves stopped winning division titles while Andruw Jones (his last two years in Atlanta), John Smoltz (his last three years in Atlanta), and Bobby Cox (his last five years in Atlanta) were all around, and they kept winning division titles following the departures of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, winning three more crowns without Glavine (2003-2005) and two more without Maddux (2004-2005, not to mention their two division titles and two NL pennants without Maddux in 1991-1992). So the "coinciding" that you speak of did not really exist.

  4. The Braves last played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1996, not 1997, and the Yankees did not "dispatch" the Braves in the 1996 Fall Classic. Yes, New York won the series, but only after losing the first two games at home by a combined margin of 16-1, and nearly going down three games to one after the Braves grabbed a 6-0 lead heading into the sixth inning of Game Four. Overall, Atlanta actually out-scored the Yankees in that series by a margin of 26-18, but lost four straight close games.

    According to "The Oxford Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus" (Second Edition), "dispatch" in this context means to "perform promptly; finish off." Well, the 1996 World Series constituted an arduous journey for the Yankees, full of comebacks and narrow margins, not a "dispatch."

  5. It is plain to see why the Braves were so unstoppable in the regular season during that period. Cox had excellent starters for well over half the games in Greg, Tom, and John, while Andruw and Chipper provided plenty of run support and defense. I knew that Chipper was an excellent player, but I had no idea was THAT good! You deserve the Hall, Chips!!! If you don't get in because of some diabolical scheme by the writers, please accept my most sincere condolences. ;)