Braves’ legend goes into Hall of Fame
Published 9:56 pm Saturday, July 28, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
To some, Chipper Jones was considered a consolation prize.
In the 1990 baseball draft, Todd Van Poppel was the consensus top player, and the Atlanta Braves just happened to have the number one pick that year.
Whether Van Poppel would actually sign with the Braves wasn’t clear, though, so they were forced to go in a different direction.
The player the Braves went with instead was named Larry Jones, but you probably know him better as Chipper.
History tells us that decision worked out somewhat favorably for the Braves.
Van Poppel was signed by Oakland later in the draft, and while he played in the big leagues until he was 32, he had a non-descript career.
Van Poppel finished with a 40-52 career record, and he never won more than seven games in a year.
As for Chipper, well his career took a slightly different path.
Jones became a full-time major-leaguer in 1995, the year the Braves won the World Series, and he was one of the game’s best players for 15 years.
Jones, who spent the entirety of his career with the Braves, will be in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Sunday for his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Jones had a cup of coffee with the Braves in 1993, getting two hits in three at-bats, and he sat out the 1994 season with an injury.
Jones became the starting third baseman in 1995, and he remained an every-day member of the lineup until he was 38-years-old, and he played into his 40s.
“For me, it was just having fun and playing the game,” Jones said in Cooperstown leading up to his big day. “I never saw a pay stub during my time in the big leagues. I didn’t care what I was making. As long as I walked in the clubhouse and I saw my name in the three hole playing third for the Atlanta Braves, that’s all that really mattered.
“I just kept my head down and tried to do whatever I could to help us win and let the numbers take care of themselves.”
He was a complete hitter.
Chipper finished with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBIs, and he had a .303 career batting average and a .401 on-base percentage.
He won his lone MVP award in 1999 when he slugged 45 home runs while leading the Braves to a division title, and ultimately a spot in the World Series.
Beyond the numbers (and they are the reason he’s in the Hall of Fame), Chipper is as closely tied to the Atlanta Braves as any player who has ever worn the uniform.
For me, there are two Braves’ players I most identify with.
I grew up idolizing Dale Murphy, and that he’s not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty (a column for a different day).
The Braves were a mostly miserable bunch in the 80s, but Murphy made tuning into the games on TBS worthwhile, particularly during his back-to-back MVP seasons.
Unfortunately for the Murph, just when the Braves were turning the corner, he was traded to the Phillies in 1991.
Two years later Chipper made his first appearance in Atlanta, so his tenure with the Braves spanned nearly two decades.
Murphy made his debut with the Braves in 1976, and Chipper’s final year was 2012.
So outside of a brief period in the early 90s when Chipper was making his way through the farm system, that’s a nearly 40-year stretch where one of those two was wearing the Braves’ uniform.
That’s a fairly large chunk of my life I’ve spent watching those men play the great game.
As for Chipper, the moments that stand out for me came during his MVP season in 1999.
While Andruw Jones and Ryan Klesko put up respectable numbers that year, Jones carried the team.
He did a lot of his damage against the Mets.
During a three-game sweep of the Mets, Chipper hit four home runs to help the Braves lock up the division title, and they ultimate reached the World Series where they lost to the Yankees.
I can still hear the Mets’ fans chanting “Larry, Larry,” only to watch the man batter another ball over the outfield fence.
The 2012 season was Chipper’s final one, and at the age of 40 his career was clearly on his last legs, but he still hit .287 and hit 14 home runs as a part-time player.
He provided one final magical moment late in September of 2012. As the Braves were looking to lock down a playoff spot, Chipper delivered a three-run, walk-off home run against the Phillies.
That was the final home run of Chipper’s illustrious career, and he could not have scripted it any better.
Chipper will be the fourth and final player from those great teams in the 90s to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.
He joins John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who formed one of baseball’s all-time great rotations.
“Somebody had to score some runs for that pitching staff,” Jones said. “It’s nice the day has finally come.”
Also in the Hall of Fame are Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, the manager and general manager of those teams.
Those teams were marked by playoff disappointments as much as anything, but it was still a pleasure knowing that every summer the Braves would be a contending ball club, and Chipper was a big reason why.
Thanks for the memories Chipper.