Chipper Jones Score 1997

A sweet swing from either side of the plate.

I have an interesting relationship with the Atlanta Braves. They were never my favorite team, but growing up, they were ever present in baseball, and with good reason. They had the greatest rotation I’ll ever see (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Kent Mercker in 1995). Because Red Sox posters were hard to find, I had Fred McGriff on my wall during my middle school years.

And thanks to TBS, they were the only team other than the Red Sox that I was able to follow on a day-in, day-out basis, not to mention my link to the National League. In the early 1990s, I got to see what a winning organization looked like from game to game, how they adjusted, how they worked new players into the system.

One of those new players got his chance to make a real dent in that system in 1995, taking over for the mighty Terry Pendleton at the hot corner — Chipper Jones, a slick third baseman with a funny name who could hit for power and average from both sides of the plate. In the early days, he wore his socks high, he could make the stab-and-throw better than anyone not named Matt Williams, and he instantly became a force in the middle of an already stacked lineup. Easy to root for? Definitely.

He was never a “favorite player,” I guess, but that’s to say that he didn’t play for the Red Sox and wasn’t named Rickey Henderson. But he was always someone I wanted to do well, and he had a knack for destroying the New York Mets. Over the years, he kept hitting, he switched positions a couple of times, settled back into third base, and now is regarded as one of the better third basemen of all time, who’s probably on his way to Cooperstown.

But when Chipper went down with a blown ACL the other day, that’s not where my thoughts went first. They went to my friend Matt Berry, a lifelong Braves fan who has long held up Jones as his favorite player. The Braves are enjoying a nice season with the playoffs in their sights, and manager Bobby Cox and Jones were supposed to stroll off into retirement at the end of another successful year. That’s over now. As Matt says it:

It’s just not right.  It wasn’t supposed to end this way.  Even if this team wasn’t good enough to make it to or even win the World Series, the thought of Chipper and Cox riding off into the sunset on a deep playoff run gave hope to Braves fans that this could be another 1991.  The season is far from over, and the team has several options to fill in the 3B gap.  But without Chipper, the feel-good story just won’t feel quite as good.

I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Chipper, that he at least gets to walk off the field on his own terms. Braves fans deserve that, if nothing else.

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