Happy 37th Birthday Chipper Jones!
Wait, did I say 37? That must be a typo.
It feels like just yesterday that I was 11 years old enamored with the wide-eyed “rook,” high socks and all, manning third base for the 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves.
Ah Champions of baseball! Chipper Jones was instantly an Atlanta sports hero and icon, helping to lead a franchise that had been to three previous, consecutive postseasons and two World Series’ to their first ever title in his first full season in the majors.
Fans weren’t surprised. Atlanta was buzzing about Chipper long before he made his Major League debut. The DeLand, Fla native was chosen with the 1st pick in the 1990 Amateur draft by the Bravos. Manager Bobby Cox was the General Manager at the time which was the beginning of a storied, now nineteen year relationship between the two.
The road to the bigs wasn’t easy for Atlanta’s golden boy. Chipper was drafted a shortstop but was moved to third base in the minors before making his Major League debut in September of 1993. Chipper was expected to compete for a job in the Braves outfield (as he was blocked by Terry Pendleton at third base and left fielder Ron Gant had suffered a broken leg in the off-season) but tore his ACL and as a result missed the entire year.
In 1995, it was finally Chipper’s time to shine. Jones finished runner-up to the Dodgers phenom pitcher Hideo Nomo in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He led all major league rookies in RBI and runs scored, among other categories. But most notable was his appearance in the World Series which finally found the Braves victorious. Atlanta defeated Cleveland in six games.
There was no sophomore slump for Chipper, as he proved in 1996 that he was the real deal. Jones helped lead the Braves back to the World Series. However, the Yankees dashed the Braves hopes of winning back-to-back championships, and in six games defeated Atlanta.
Chipper’s personal accolades continued to pour in. In 1999, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He became the first player to ever hit over .300 with 40 or more homeruns (45) and doubles (41), drawing 100 or more walks (126), RBI (110), and runs scored (116) and stealing 20 or more bases (25). Chipper led the Braves back to the World Series that season but Atlanta was swept in four games by the Yankees.
Chipper will go down in history as one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time. He is behind only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray on the all-time switch hitter career home run list.
The lifetime Brave was also selected to six All-Star games, won the Silver Slugger at 3rd base twice, had eight consecutive 100 RBI seasons (1996-2003) and nabbed the 2008 National League batting title.
This past Spring Training, Chipper inked a three-year, 42-million dollar contract extension with Atlanta. Chipper’s dream of playing his entire career with the Braves now seems like it will become a reality.
Braves fans can now rejoice!
It has been almost two decades that I have watched Chipper sport the tomahawk across his chest. When I think of the Atlanta Braves, I think of Chipper Jones. The two go hand-in-hand. It’s all I’ve ever known as a fan and it’s all he’s ever known as a player.
As a person, he’s grown and evolved into a man that all of his fans, myself atop the list, should be proud of. Chipper’s human and he’s made mistakes. I don’t put him on a pedestal, but I do believe his imperfections and flaws make him a relatable hero, which has given me a personal rooting interest.
So today, I salute you Chipper Jones… for the iconic ballplayer you are and the honorable man that you’ve become. May this year bring you continued success, personally and professionally and good health, on and off the field.
And maybe, just maybe, if we are all lucky… may it bring you and Atlanta another World Championship!