As most Braves fans already know, Chipper Jones will have his number retired Friday Night at Turner Field before the Braves play host to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This will be an emotional night for Chipper, his family, friends but also the fans who religiously watched him throughout his great career in Atlanta. Personally, as a die hard Braves fan in Upstate New York who grew up idolizing this man, I will admit to the fact that I probably will shed a tear or two during the ceremony.
My memories of Chipper start when I was a very young. As a kid, instead of cartoons I grew up on sports. I would watch any sporting event I could with my father, uncles, grandfather, or whoever would give me control of the remote. Occasionally, the channel would flip over to TBS and that is how I first got to see Jones play. At a age of 3 whether it was his outstanding play, the fact that he wore my T-ball number, or just a fascination with the name Chipper, I was drawn to this team and this player. It was from there that my fascination turned into a fan hood, and grew even more into an admitted obsession.
Now 20 years old, I realize and appreciate the great career I grew up watching. I appreciate the 1999 MVP season, the 14 straight division titles, but most importantly the overall loyalty that he had for the city of Atlanta and the fans of the organization. His willingness to move positions, take pay cuts, and play through injuries should be just as appreciated as the statistics. It shows a commitment to something that Braves fans grew accustomed to in the Chipper Jones era, winning.
“I’m very proud that for 23 years I’ve donned one uniform—the red, white and blue of the Atlanta Braves, I often admired when I was coming up, guys like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn who were able to work with their organization so that they could stay in one place. They knew how important it was to stay in one place and be the face of the franchise. While I don’t consider myself to be in their realm, I’m awfully proud to say I’ve been a part of this organization for so long.”
-Chipper Jones during his retirement press conference
The numbers speak for themselves. Chipper was a career .303 hitter, had 468 career home runs and drove in 1623 runs. Those stats are arguably first ballot Hall of Fame type numbers. Jones was an MVP in 1999 and became the first player in MLB history to hit over .300 (.319), jack more than 40 home runs and doubles (45 and 41 respectively), draw more than 100 walks (126), drive in more than 100 runs (110), score 100 runs (116), and steal 20 bases (25). The most impressive stat of all in my eyes is the fact that Chipper was able to reach base over 40% of the time throughout his 19 year career. He was a World Series Champion in his first full season in the big leagues and led the Braves to 11 postseason appearances. In 93 career postseason games, Chipper hit at a .287 clip while hitting 13 home runs and driving in 47 runs.
You can go on all day and brag with stats but overall the memories are the things that define a legacy. Over almost two decades, Chipper provided many of those for fans of the Braves. As a fan myself, my personal favorite memory of Chipper was the 2008 season where Jones won the batting title and hit .364 at the age of 36. Most players at that age begin to fade and show signs of losing their skills, however Chipper proved the opposite as he did even in his final season at the age of 40 as well. He was still a very productive hitter, and pitchers still quivered a bit every time “Crazy Train” played over the speaker system at Turner Field. Whether it’s one of his many walk off hits, a defining moment, or his overall domination of the New York Mets, almost every Braves fan that watched the team on a consistent basis has a memory of Chipper that will cement him in their minds as arguably the greatest Brave of all time.
With Chipper joining the Braves Wall of Fame tonight at the Ted, the final nail in the coffin has been placed on the greatest era in Atlanta Braves baseball. Jones will join Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Cox on the wall who all played key roles in making the Braves the “Team of the ’90′s”. The three aces went out and delivered gems and Cy Young performances for the Braves on every fifth night, but Chipper manned down 3rd base (or left field) night in and night out during his 19 year career. So although the success of those great Braves teams wouldn’t have been the same without those great pitchers, a guy who went out there 150 times a season means a lot more overall. Most organizations are defined by eras, and most eras are defined by players. For the Braves there was the Hank Aaron era, the Dale Murphy era, and I’m willing to say that 1993-2012 will be the Chipper Jones era.
With that era being now put to rest, we look forward to finding the player who will define the next era in Atlanta Braves history. Number 10 will join number 3 (Dale Murphy) and number 44 (Hank Aaron) on the Wall of Fame tomorrow night, however we can’t help but wonder who will be the next number the Braves will retire. Could it be the number 22 of Jason Heyward, the number 5 of Freddie Freeman or possibly someone we haven’t seen yet. Whoever it ends up being, that man will have big shoes to fill as the face of this great franchise.
In conclusion, tonight will be a special one and I cannot wait to watch. Personally, I’d like to thank the great number 10 one more time for 19 great years and a childhood full of great memories. Chipper did not just define a chapter in Atlanta Braves history, he admittedly defined an era in my life. I will tell my kids and grandkids about Chipper Jones, just as my father told me about the great George Brett, and his father told him about Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial. On a lighter note, let’s hope having Chipper in the house will wake the boys up and the Braves will get off to a great start against the Diamondbacks on Friday night.