Larry “Chipper” Jones addressed his teammates at the All-Star Game Wednesday night telling them what an honor it was to be in the same locker room and playing in the same game. Jones didn’t have to do tha, but the quiet, classy superstar was conducting himself at his eighth and final All-Star game the same way he generally has throughout his quiet, superstar career.
Jones is one of those rare baseball stars who truly warrant the farewell tour gifts he’s being given in most cities the Atlanta Braves pass through this season. And he’s likely just shy of six years away from having a bronze bust in Cooperstown.
That bust will be placed alongside those of several other players known more by their nicknames than by the name on their birth certificates, but unlike George Herman “Babe” Ruth, “The Mick” Mickey Mantle, “The Splendid Splinter” Ted Williams, “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson or even “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who belongs in the Hall of Fame, but is apparently banned in his afterlife as he was during the latter days of his life.
Not many people know Chipper Jones by his real name. And because he’s generally kept such a low profile during his career, many also are not aware how much he also had game. He’s not going to be a 3000-hit club member, or a 500-homerun club member. He certainly won’t be next to Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Ozzie Smith, all of whom were known for their amazing defense as much if not more so than their hitting prowess. He’s only won one Most Valuable Player award and one batting title. He’s only won one World Series title.
But dare I say I believe he’s going to get a higher percentage of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote than most of the players above him on the page?
He currently ranks 67th all-time with 2670 hits and currently sits at 33rd in career homeruns with 460. Chipper’s also 35th all time in Runs Batted In which puts him in the Hall of Fame, but not as a guy who will get 90 percent plus votes.
I also see him as arguably the fourth best switch-hitter in the history of the game behind Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Pete Rose. He will finish third all-time for switch hit homers behind Murray and Mantle. The closest guy active behind him is St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman Lance Berkman, who is a heck of a ballplayer, but is not a Hall of Fame candidate.
But Chipper arguably wasn’t the most valuable player on his own team for most of his career being that he was blessed to be overshadowed by Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, while he was still with the Braves.
Two of those three also are potential first-ballot Hall of Famers, arguably all three though I personally wouldn’t vote for Smoltz. Manager Bobby Cox is Cooperstown bound at some point as well. Is it glory by association?
Chipper carries a career .304 batting average which always looks nice, but is hardly enough to make him a lock for Cooperstown by itself. He will most likely finish with just the one batting title and there are dozens of batting champs that couldn’t sniff that small town in New York. He was consistently very good, and occasionally great, and he benefited far more from the great pitching staffs he played with than vice versa. All of the data says “he’ll get in on his second or third ballot.”
Ted Turner is why. Not because he was the owner of the team when Chipper was drafted, but because Turner owned WTBS which is one of the biggest cable superstations in the country. Small town kids as well as large city men and women around the country watched as the Braves became a staple to millions.
I remember the first time I watched him play. Announcer Skip Caray had hyped the kid to death for two or three years and as a baseball card collector I’d already heard the name. America got to watch him grow up, we saw his personal struggles, and we saw his amazing batting champion season, and every year between and after.
Simply put Chipper Jones was our basic cable big brother, and whether we always get along with our older brothers it’s hard not to pull for family.