Chipper Jones will call it a career once this season ends. The Atlanta Braves third baseman has played in the major leagues for 19 seasons, and though he's still productive at the age of 40, his body is breaking down far more than it used to.
When asked if he might come back for one more season, Jones said he doesn't want to go through the rigors, especially from a travel standpoint, of another big league season. He doesn't want to live out of a suitcase anymore.
With a player of such stature announcing his retirement, the discussion immediately turns to whether he's a Hall of Famer. The initial impulse is to say that he's a sure thing for Cooperstown five years after this season. That's what I wrote back in March after Jones said 2012 was his final season.
Yet some fans think Jones isn't a Hall of Fame baseball player. In their view, he hasn't reached the numbers and career milestones typically associated with the game's elite. But is that an unfair assessment when looking at Jones' overall career? Let's confront those arguments.
Where are the milestones?
Perhaps the biggest knock against Jones' Hall of Fame suitability is that he's never reached any of the career milestones that we typically associate with baseball's all-time best.
Jones doesn't have 3,000 hits. With 2,674 hits as of this writing, he's not going to get there. But he'll finish with a career average above .300.
With 461 home runs, he'll fall short of 500 for his career. But he could finish with 470 or more, which is pretty close to the 500-homer milestone.
It should be pointed out that Jones continued to play third base at the end of his career. He didn't become a designated hitter as Paul Molitor and George Brett did. If Jones had become solely a hitter and saved some wear and tear on his knees, would his offensive numbers be even better?
Jones' RBI total stacks up nicely against other Hall of Famers, however. With 1,595 RBI currently, he will surpass 1,600 for his career. That will put him among baseball's all-time top 30 in that category
Additionally, Jones won the NL MVP award in 1999, a season in which he hit .319/.441/.633 with 45 homers and 110 RBI. He also won a batting title in 2008.
Jones was named to the All-Star team eight times during his career. Granted, this isn't an objective process. It's at the mercy of fan voting and manager preference. Look at this year. Jones didn't deserve to be on the NL All-Star team but was given a spot as tribute to his career achievement. And no one objected to that.
Yet All-Stars generally win that honor because they're considered the best player at their position. For Jones to have stood out among his peers at least seven times during his career is notable.
Was he a great third baseman?
Though Jones' overall numbers will be what gets him (or doesn't get him) into the Hall of Fame, how he measures up against other players at his position is an important consideration for his candidacy.
How does Jones compare to Mike Schmidt? Schmidt had 548 home runs, won three MVP awards and was a 12-time All-Star. If Schmidt sets the bar for third baseman, then yes, Jones falls short.
Does Jones match up with George Brett? Brett totaled 3,154 hits, won an MVP and was named to 13 All-Star teams. Though Brett is considered a better pure hitter, he and Jones could have similar career batting averages. Brett finished with a .305 mark.
Wade Boggs had 3,010 hits and 12 All-Star appearances but never hit 30 homers in a season, drove in 100 runs or won an MVP.
Brooks Robinson finished with 2,848 hits and 268 homers. Of course, his glove helped get him into Cooperstown. Jones has never been considered an elite defender at the position.
George Kell had 2,054 hits, 78 home runs and 870 RBI in 15 seasons. He also won a batting title and twice led the league in hits and doubles. He was a 10-time All-Star, but never won an MVP award.
Ron Santo, who will be inducted this year, had 2,254 hits and 342 homers. He was on nine All-Star teams but never won an MVP award.
Alongside other Hall of Fame third basemen, Jones' career numbers belong. Though he may not have the 3,000 hit or 500-homer milestones, his total body of work (RBIs, games and seasons played, batting average, All-Star appearances, postseason awards) puts him with the best that have ever played his position.
Will Jones be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Some might withhold that distinction since he didn't reach the milestones we mentioned. Personally, I think that's bogus, but many voters seem to relish holding that power over Hall of Fame hopefuls.
Something else that will help Jones' Hall of Fame cause is that he's perceived as a clean player. With so much suspicion of steroid and performance-enhancing drug use hanging over his contemporaries, Jones has avoided such rumblings. He's never been associated with such allegations. Against that backdrop, Jones looks even more suitable.
So should we prepare to watch Jones standing at a podium in Cooperstown five years from now? I certainly believe so. How do you see it?
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