Four weeks ago, long-time Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He became the fourth playing member of the Braves dynasty from the 1990’s and 2000’s to be elected to the Hall in the last five years, joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
With the recent inductions of manager Bobby Cox and General Manager John Schuerholz, there are now six men who had an impact on those great Braves teams who have or will be recognized with plaques in Cooperstown.
By earning 97.2% of the vote in his first time on the BBWAA ballot, Jones matched exactly the voting percentage that Maddux received in 2014.
Jones is one of the four best switch hitters of all time (with Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose and Eddie Murray) and one of the five best hitting third basemen of all time (along with Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, George Brett and Wade Boggs).
Cooperstown Cred: Chipper Jones
- Career: .303 BA, 468 HR, 1,623 RBI
- 3rd most HR (Mantle, Murray) & 2nd most RBI (Murray) all-time for a switch hitter
- .529 career slugging percentage and .930 OPS (best ever for 3B) (minimum 5,000 PA)
- 141 career OPS+, 3rd best all-time for 3B (Schmidt, Matthews) (minimum 5000 PA)
- 85.0 career WAR, 6th best all-time for 3B
- 1999 MVP (.319 BA, 45 HR, 110 RBI, 169 OPS+)
- 8-time All-Star
- 9 times in top 15 for NL MVP voting
- Played entire career with Atlanta Braves
(Cover photo: zimbio.com)
To put his career in perspective, as a prolific hitter plying his trade on baseball’s hot corner, take a look at how Jones ranks statistically with the greatest third basemen in the history of the game.
|Top 3||OPS+||Top 3||HR||Top 3||RBI|
|Mike Schmidt||147||Mike Schmidt||548||Adrian Beltre||1642|
|Eddie Mathews||143||Eddie Mathews||512||Chipper Jones||1623|
|Chipper Jones||141||Chipper Jones||468||Mike Schmidt||1596|
|Top 3||Runs||Top 3||OBP||Top 3||SLG|
|Chipper Jones||1619||Wade Boggs||.415||Chipper Jones||.529|
|George Brett||1583||Chipper Jones||.401||Mike Schmidt||.527|
|Wade Boggs||1513||Ned Yost/Stan Hack||.394||Eddie Mathews||.509|
|Courtesy Baseball Reference|
If you go by raw OPS (not park-and-era adjusted by OPS+), his .930 career OPS tops every third sacker in the history of the game, including Mike Schmidt. He wasn’t a great defensive player which is why, overall, you can’t put him in Schmidt’s class (Schmitty won 10 Gold Gloves, Chipper zero) but, based on his offensive numbers, Chipper Jones was an easy call for Cooperstown.
Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones, born in April 1972, was a perfect fit for the Braves. He was a southern boy, growing up in the small town of Pierson, Florida, about 30 miles west of Daytona Beach and 60 miles north of Orlando. Known as the “Fern Capitol of the World,” Pierson is today home to just under 1,750 people, according to the U.S. Census. He got the nickname “Chipper” because his father (Larry Wayne Jones Sr.) and other family members considered him a “chip off the old block.”
Jones was the #1 pick overall in the MLB player draft in 1990 by the Atlanta Braves, drafted as a shortstop. It might surprise you to know that, when he’s inducted with the Class of 2018, Chipper will be only the second #1 overall draft pick to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the other being Ken Griffey Jr.
Chipper’s official rookie campaign came in 1995; he finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting to the Dodgers’ Japanese phenom Hideo Nomo. That 2nd place finish was somewhat controversial because, though Nomo was a rookie in the Major Leagues, he had pitched for several years in the majors in Japan and many people felt that it was unfair to classify him as a rookie.
Rookie Campaign and the 1995 World Series
Jones had a nice consolation prize, a trip to the World Series in his rookie campaign. The Braves, blessed with a starting rotation featuring three future Hall of Famers (Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz), would face the American League’s emerging super-team, the Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe had won a whopping 100 games (out of 144) in the strike-shortened season and won the A.L. Central by 30 games. The Braves didn’t do so badly either, winning 90 and their division by 21 games. This was the second year of MLB’s new three-division, wild card set-up and the first that didn’t end prematurely by a players’ strike.
Both the Braves and Indians made it through the LDS and LCS rounds fairly easily; the Braves lost just one game in those rounds, the Indians two.
Chipper got his post-season career off to a terrific start, hitting two solo home runs in Game 1 of the NLDS in Colorado. Overall, between the Braves’ three-to-one series win against the Rockies and their four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, Jones hit .412 with 3 HR, 7 RBI and an OPS of 1.222.
After dispatching of the Rockies and Reds, the Braves found themselves in a World Series that featured players who either were or would become some of the biggest names in the sport. Besides the big three starting pitchers and the young phenom Jones, the Braves also had first baseman Fred McGriff (a perennial Hall of Fame candidate) and David Justice, the 1990 rookie of the year.
The Indians were equally stacked, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Look at the names in their Game 1 World Series lineup:
- Kenny Lofton
- Omar Vizquel
- Carlos Baerga
- Albert Belle
- Eddie Murray
- Jim Thome
- Manny Ramirez
- Sandy Alomar Jr.
- Orel Hershiser
It’s interesting to note that, with the exception of Baerga and Alomar, a case can be made for every single one of those players for the Hall of Fame. Murray of course, who was a 39-year old veteran in 1995, is already there and Thome will be inducted into the Hall this summer with Chipper.
Two others from that lineup (Ramirez and Vizquel) were on the 2018 ballot with Jones and Thome. Manny, who debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot this January, would have been a first-ballot lock were it not for his two PED suspensions. Vizquel, who got 37% of the vote last month, is a fascinating case and a polarizing case due to the debate over the relative importance of his brilliant defensive value and mediocre offensive value.
The 1995 Indians also hosted the final season of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who did not appear in the post-season.
Chipper’s first Fall Classic didn’t have any memorable moments but teammate Tom Glavine’s third title run did; he pitched the Braves to two wins, including his 8 inning, one-hit performance in the clinching Game 6.
Perennial Division Winners
After tasting that championship bubbly, one might have expected it to be the first of several titles or the first of several match-ups with the Indians. But that never happened. The super Braves team won the N.L. East every year from 1996 to 2005 and made the World Series twice (in ’96 and ’99, Chipper’s MVP season) but lost both of those Series to the New York Yankees.
Since that first October, Jones’ post-season performance, like that of his team, was merely average for a hitter of his caliber: he hit .272 with 10 HR, 39 RBI and a .826 OPS in 79 post-season games from 1996-2012.
The chart below is only meant to show that, when examining the under-performance of the Braves in October for all of those years, it’s fair to put some of that on Chipper Jones:
|Extrapolated to 162-game average|
If Jones was a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, his October record would not enhance his resume. But he’s not a borderline candidate. The top line of the chart above shows what a prolific hitter he was. It’s ironic that Chipper had two of his very best offensive seasons in 2007 and 2008, seasons in which the Braves did not make the post-season. He hit .337 (with a 1.029 OPS) in ’07 and a league-leading .364 (with a 1.044 OPS) in ’08.
Comparing Chipper Jones to his Peers
From his rookie season in 1995 until his last great campaign in 2008, Chipper was arguably, pound for pound, the best player in baseball. His WAR for these years added up to 74.8, by far the best of any player not linked to PED’s (Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds had better numbers).
Depending on your point of view, he’s also either anywhere from the 2nd to 4th best switch-hitter of all time. Let’s look at the numbers (showing the five Hall of Famers, plus Chipper, recently retired Carlos Beltran and Pete Rose). We’ll rank here by OPS+ (ballpark-and-era adjusted OPS where 100 is average):
As you can see, when it comes to the slash line (BA/OBP/SLG), Jones is 2nd only to the great Mickey Mantle. The two are the only switch-hitters to finish their careers with an on-base% of greater than .400 and a slugging% of greater than .500. So, when trying to determine the greatest switch-hitter of all time, it comes down to four players: Mantle, Jones, Rose (because he is the Hit King) and Murray (for the 500 home runs and 3,000 hits).
It’s pretty clear that Mantle is #1 (by a wide margin) but the 2-through-4 slots are up to what you consider important. How important is Rose’s remarkable longevity and 4,256 hits? How important is Murray’s accomplishment of 500 taters and 3,000 knocks, something done only by four other players ever (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro)? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
It doesn’t really matter though. If it’s an open question whether Chipper Jones was a better switch-hitter than either Eddie Murray or Pete Rose, you’re talking about a no doubt, first-ballot, slam dunk Hall of Famer.
Chipper Jones: Patriotic American
Personally speaking, when I reflect on Chipper Jones, there is one thing, outside of his great playing career, that I will always remember.
The thing that I’ll never forget about Chipper was the way he reacted to the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Coming from a family with a military background (his father was a Marine), the 9-11 attacks had a major impact on Jones. I couldn’t verify this, but I recall that he was quoted as saying he was tempted to volunteer for military service despite his lucrative MLB career.
As you might remember, it was the Braves who were playing the Mets during the first game played in New York City, on September 21, ten days after the World Trade Center towers came down. As Jones told ESPN, ten years later, “I think each and every one of us will tell you if there’s been one game in our entire careers that we didn’t mind losing, it was that one.”
Chipper was playing left field that night and, when he ran onto the field to take his position in the bottom of the first inning, noticed several shell casings on the grass from the pregame honor guard 21-gun salute. He picked up a few of them cherishes those momentos to this day.
As the top two teams in the N.L. East, the Mets and Braves were bitter rivals and Chipper in particular was a Met-killer. Since the franchise’s inception in 1962, only Hall of Famer Willie Stargell has hit more than the 49 home runs Chipper hit in his career against the Mets.
But the game on September 21st did not showcase rivals, they showcased baseball players who were moved by the moment just as much as the 41,000 fans packing Shea Stadium. After the playing of the national anthem, the players and coaches from both teams met each other on the field, exchanging embraces the way you might in church.
The outcome of the game was perfect for New York City, perfect for the game of baseball and perfect for the nation. In the bottom of the 8th inning, with the score tied at 2, Mets catcher Mike Piazza cracked a solo home run to deep left-center field to break the tie, leading the Mets to a 3-2 win.
I highly recommend this piece from Sports Illustrated that features a Q & A with Jones about his recollections regarding baseball’s return after 9-11. Here’s a short excerpt:
“There was no way in hell we were going to win that game. I’ve had maybe 10, 15 or 20 instances in my career where I’ve had a premonition. I was playing leftfield that night. When Mike Piazza walked up, I knew he was going to hit a home run. I said to myself before the pitch, the roof is going to come off this place, if he hits a home run right here. Sure enough, he took Steve Karsay deep… Mike Piazza hitting that home run on that particular night at that particular stadium was absolutely perfect.”
— Chipper Jones (in Sports Illustrated, Sept. 21, 2016)
Chipper’s teammate, John Smoltz, echoed the sentiments, telling ESPN that when “Piazza hit that home run, typically as a competitor you realize you’re going to lose the game. But it was magical. You didn’t even mind it for a moment.”
So, when I think about Chipper Jones, I’ll always think: Atlanta Braves, good guy, patriotic American and now, Hall of Famer.
Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter @chrisbodig.