In praise of Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones will retire after spending his entire career, 19 seasons, with the Atlanta Braves....

Chipper Jones will retire after spending his entire career, 19 seasons, with the Atlanta Braves. (TAMI CHAPPELL/Reuters file photo)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 AM ET

TORONTO - When Jose Bautista sees Chipper Jones, as he did on Sunday, he motions for him to stay away.

And when Jones sees Bautista, he does the same.

What’s the deal between the Atlanta Braves third baseman and the Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder?

Bad things happen any time the two get together.

“We always signal each other: ‘Stay away from me,’” Bautista said. “I put him on the disabled list once and he put me on the disabled list once. Bad things happen when we get close to each other.”

Asked about the incidents, Jones recalled both, laughed and added: “Don’t forget about the time he shattered his bat hitting a double-play ball to me and part of the bat hit me in the shin.”

Bautista was unaware of that.

When Bautista was a young buck with the Pirates, he was playing third base one night in Pittsburgh.

“Whoever was hitting for the Braves hit a ground ball to me on a hit-and-run. I was playing third and went in to field the ball,” Bautista said. “I guess Chipper didn’t see me. We hit and he wound up on the DL with an injury.”

Jones remembers he was stealing third on the play. Stealing? Hit and run? It doesn’t really matter. There was a blind-side collision of 400 pounds of moving flesh.

“I tried to get around Jose as he was fielding the ball and his left shoulder went into my left thigh,” said Jones sitting at his locker Sunday morning at Turner Field.

The next Jones-Bautista meeting came in the same area, except it was in Atlanta in 2007. Bautista stole third, sliding head first.

To illustrate, Bautista raised his toes off the clubhouse floor showing where Jones’ left foot was when he caught the ball.

“I slid in and Chipper’s cleat accidentally came down on my left hand,” said Bautista. “I was cut for six stitches.

“Now we try to stay at least 10 feet away from each other.”

• • •

The last time the New York Yankees were at the Rogers Centre, backup outfielder Andruw Jones was asked about third baseman Chipper Jones.

“Chipper was the face of the Atlanta Braves during all those post-season runs and the World Series win,” said Andruw Jones.

Even when Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or when John Smoltz were on the mound for the Braves?

“Yes, because Chipper played every day. Those guys, as good as they were, could only pitch once every five days, except when Smoltz was our closer,” said Andruw.

Told of Andruw’s appraisal, Chipper lowers his head.

“Well, I respectfully disagree,” Chipper said slowly. “Andruw and I were out there every day, but Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were so dominant, they were so much a key to our success. Plus, they were around longer than I was. The guy on the mound was our leader. I led by example.

“Andruw and I did team up to put some runs on the board.”

Andruw was 19 when he homered from both sides of the plate in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series.

• • •

The guy no one wanted on drafted day is likely headed for Cooperstown.

Leading up to the 1990 draft, the Braves had the first pick.

The draft is supposed to help the weaker teams. Best player goes to worst team, second best goes to second worst, etc. It is not a complex concept.

In general manager Bobby Cox’s eyes, the best that year was 6-foot-5 right-hander Todd Van Poppell, a high-schooler from Arlington, Tex. But Van Poppell didn’t want to play for the last-place Braves and was headed to the University of Texas Longhorns.

So Atlanta chose a switch-hitting, high-schooler from DeLand, Fla.

Van Poppel, didn’t go to school, was drafted 14th overall and signed with the Oakland A’s. You should have heard the complaining from Braves president Stan Kasten and Cox.

The system was unfair. How could Atlanta ever compete?

The high-schooler the Bravos were “stuck” picking was Lawrence Wayne Jones, Jr., known as Chipper.

Jones is arguably the greatest switch-hitter of all time. He has 459 career home runs, third among switch-hitters, behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. His .304 lifetime average is second only to Frankie Frisch. He also has a .402 on-base percentage, .532 slugging mark and an OPS of .934 over 19 years and had eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons from 1996-2003.

In 2004, he finished with 96, an injury-filled year, and has been bothered by injuries ever since. He missed the first two games of the Jays series as he was rehabbing at class-A Rome.

Jones was a fixture on end-of-the-season MVP ballots: He won in 1999, finished in the top 10 in voting six times and 12 times was in the top 25.

Van Poppell? He was 40-52 with a 5.58 ERA in 11 years, making 98 starts and appearing in 357 games as a reliever.

• • •

What is Chipper Jones, 40, going to miss when he retires this fall after 19 years, 2,417 games (and counting headed into the series against the New York Yankees) and 2,646 hits (and counting)?

“I’ll miss coming out of the dugout for the start of each game at Turner Field, the start of each inning at Turner Field,” he said. “I get goose bumps talking about it. I have a tremendous amount of pride wearing the Braves uniform and I’ve been so appreciated by the fans here.”

Jones is a rare bird, retiring with the same organization he broke in with. He restructured his contract so the Braves could pursue other free agents and moved from third base to left field to accommodate the arrival of Vinny Castilla.

“I’ll miss the final half hour in the clubhouse before we go down the tunnel on to the field, goofing off with these cast of characters,” Jones.

As a rookie in 1995, his first full season, he sat between second baseman Mark Lemke and catcher Charlie O’Brien. Now, he sits with backup infielder Eric Hinske to his right and catcher Brian McCann to his left.

No doubt, he’ll be like most retired players no matter the sport. He won’t miss the travel or visiting the trainer’s room for treatment, the media requests. But he will miss the camaraderie.

• • •

Over the years, we’ve seen Jones in post-season play at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Jacobs Field, Yankee Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Enron Field and of course Shea Stadium.

Nowhere was like at Shea.

“How many times did you hear: ‘Hey Chip-AHHHHH ... you suck’ in New York,” I asked Jones.

Jones clapped his hands together three times and laughed.

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard that ... my grandchildren would never have to work a day in their life. It was ridiculous.”

Jones certainly wasn’t bothered by the treatment, naming his child Shea and owning and .313 lifetime average at Shea with 19 homers and 55 RBIs in 88 games. Altogether in 112 games in New York at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Shea, he’s hitting .303 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs.

He’ll make his final visit to New York on Sept. 9,

And he’ll take off a Braves uniform for the final time Oct. 3 ... unless the Braves rise up and reach post-season play.


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