Chipper Jones is rounding the last corner and headed into the homestretch of his Major League career and baseball eulogies will probably be breaking out soon as he makes his final circuit of other teams’ ballparks this month. The 19-year Atlanta Braves third baseman, who is 40, has said this will be it for him and the sport and fans should doff hats to him.
During his long and productive career, Jones has been as classy as he has been talented. He has been a hard-nosed third baseman who from his perch as a corner infielder has been a cornerstone of his franchise for two decades. At times he has been great and never less than very good. He has been an all-star eight times and except for some inopportune injuries over the years would be surpassing several of the game’s milestone barriers.
As it is, he will be close on several counts. Jones has 2,710 career hits. So he isn’t going to reach 3,000. He has 467 home runs. So he isn’t going to reach 500. He’s got 1,616 RBIs and 1,496 walks. And his batting average is .304. This season, as the Braves inch their way toward a spot in the National League playoffs, Jones has 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 88 games and is hitting at the same .304 clip.
In 1999, Jones won the NL Most Valuable Player Award by smacking 45 home runs, driving in 110 runs, hitting .319 and complementing that fancy bat work with 25 stolen bases. In 2008 he won the league’s batting crown with a .364 average. Oh, he had a .470 on-base percentage that year. His lifetime on-base percentage is .402.
It is generally conceded that Mickey Mantle is the sport’s greatest switch-hitter of all-time, although Eddie Murray surpassed him in some key categories. Frankie Frisch, who excelled for the Cardinals and Giants decades ago, also made his mark as a switch-hitter. Frisch’s .316 career average is the only one among switch-hitters that is higher than Jones’. Jones is certainly one of the best switch-hitters who ever lived.
Jones announced his intention to retire after this season in spring training in March and at that time he said he had been considering it for two or three years. When he was younger, he said, he never expected to be able to maintain his skills to be able to play this long. Jones has four young sons and said he wants to spend more time with them, but he also said he would like to continue his association with the Braves in some capacity.
The Hall of Fame is not cluttered with third basemen. Some of the most notable are Pie Traynor, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Eddie Mathews and Brooks Robinson. Just this year, former Cubs star Ron Santo was inducted. Frank “Home Run” Baker, Jimmy Collins, Fred Lindstrom and George Kell are other Hall of Fame third sackers. Boggs has the highest average among third basemen at .328. Traynor hit .320. Brett, Kell, Baker and Lindstrom hit between .305 and .311. Collins, Schmidt, Robinson and Santo did not hit .300 lifetime.
When Jones becomes eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in five years his case will be a strong one. In the meantime, he wouldn’t mind one more Braves post-season appearance and Atlanta is in a position to oblige him.