In This Corner: Chipper’s next stop will be Cooperstown
As of March 27, I’ll be 22 years old. Born at the end of March in 1990, I’ve been a Constant as long as Chipper Jones has been a member of the Atlanta Braves. And ever since his rookie season in 1995, he’s been my idol, my hero and my favorite athlete. When I was growing up, I demanded to wear the number 10 on my baseball teams so that we’d wear the same number. I wore my socks high and I put on eye black. I chewed bubble gum and blew big bubbles standing at third base just like my idol did. I even tried to be a switch hitter, just like Chipper, but I wasn’t able to make that work. I tried to do everything possible to be like him, because an idol like that doesn’t come along too often.
Living in Central New Jersey all of my life, I got to see Chipper play a lot. The Braves and New York Mets were rivals and met 18 times a year. I went to a lot of games in Philadelphia to see the Braves play the Phillies. I even went out of my way and braved the crowds and watched Atlanta play against the Yankees. Being in the same stadium as Chipper was enough for me. I’d yell out to him and scream his name every time he came to bat. I stood and cheered when he rounded the bases after a long home run. When I was nine, Chipper went on a tear in September, hitting home run after home run against the Mets on his way to the National League MVP award.
There is little that Chipper didn’t accomplish on a baseball field in his time with the Braves. As a rookie, Chipper finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and the Braves won the World Series. In his first four years, he’d won two pennants, an MVP and that World Series. He hit at least 30 home runs and drove in at least 100 runs every season from 1996-2003. He led the league in OPS in 2007 and won the batting title the next summer. He’s been voted to seven All-Star games and won a silver slugger award. Heading into his final season, Chipper has 454 home runs, 1,561 RBIs and a batting average of .304.
Only two switch-hitters in baseball history have had more home runs and only two third basemen rank higher in terms of long balls. By the end of this season, Chipper will have more RBIs than any other third baseman in baseball history. He should have the most runs scored of any player to man the hot corner as well. The numbers don’t lie, and he’s solidly in the “top five third baseman of all time” discussion. In terms of switch-hitters, only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray have had more distinguished careers.
The fact that he’ll have played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves should also count for something. In an era where players use free agency to make a big payday, Chipper signed a team-friendly extension after the 2000 season and played it out. He earned every single penny that the Braves organization paid him over the years, and if you ask me, he was underpaid for a superstar and face of the franchise.
When the news broke that he was going to retire at the end of this season, I started thinking about all of the great memories that I have of him playing for my beloved Braves. All of the times that I got to go see him as a kid and all of the times that he terrorized the Mets in the late 90s and early 2000s.
I bought tickets for the final regular season home game on Sept. 30, so I can be there to celebrate his illustrious career with 50,000 Braves fans. I just hope that Chipper and the rest of the Braves are playing deep into October and that Sunday in September isn’t the last time he puts on a home white jersey with the tomahawk chop across the front and the number 10 on the back.
He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and if the baseball writers don’t vote him in on the first try, they should be stripped of their ability to vote. Larry Wayne Chipper Jones Jr. is an all-time great and the greatest hero for whom I could have ever asked.