The image above is one that many Braves fans remember like the back of their hand. A young, skinny, and uber-talented 19-year-old named Andruw Jones hitting a home run in what was his coming out party during the 1996 World Series with Atlanta against the New York Yankees.
The thing about this image though is that to many Braves fans it is extremely hard to look at and not think what could have, and maybe should have been during the Andruw Jones' era in Atlanta.
Starting with his debut in the 1996 World Series, in which the Braves led 2-0 before letting the Yankees sweep the remaining four games to take the series and begin their dynastic run through the late 1990's and early 2000's, Andruw Jones' tenure with Atlanta never resulted in a World Series win or much playoff success at all.
In his defense, the young star did everything he could to help the Braves make the playoffs in every year after 1996 until 2005 when the Braves division title streak ended. Andruw was a spectacular centerfielder, garnering 10 gold glove awards from 1998-2007, which practically covers his entire Atlanta Braves career.
Andruw was also a terrific home run hitter and run producer, as he averaged 33 home runs per season with the Braves, including his 18 during his rookie year. He also drove in a little over 100 runs per game during that 11-year time span as well.
With all of his success, Andruw's legacy is still hampered by the way his body, mind, and effort seemed to go down the drain toward the end of his time in Atlanta. The Atlanta fans were getting tired of seeing him strike out on the same low and outside curveball on every pitch. Not to mention what seemed like a lack in desire to improve and stay in shape to perform at the level that he was capable of on offense and in center field. All the while, Andruw kept that boyish smirk on his face at all times, and it seemed that he was just laughing at his own demise.
Ultimately, the Braves gave up on their maligned star. Letting him walk at the end of the 2007 season because there was no way they would give him the money that he and agent Scott Boras sought for, and eventually got, in the tune of $36.2 million over two years.
There's no need to say how much of a mistake that was by the Dodger's front office, as Andruw had one of the worst years in the history of Major League Baseball (not exaggerating) with these numbers: .158 AVG, 3 HR, 14 RBI, and .505 OPS in just 75 games. And no he wasn't injured.
It's hard to explain the epic fall that Andruw Jones had in L.A., but it reveals just how brilliant former Braves GM John Schuerholz was in knowing that the decline was just about to hit rock bottom for the then 30-year-old center-fielder, who was once the teenage phenom that Braves fans expected to help lead the team to multiple titles.
Now, we are seeing some signs of redemption from Andruw, as he has found a role with the surprising first-place Texas Rangers as the DH and part-time outfielder, who provides a power-punch to the Texas offense. It doesn't hurt that he's playing his home games in the bandbox that is the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Yet, there is no denying that Andruw looks like a man possessed trying to revive his career and achieve many career milestones in what would seem to be about seven or so more years of playing time as an American League DH.
After his monster three home run game last night, Andruw now has 14 HR and 34 RBI this season, which is already a 467% increase in homers and a 243% increase in RBI to last year in 49 less AB.
Some may say, "Well, he's only hitting .250." I say, "What's new?" Andruw has hardly ever hit for a high average, as he is just a .259 career hitter. However, it is his double-digit gold-gloves, more than 1100 RBI, and potential 450-500 career HR numbers that back up the evidence to say that Andruw should be well on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career.
Not to mention, he's done all of this during the steroid era. And has yet to be charged, or even accused, of being involved with BALCO, the Mitchell Report, or any other steroid scandal thus far.
Andruw's story may lead many people to think what might have been. But I wonder to myself, what lies ahead?