April 5, 2012

Appreciate #10, While You Can

Larry Wayne Jones Jr. and his legacy goes without saying, he will forever be one of the greatest athletes in
the history of Atlanta professional sports. 2012 is his last year, but their is still time to look back and acknowledge his legendary career. Here are 4 reasons to appreciate Chipper Jones; what he's accomplished as a player, what he's meant to the Braves organization, baseball fans and the city of Atlanta.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

Chipper has a career batting average of .304 and a career OBP of .402; he has slugged 454 HR and swiped 149 SB. Only two other players in Major League Baseball history have ever retired with an BA > .300, OBP > .400, 450+ HR and 100+ SB. Those two players? Babe Ruth & Lou Gherig.

Jones was in retrospect, the ultimate No. 1 pick & ultimate franchise player. Among No. 1 overall picks, only Alex Rodriguez has compiled more career Wins Above Replacement, but no player has accumulated more value with his original team than Chipper according to ESPN:

Chipper Jones, Braves, 1990: 82.7
Ken Griffey Jr.. Mariners, 1989: 67.6
Alex Rodriguez, Mariners, 1993: 37.1

"He just looks like a ballplayer, you know? His
actions, his mannerisms, everything he does,
I really can’t say enough good things about him.
The way he’s gone about his business, his
consistency, how he took care of himself, what
he means to the team. He could flat-out hit. He’s
a Hall of Famer, for sure."

Derek Jeter
Jones has represented the NL at the All-Star Game 7 times, but should have been elected to more. He was snubbed multiple times, thanks to the voting philosophy of the game as being a popularity contest. The biggest snub was in 1999, when he instead finished with the NL MVP Award. He was also hurt by his move to left field, a time where Barry Bonds was a staple for the NL squad.

His consistency is also remarkable; Chipper hit 20+ HR in 14 consecutive seasons to start his career, hit 25+ HR in 10 seasons and drove in 100+ RBI in 9 seasons. Jones also never reached 100 strikeouts in a season, an incredible stat for a power hitter. He won 2 silver slugger awards and 1 NL MVP Award, but finished in the top 12 in MVP voting in 9 seasons. When many began to say that he was entering the twilight of his career, he won his first batting title in 2008- finishing the year with a batting average of (.364). He has been the key producer of the team on offense, leading the Braves to the playoffs 12 times during his career; helping capture 11 of Atlanta's 14 consecutive division titles and 1 wild-card berth in 2010. Among third basemen with at least 5,000 career plate appearances, Chipper Jones owns the second-highest on-base percentage (.402) and the HIGHEST slugging percentage (.533) all-time.

Jones is also regarded as one of the top 3 switch-hitters in baseball history, alongside Mickey Mantle & Eddie Murray. Chipper only trails Mantle in HR, having surpassed him in hits, RBI and batting average over nearly the exact career span. You can make several arguments about which numbers are better, but keep in mind Murray had 600+ more plate appearances than both Mantle & Jones. Checking the stats below, Chipper ranks 1st or 2nd in 11/14 categories:

Loyalty to The Franchise

Loyalty is sports is extremely rare these days, you can find only a handful of players that are willing to make sacrifices, are committed and dedicated to playing for only a single organization. When you think of Atlanta, the first players that usually come to mind are Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Andruw & Chipper; the first four moved on to play for other teams in their careers at some point. Chipper could have made more money, taken a deal in a larger market, grown his legend in another uniform surround by a bigger media, but he didn't- he was once quoted in saying--

“There were times when I could have went out on the FA market and see if the grass was greener, but I really didn’t think it was, I never wanted to play anywhere else. I’m a Southern kid, I wanted to play in a Southern town where I felt comfortable, and I felt comfortable from day one in the Braves organization. I bleed red, white and blue, The first professional uniform I put on 16 years ago was a Braves uniform and I wanted to try to make sure it's my last. when I was coming up, guys like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn who were able to work with their organization so that they could stay in one place, they knew how important it was to stay in one place and be the face of the franchise. While I don't consider myself to be in their realm, I'm awfully proud to say I've been a part of this organization for so long."

Team First Attitude

Chipper Jones has ALWAYS put the team before his own needs. In 2005, he restructured his contract in an attempt to keep the Braves competitive in the free-agent market. Jones agreed to reduce his salary for the season from $17 million to $11 million and saved the Braves about $15 million over the next three seasons. 

Most guys these days, even without the career to earn the right to do so (re: Hanley Ramirez), aren't happy about the idea to move away from their primary position. When the Braves signed Vinny Castilla in 2002, Chipper supported the signing and willingly agreed to move to left field. Chipper had the resume to be upset about the move, he was in the prime of his career and had been named an NL All-Star at third in 5 of the previous 6 seasons. Chipper had earned the right to be selfish, but instead opted to do what wasn't in his best interest, but what was best for his team. How many guys these days would do that?

Played Clean in The Steroid Era

A large part of what Chipper has accomplished has been watered down due to the inflation of numbers during the steroid era. Jones will go into the Hall of Fame with a special group of players who have done things the right way, playing clean. His career follows a very precise mathematical trend of playing career rise/decline; there's no outrageous jump or spike in production that would be seen as a red flag. Never has there been any allegations against Jones, no rumors, no notes about him in a Jose Canseco book and no grand jury testimony. Chipper said at one point he considered it; largely due to the achievements of his peers around the league, but never was tempted to explore further for a variety of reasons, citing life after baseball and his family.

Me & CJ: Stopping to sign with a cast
on his arm, signing a ball for me at
'gettaway' day & FanFest 2008.
According to Chipper, the elder Larry Jones asked him point blank if he had ever cheated, saying "Please tell me you never did that; I can’t think of anything that would disappointment me more than finding out that you did something like that." Jones Jr. replied, "Well, I never did, you don’t have to worry about that." Jones is one of the few players, likely first-ballot, to go into the HOF with a clear conscience. Although Chippers numbers have been under appreciated and overshadowed by guys that were "juiced", his resume is still extraordinarily impressive.

In conclusion, franchise players aren't easy to find, sometimes they don't stick around. The Braves had a great one. The only thing left to decide is if his statue outside Turner Field with have him batting right or left handed.