Chipper Jones: Beating Age and Chasing .400
Chipper Jones has become one of the greatest switch hitters that baseball has ever seen. He is now putting together one of the best first-halves in the history of the game.
Through June 1, Chipper is hitting .405 with 12 home runs, and has driven in 35 RBI.
Over the last few years, many people have been guilty of saying that he is "no longer the player he once was," or that, "his career is coming to an end." I am guilty of doing this, as I have seen one of my favorite players battle injury after injury and spend numerous time on the DL.
The year was 1995, a young man named Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones became the starting third basemen for the Atlanta Braves. In his rookie campaign, he hit .265, 23 home runs, 86 RBI, scored 87 runs, and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to Hideo Nomo.
Chipper contributed to the Braves lone World Series title during their run of division titles. This would be the start of an illustrious career that would bring us one of the best players of this era.
In 1998, Chipper finished ninth in the NL MVP voting. He finished the year with a .313 batting average, 34 home runs, 107 RBI, and scored 123 runs.
The next year, 1999, was Chipper's best year to date, he won his first MVP award. He finished the year with a .319 average, 45 home runs, knocked in 110 runs, scored 116 times, and stole 25 bases.
He became the first player ever to hit over .300, while hitting 40+ home runs and doubles, draw more than 100 walks, drive in more than 100 RBI, score more than 100 runs, and steal more than 20 bases.
That year, Chipper once again led the Braves to the World Series, only to get swept by the Yankees. He was the only Brave to hit a home run in the series.
In 2000, Chipper signed a six-year deal, worth $90 million. He showed that he was still dominant as he hit .330 in 2001 and .327 in 2002. He finished fifth in the NL both years. In 2002, he also said he was willing to move to left field so the Braves could sign slugging third baseman Vinny Castilla.
Then, in 2004, Chipper failed to play in at least 140 games for the first time in his career, as he pulled his hamstring. This forced Jones to move back to third base, and he struggled as he hit only .248, the lowest average of his career.
In 2005, Jones had somewhat of a bounce back year as he hit .296. However, he only played in 109 games as he recovered from the pulled hamstring. That year, Chipper re-worked his contract to give the Braves some extra money to sign free agents. The deal gave the Braves an extra $15 million over the next three years.
In 2006, Chipper achieved many milestones as he became the Atlanta Braves' all-time RBI leader, trailing only Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews who also played for the Braves while they were in both Boston and Milwaukee. He also passed Hank Aaron on the Braves all-time hit list.
The next day, Chipper tied the major league record for most consecutive games with an extra-base hit at 14. A month later, Chipper had the first three-home run game of his career. However, this was the first time in his career that the Braves did not qualify for the playoffs. In 2007, Jones recorded his 2,000th career hit. Jones became the Atlanta Braves all-time home run leader, passing Eddie Matthews. He also recorded his 400th double of his career. Chipper finished the year second in batting average after hitting .337 and finished sixth in the NL MVP voting.
Chipper has been one of the most consistent and dominant hitters of my life. He will go down as one of the greatest switch hitters the game has ever seen. He is a five-time All Star, won two Silver Sluggers, and has eight straight seasons of 100+ RBI. He also holds the National League record for most home runs by a switch hitter.
Chipper currently ranks third all-time in home runs by a switch hitter, and first among active players. He is on pace to hit over .400 for the first time since Ted Williams did it in 1941.
When Jones retires he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Until then, I hope people continue to appreciate one of the best hitters in the game.
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