“All aboard! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaa!” The opening lines to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” may not hold any significance to the average baseball fan, but throughout Braves Country this song is met with the same cry: “CHIPPER!”
Chipper Jones, the grizzled switch-hitter for the Atlanta Braves, recorded his 2,500th hit on Friday night, and his 2,501st followed the next day. He is also only three RBI away from 1,500 and will probably end his career with somewhere around 450 home runs.
But the most significant stat when considering Chipper Jones has nothing to do with his incredibly impressive offensive numbers. His career offensive averages (.306 AVG, .405 OBP, .536 SLG) are also superb but don’t do well to define his career.
Jones should be remembered for the number zero. That’s the number of games in his career that he’s played without donning a Braves uniform.
The past two decades will probably be defined by steroids and a steady decline in attendance, but more important than all of that has been the advent of free agency to the game. Players leave for the highest bidder and actively shop their talents, sometimes even during the season.
Derek Jeter will probably go down as the seminal "stay with one team" guy. Chipper Jones should be mentioned in the same breath, not only for equivalent production, but also for loyalty.
In an interview with ESPN, Jones had this to say about his and Jeter’s loyalty: "If you want to stay somewhere…you have to be willing to make sacrifices. Tony Gwynn made sacrifices. Cal Ripken made sacrifices. I'm not sure Derek Jeter made sacrifices given the ungodly deep pockets [the Yankees] have.”
And to think the Braves almost picked Todd Van Poppel with the first pick of the 1990 amateur draft.
Stats are one thing, but the true way to measure a player is the number of anecdotes they provide.
Growing up, I loved to collect sports posters. You know, the really awkward ones with players doing ridiculous things or childish puns about their names plastered across the frame. My all time favorite showed Chipper and Andruw Jones batting across from one another, with the headline “Keeping Up with the Joneses.” I’ll also remember my brother’s shock when he found out they weren’t related.
Jones has been the clubhouse leader for the better part of a decade now. During the Braves' record 14 straight division titles, he was the most important bat for the last seven. He’s now seeing the turnover in his career and the steady decline of his production, but he’s prepared himself.
When Jason Heyward hit a home run in his first career swing, Jones met him outside the dugout with a big bear hug, seemingly handing over the offensive reins to the young outfielder in the process.
By far the best story involving Jones revolves around the Braves rivalry with the New York Mets. Mets fans have always greeted him with the same chant: “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!” (a reference to his given first name). He responded by hitting a cool .310 career average in New York. As the ultimate act of defiance, his third son Shea is named after Shea Stadium, the longtime home of the Mets.
Chipper Jones will not go down as the greatest Brave ever. That distinction will always belong to Henry Aaron. Aaron not only broke Babe Ruth’s all time home run record, but also stared down conditions no current player can ever dream of as a black player in a very racist South.
But Jones’ name deserves to be mentioned with Atlanta’s all-time greats. Aaron brought the 715 sign that greets visitors to Turner Field, as well as the distinction as one of the best (and classiest) players ever. Deion Sanders brought the Tomahawk Chop from Florida State. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux brought Cy Youngs and propelled Atlanta to its 1995 World Series championship.
Chipper Jones brought MVP and Silver Slugger awards, a batting title and a degree of leadership that cannot be measured in wins, WAR or any other conceivable statistic.