What Is Chipper Jones' Legacy If NL Wild Card Is His Final Game?
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After 19 years in the major leagues, Chipper Jones' career might only have one more game remaining.
The Atlanta Braves will play the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card game Friday evening (Oct. 5). MLB added a second wild-card team to each league this year, but with a catch. The two teams that didn't win their division play one another in a one-game playoff.
So if the Braves lose to the Cardinals, their season will be over. And that will close out a career for their 40-year-old third baseman, who announced during the spring that this year would be his last as a major leaguer.
Obviously, Jones was going to play his final game at some point during this postseason. The Braves aren't a favorite in the NL playoff field, so it's unlikely that his career will end soaked in champagne, wearing goggles, while holding a World Series trophy above his head.
But it would still be nice—and appropriate—to see Jones play out the end of his career in a playoff series rather than a one-and-done circumstance.
If Jones' 19-year career does come to an end, he's left an impressive legacy with the Braves and the game of baseball.
Playing 19 years in the majors doesn't guarantee that a player will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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But if a player lasted 19 years in the majors, there's a pretty good chance that he's stuck around because he's had a tremendous career (unless the player is a left-handed reliever. Then it's just genetics, right?).
Is there any argument against Jones as a Hall of Famer? OK, he doesn't have any of the classic milestones associated with the game's most honored players. He won't finish his career with 3,000 hits or 500 home runs. And he'll be just outside MLB's all-time top 30 in RBI.
But Jones did win an NL MVP award in 1999 and was an eight-time All-Star. He also won a batting title with a .364 average in 2008 and was a .300 hitter for his career.
Hall of Famers are also generally considered the best players at their position during their prime. Was Jones the best third baseman of his era? He's certainly outlasted most of his peers.
Compared to other Hall of Fame third basemen, Jones' career numbers stack up nicely. Even without the big milestones on his resume, his career achievements such as RBI, games and seasons played, batting average, All-Star appearances and postseason awards should put him on a pedestal with the best third basemen in baseball history.
Face of the Franchise
This is a term that probably gets thrown around a bit too much with star players. Some people also believe that there just isn't such a thing as a "face of the franchise" because we root for the team, we ultimately root for the jersey.
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But fans bond with their favorite players, especially if that athlete has played with the team for many years. It's human nature. An entire generation of Braves supporters has grown up with Jones on the team. They've never seen a Braves team without him.
If for no other reason than longevity, Jones is an institution with the Braves and for fans throughout the team's minor league organization. Earlier this season, I went to a game in Gwinnett where the Braves' Triple-A affiliate plays. Based on what was available at the souvenir shop, you may have thought you were at Turner Field rather than Coolray Field.
There was plenty of Jones paraphernalia. T-shirts, jerseys, shirseys, photos, DVDs, hats, posters and stuffed plush figurines were all devoted to the Braves' cornerstone player. Maybe it's like that at many other minor league ballparks; I obviously haven't been to all of them.
But I'm going to presume that it's not like this for most organizations. For many fans, Jones is the Braves. Where is all that merchandise going to go once Jones retires? What is that souvenir shop in Gwinnett going to sell?
Souvenirs aside, what will it be like for Braves fans to look at third base and not see Jones starting there next season?
The snarky response would be that Jones has had so many injuries late in his career, including this season, that people have had plenty of opportunity to become accustomed to seeing someone else—usually Martin Prado—playing at that position.
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But even when Jones wasn't on the field, he was still part of the Braves. Eventually, he would bring that sweet left-handed swing (and right-handed, since he's a switch hitter) back to the plate and come through with some big hits and home runs for Atlanta.
That's a big physical and emotional void for the Braves and their fans to fill next year. Jones is making it even more difficult to say goodbye by playing well in his final season.
Obviously, he's at least five years removed from his .320-hitting, 30-homer, 100-RBI prime. But a .287 average and .813 OPS to go with 14 home runs and 62 RBI was a surprisingly productive season for someone whose knees don't let him play the game as he used to. Jones leaves the game still playing at a productive level, which is a testament to his talent and work ethic.
Hopefully, we get to appreciate Jones for a few more games past the NL Wild Card playoff.
Cardinals fans will disagree with that, of course. But if Jones ends up being the reason the Cards are eliminated from the postseason, those fans will surely acknowledge that their team was beaten by one of the best we've ever seen.
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