Chipper Jones caused something of an uproar a couple of weeks ago, when the Atlanta Braves third baseman told FoxSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi that he didn't know if he could make it through this year.
It was a rare admission of doubt from a professional athlete. But perhaps Jones was dealing with those sorts of feelings because of the player he was.
We're talking about a hitter who slugged 30 or more home runs in six of his 17 full-time major league seasons. In 14 of those years, he hit 20 homers or more. Jones was a seven-time All-Star. He won an MVP award, and later earned a batting title.
He's batted over .300 for his career. He played on 12 division-title winners, including a run of 11 consecutive first-place finishes.
The man is a Hall of Fame ballplayer (and if he isn't, then I just don't know how to judge what a Hall of Famer is). And for someone who's played at that level for so many years, it has to be tough to deal with when his body won't let him do those same things anymore.
The next day, Jones insisted he was joking. The reporters he was talking to didn't know him well and apparently weren't familiar with his dry sense of humor. Maybe there was some truth to that.
But Jones was surely weary of hearing the same questions about his health over and over again as different groups of reporters circulated through the Braves' spring training camp.
And then there was that brief controversy over whether Jones showed up to Lake Buena Vista fat and out of shape. Turning 40 was looking rough, man.
But the reason Jones' remarks about making it through the season drew the attention that they did is that his feelings seemed entirely plausible. Retirement was on his mind. He's probably been having a daily conversation with the idea for quite some time now, as his knees keep barking louder and louder.
That leads me to what's become one of my core beliefs: Once you begin thinking about leaving—whether it's a job, a city, a relationship or anything else you've committed to—it's time to leave. Jones has clearly been thinking about hanging up his spikes, and now he's decided to embrace the inevitable.
On Thursday morning, he announced that he'll retire after the 2012 season.
Jones will get the farewell tour that a player of his stature deserves. Maybe he'll be getting the rocking chairs, motorcycles, pictures, plaques and other bizarre gifts that have become the standard for this sort of thing.
Hopefully, fans around the majors applaud him for his achievements and the exceptional moments he's given us as baseball fans. (Well, maybe Mets fans won't. But that in itself would be its own acknowledgement.)
Or maybe Jones won't want any of that stuff and will just want to play, hoping not to be a distraction for a team expected to contend for the NL East title and finishing off his career as best he can. That would certainly fall in line with the no-fuss approach he's always taken.
Above all, the hope is that Jones plays out his final season as he sees fit, making a meaningful contribution to a playoff contender, rather than ceding to injury or poor performance. It's the end his career deserves.
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